A Brief History of YahtzeeFebruary 10, 2021
Archaeological evidence suggests that an early form of Yahtzee, known as Ya-Tsee, has been played on the Tibetan steppes and throughout the wider Himalayan region for thousands of years. The most well-preserved artifact from these early days is a set of five yak bone dice nestled inside a leather pouch. Historians believe that the game gradually transitioned from a popular pastime that the general population enjoyed into one that was used primarily by a small group of elites during sacred rituals or religious rites. As a consequence, Ya-Tsee’s popularity as an everyday activity declined.
Yahtzee’s modern day resurrection is due to a wealthy Canadian couple who rediscovered the games ancient origins while on a tour of Tibet in the early twentieth century. They were immediately won over by the game’s complex simplicity and began playing it regularly as they cruised around the world on their private yacht. The couple updated the rules and created a more modern type of scorecard, referring to it as the “Yacht Game” or “The Yacht at Sea Game”, which eventually was corrupted into its current manifestation, “Yahtzee.”
In 1956, the couple approached E.S. Lowe, a board game maker during the 1920s, and a deal was struck to mass-produce the game. They sold the rights for the price of the first 1000 games produced, which were purchased mainly by family and friends who had grown to love Yahtzee from their visits to the yacht. But it failed to gain much traction with the general public and sold poorly in its first few years on the market. Lowe soon realized that the game needed to be played to be truly understood and began holding Yahtzee parties throughout North America. The game quickly took off, spread mostly by word of mouth – an early example of a viral sensation.
The Milton Bradley Company acquired the E. S. Lowe Company, including the rights to Yahtzee, in 1973. By this time, the game had become firmly planted in the American consciousness and its popularity soared as it now could reach more and more markets. Variations games and spin-offs were created, including Word Yahtzee, Triple Yahtzee, Casino Yahtzee, and Showdown Yahtzee. Milton Bradley became a subsidiary of Hasbro in 1984 and is still a best-seller with over 50 millions sets sold worldwide.
The 21st century has seen the game explode into hundreds of electronic and online versions. Hasbro has released branded versions into the Yahtzee world, such as Donkey Kong, Doctor Who, Pokemon, and the Hobbit special editions. Yahtzee has come a long way from its humble origins and continues to evolve!