- Yahtzee in Ancient Times
- Yahtzee in the Modern Age
- Yahtzee in the 1970s
- Yahtzee in the 1980s
- Yahtzee in the 1990s
- Yahtzee in the 21st Century
Beginning with the release of the first mass-marketed Yahtzee set in 1956, toy manufacturers have been churning out a steady supply of updated and redesigned products. But many researchers believe that the game has a much longer history, with a board game pedigree stretching back thousands of years!
Yahtzee game equipment retains an elegant simplicity that transcends generations. The design of the scorecards, dice shaker, and packaging has undergone many updates over the decades. It has evolved from its tabletop beginnings, to travel sets, to handheld electronics, to personal computers and smartphones. But the spirit of the game always remains constant and today Yahtzee is most popular dice game in the world.
Behold the marvel of Yahtzee through the ages!
in Ancient Times
Dice have been used for millennia as a means of recreation and gambling. They were the world’s first random number generators, paving the way for the introduction of games of chance. Examples of ancient dice games show up in the historical record from civilizations all around the world, including Egypt, Iran, and India. The invention of dice games led to a golden age in human advancement, spurring on the development of mathematical concepts like probability and game theory.
The use of dice predates recorded history so their precise origins are difficult to pin down. Archaeological evidence suggests that the six-faced cubes we know today were hand-crafted upgrades to a natural source of proto-dice gamepieces: the knucklebones of sheep or goats. Prehistoric peoples took advantage of the shape of the animals’ astragalus – one of the bones that make up the ankle joint – to generate random numbers for fun and profit. The bones could only land on one of four sides, and these were often marked with numbers just like modern dice.
Throwing knucklebones may have started as a fortune-telling method, as many early societies saw great power in the chance occurrences created by dice. But over time gameplay became their most popular use. Most of these ancient games have been lost to time but a rare few survive and continue to be played in some form still today. For example, the Roman game Tali, which could be played with either knucklebones or true dice, is considered to be an early ancestor of Yahtzee.
Tali, in turn, may have been influenced by an even earlier game, known as Ya-Tsee, that had been played on the Tibetan steppes and throughout the wider Himalayan plateau 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 but its gameplay elements were spread throughout the region.
- ~3000 BC - Sumerian Scorecard Fragment
- ~2500 BC - Harappan Stone Dice
- ~2500 BC - Bactrian Stone Yahtzee Shaker
- ~50 BC - Roman Yahtzee Mosaic
- ~100 AD - Roman Bone Dice
- ~1000 AD - Bolivian Yahtzee Dice Pouch
and its Modern Origins
Yahtzee’s modern day resurrection is thanks to two independent events in the 1940s. The Leister Game Company in Toledo, Ohio saw its popularity rise during World War Two as fuel shortages and financial belt-tightening prompted families to spend more time at home. As the company noted:
“Now that gas rationing has ushered in a back-to-the-home movement, material for home entertainment and for those informal occasions when neighbors and friends drop in is in great demand.”
Among the many games and novelties that Leister produced during this era was “Yatzie”, released in 1943. While not quite the game that we know today, “Yatzie” was a precursor that was included in a boxed set called “Luck – 15 Grand Dice Games”. It would be familiar to a modern Yahtzee player as there are only a few minor differences in the rules and scoring combinations. Yatzie did not have a Three-of-a-Kind, for instance, and both Straights required five sequential dice.
“Luck”, distributed by Toledo’s National Association Service became a regional success, but the other games in the set did not manage to form a lasting impression on the gaming public. Dice games such as “Floradora Sextette”, “Black Cat”, and “Help Your Neighbor” have been mostly been confined to the dust bin of history.
The second major contribution to modern Yahtzee was 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 an experienced board game maker, E.S. Lowe, and a deal was struck to mass-produce the game. They sold the rights for the price of the first one thousand games produced, which were purchased mainly by family and friends who had grown to love Yahtzee from their visits to the yacht.
Lowe had experienced success as a budding game maker nearly 25 years earlier with his invention of the classic “Bingo”. Building on his early success, the E.S. Lowe Company moved into the plastic chess and checkers market where it earned even more. By the time he was introduced to Yahtzee in 1956, he was well-placed to serve as the launching point for a new global phenomenon.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office registered the Yahtzee name on March 19, 1957. It failed to gain much traction with the general public and sold poorly in its first few years on the market. Lowe realized that the game needed to be played to be truly understood and began holding Yahtzee parties throughout North America. The game eventually took off, spread mostly by word of mouth – an early example of a viral sensation.
By the 1970s the game had become firmly planted in the public consciousness. The Milton Bradley Company bought out the E. S. Lowe Company, including the rights to Yahtzee, in 1973. The acquisition helped Yahtzee’s popularity to soar by introducing the game to more and more markets around the world.
Variation games and spin-offs proliferated during this time as a way to capitalize on Yahtzee’s success. The first Travel Yahtzee set appeared in 1970. Triple Yahtzee soon followed in 1972, Challenge Yahtzee in 1974, and Word Yahtzee in 1978. The ample marketing budget under Milton Bradley allowed Yahtzee to be promoted in new ways. The game landed its first celebrity endorsement when Tony Randall and Jack Klugman from the hit television show "The Odd Couple" appeared on the 1974 Challenge Yahtzee box.
- 1970 Travel Yahtzee
- 1972 Triple Yahtzee
- 1973 Yahtzee
- 1973 Yahtzee - Canada
- 1973 Triple Yahtzee
- 1974 Challenge Yahtzee
- 1975 Yahtzee
- 1975 Triple Yahtzee
- 1976 Yahtzee
- 1978 Triple Yahtzee - Deluxe
- 1978 Word Yahtzee
- 1978 Triple Yahtzee - Netherlands
- 1979 Word Yahtzee
- 1979 Woord Yahtzee - Netherlands
The consolidation of toy companies continued into the 1980s and peaked when Milton Bradley became a subsidiary of Hasbro in 1984. Yahtzee emerged from the merger unscathed and continued to dominate the board game market. With that success came more expansion. Jackpot Yahtzee was launched in 1980 with Casino Yahtzee to follow in 1986. Neither proved to be very successful in the long run but proved that the the game could still evolve in unexpected ways.
- 1980 Yahtzee
- 1980 Challenge Yahtzee
- 1980 Word Yahtzee
- 1980 Jackpot Yahtzee
- 1981 Yahtzee
- 1981 Triple Yahtzee
- 1982 Yahtzee - UK
- 1982 Yahtzee - Netherlands
- 1982 Yahtzee
- 1982 Triple Yahtzee
- 1982 Word Yahtzee
- 1982 Travel Yahtzee
- 1985 Yahtzee
- 1986 Casino Yahtzee
- 1986 Travel Yahtzee
- 1989 Mickey Mouse Yahtzee - Canada
The decade kicked off with another new variation of the classic game - Showdown Yahtzee in 1991. Licensing deals fueled the expansion by allowing for popular fictional characters to be branded with the game, particularly Yahtzee Jr. But a shift was gradually underway during the 1990s, as the expansion of the personal computer and general decline in the price of consumer electronics pushed Yahtzee into new digital formats. These changes led to the appearance of the first handheld electronic Yahtzee games and desktop computer editions.
- 1991 Showdown Yahtzee
- 1992 Yahtzee
- 1992 Yahtzee - Belgium
- 1992 Travel Yahtzee
- 1992 Casino Yahtzee - Netherlands
- 1992 Challenge Yahtzee - UK
- 1992 Experten Yahtzee - German
- 1995 Handheld Electronic Yahtzee
- 1996 Computer Yahtzee CD-ROM
- 1997 Yahtzee - Deluxe
- 1998 Yahtzee
- 1998 Yahtzee Jr. - Pokemon
in the 21st Century
The 21st century has seen the game’s popularity explode with a new generation. Hundreds of electronic and online versions have been released with no end in sight. Yet Yahtzee remained true to its roots by offering up new board game variations like Yahtzee Texas Hold'em in 2005, Yahtzee Turbo in 2006, and Power Yahtzee in 2007. Hasbro has released even more branded versions into the Yahtzee world, such as Donkey Kong, Doctor Who, Spider-Man, and the Hobbit special editions. Yahtzee is still a best-seller with over 50 million sets sold worldwide. It has come a long way from its humble origins and continues to thrive even as board games face unprecedented pressures.
- 2000 Handheld Electronic Yahtzee Jr. - Mickey Mouse
- 2003 Yahtzee Box - Harley Davidson
- 2004 Handheld Electronic Yahtzee
- 2004 Yahtzee Texas Hold 'Em
- 2012 Yahtzee
- 2012 Handheld Electronic Yahtzee
- 2012 World Series of Yahtzee
- 2013 Yahtzee - Classic
- 2014 Yahtzee To Go
- 2017 Yahtzee
- 2017 Bookshelf Yahtzee
- 2018 Yahtzee
- 2018 Yahtzee Rustic
- 2019 Yahtzee with Buddies App
- 2021 Yahtzee - South Korea
Learn More about Yahtzee History
Origins of Online Yahtzee - The history of Yahtzee extends far beyond the tabletop. Explore the evolution of electronic Yahtzee, from the earliest computer game pioneers to the cutting-edge internet versions that we enjoy today.
Yahtzee Variant Games - Not to be confused with House Rules, Yahtzee variants are entirely new official games within the Yahtzee family. Longtime favorites like Triple Yahtzee and Showtime Yahtzee have been replaced with more modern variations but continue to entertain.