Yahtzee and BaseballOctober 15, 2022
Yahtzee and baseball share many foundational traits. They are both action-packed games, based on probabilities and statistics, skill and luck. These orderly games are played at their own pace – there is no need to keep an eye on the clock. Each has its own storied history and revered traditions. Baseball and Yahtzee are truly legendary staples of American entertainment.
Summer’s heat is fading away, ceding ground to the cool fresh autumnal air as our collective attention naturally turns to the top two American fall pastimes: Yahtzee and baseball. These national classics have endured for decades, entertaining millions of inter-generational fans. When the weather gets chilly we huddle indoors around the Yahtzee table, then head out to the diamond for some hot playoff baseball action.
Yahtzee and baseball are iconic fall games but they share more than mass popularity. They grow from the same mathematical foundations, forever entwined in pure logic and random chance. It’s the ideal combination for a winning game, whether you’re using balls or dice.
The two games may seem as polar opposites, and on the surface that may be true. You can only play Yahtzee online, for example. But dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that they share a remarkable number of similarities. For starters, the World Series of Yahtzee variant game is the ultimate mash-up. As we'll see, the relationship between baseball and Yahtzee is a wonderful dichotomy that enlightens our national identity.
Yahtzee and baseball are each long-lived institutions in their own right and that comes with a lot of baggage. History and traditions enrich the games but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for change.
The 2022 season, for instance, saw Major League Baseball introduce a rule change, the so-called “ghost runner”, where a team starts extra innings with a player on second base. The idea is to speed up the game. Baseball, the theory goes, must shake off its image as a slow, boring sport in an age of electronic entertainment and digital diversions.
The league made good headway toward that goal with a home run explosion from Aaron Judge, setting the American League record. But the home run record and the game itself still carries the taint of performance-enhancing drugs. The sport regarded as “America’s pastime” has seen attendance numbers continue on a gradual decline. But what red-blooded American doesn’t love watching juiced-up freaks of nature competing on the same field with overweight tub-of-lards in mind-numbingly slow competition?
Yahtzee, on the other hand, is not free from scandal but the temptation of steroids fortunately doesn’t apply to the dice game. It was this clean-cut image that helped propel the game to early board game dominance. By the late 1960s, Yahtzee was, without a doubt, the most popular American pastime.
Many of baseball’s early elements were borrowed from Yahtzee - as well as from rounders, cricket, and watching paint dry. Comparisons between the games continue to evolve. Let’s take a look at some of the major overlapping game elements:
Baseball vs. Yahtzee: A Comparison
Game Length - Both baseball and Yahtzee are regimented affairs but they not constrained by time controls. There is an orderly stratification to the respective games but no time limit. Baseball differs from other team sports like football or basketball where the length of a game is measured by set time periods. Likewise, Yahtzee eschews the habit of other high-level strategic tabletop games such as chess to adopt timed games. A timer can be used for Yahtzee if slow play requires it. But, like baseball, the game is allowed to make its own leisurely way to a natural conclusion.
Baseball is divided into nine innings and the length of a game can vary dramatically. This feature was borrowed from the unvarying structure of a game of Yahtzee, in which each player takes a set number of 13 turns. Time restrictions inhibit a Yahtzee player’s natural creative instincts and lead to lower scores, Don’t bother following a schedule – let the games develop on their own.
World Series - Both Yahtzee and baseball can be enjoyed as a single game, but the real beauty only emerges after playing a multitude of games. The 162-game baseball season is extreme compared to other American sports’ schedules. But because of the slow nature of the game, it takes this long to notice real differences between teams. Similarly, a poor Yahtzee player can defeat a more seasoned pro in a single game, but a true measure of skill only becomes obvious over a long series of games.
While moments of brilliance like a grand slam home run or a game-ending Yahtzee should be cherished, their development over time building into streaks and trends is the end goal. Repetition allows for a fairer measurement between players and teams while allowing for mathematical tools to gauge their progress.
Math, Statistics, and Probability - Yahtzee and baseball are both numbers games. The respective scoresheets are more detailed than their peers, like football or rummy, that only include the final scores. In baseball, for instance, the scoreline contains a breakdown of runs, hits, and errors for each of the game’s nine innings. All that extra game data provides a much clearer outline of the game’s progression than a simple total score ever could.
Likewise, a Yahtzee score card is a matrix of numbers that accounts for the score of each individual game segment – all 13 categories in both the Upper and Lower Sections. The amount of information packed into these official scoresheets is another connective link between Yahtzee and baseball, and something that sets them apart from their more rudimentary competition.
1. Baseball: 3 strikes and you’re out, 3 outs per inning
2. Yahtzee: 3 rolls per turn
3. Baseball has 9 innings per game. Yahtzee has 13 turns per game.
Baseball and Yahtzee both utilize a profusion of statistics that helps enrich our understanding of the game. There’s an old baseball saying about how it’s the only thing in life where you’re considered a success when you only fail 70% of the time. Anyone who has been stuck on trying to roll a Yahtzee all game can relate to having the odds stacked against you. Both games are difficult to master, and this is exactly what makes them ripe for statistical examination.
A common baseball statistic is “runs batted in”, or RBI. It’s a simple count of the number of runs a player has driven in from all plate appearances. But more complex stats can delve even deeper into a player’s output. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) incorporates a range of variables to evaluate how many more wins a player is worth than a replacement-level player at his same position:
For position players: (The number of runs above average a player is worth in his batting, baserunning and fielding + adjustment for position + adjustment for league + the number of runs provided by a replacement-level player) / runs per win
Yahtzee also makes use of convoluted algorithms to analyze gameplay. One of the most popular is the Full House Dis (FHD), a stat that measures a player’s mastery over the Full House category. The roller must successfully score a Full House in order to have a positive FHD quotient. It increases as Full House opportunities are brushed aside like a common peasant:
FH(d2) - f
FH = 1, if you score 25 points for Full House
FH = 0, if you score 0 points for Full House
d = number of Full House disses
f = number of additional Full Houses after rolling initial Full House
Old and Revered Games - Both games are steeped in their own rich history and traditions. Baseball dates back to the mid-1800s, being influenced by earlier English diversions. By the end of the century it was regarded as as the national sport of the United States.
Yahtzee was first released commercially in 1956, the same year that Yogi Berra powered the New York Yankees to the World Series championship. But the dice game’s origin goes back much further. Medieval monks popularized Yahtzee within the European clerical ranks, refining the game for centuries until it exploded onto the world stage. Scientists continue to unearth ancient Yahtzee artifacts from all over the world, reinforcing the true staying power of this timeless classic.
Scandal - Labor disputes, illegal betting, and the ever-present danger of pervasive cheating has loomed over both games and can threaten to ruin their integrity. When trust is lost, all hope is gone. The corruption can infest in a number of different ways. Baseball is at an elevated risk of physical tampering with game equipment, like using a corked bat or a pitcher’s sticky icky. To cheat at Yahtzee, a decptive player must employ more advanced techniques to gain an unfair advantage, such a the fake roll or extra roll.
Baseball’s steroid scandal stole the headlines at the time but a similar story uncovered doping on the Yahtzee Pro Circuit in late 2009. Unlike the home run record chase, juiced Yahtzee players didn’t receive any performance enhancement so the outrage didn’t last.
Slang and Lingo -The relationship between the two games runs so deep that the term “Yahtzee” itself has become a loan word in baseball jargon. Much like its common usage as a general cry of joy for any positive result, baseball fans now shout it when their team hits a home run. Curiously, the reverse almost never happens. No one yells “homer!” when they roll a Yahtzee. Aside from Poker, which serves as a foundation of the game, Yahtzee is resistant to adopting familiar elements from other games.
Yahtzee is also the idea behind new achievements and proposed stats, like the baseball Yahtzee. This borrows from Yahtzee game play to describe a batter with five plate appearances game who achieves the same result each at-bat. Five strikeouts would be the least memorable but still a true baseball Yahtzee. It’s a fun idea and it goes to show the massive cultural influence that these games continue to exert on one another.