Yahtzee with PetsApril 14, 2021
A surfing goat is making waves across California. When Dana McGregor taught his pet goat, Goatee, to surf she instantly became a hit with fellow surfers and tourists alike. McGregor has since incorporated Goatee and her bearded brethren into a wide array of beach adventures including the Beautifully Abled Surf Camp, which teaches the sport to special-needs children. With so many people around the world still isolated at home due to the pandemic, there is an opportunity to expand other favorite pastimes to our four-legged friends in socially-distanced ways. Naturally, Yahtzee with pets is at the top of our list.
Naysayers may contend that it is impossible to teach animals to play Yahtzee since they cannot count, do simple addition, or possess the dexterity needed to roll a cup of dice. But if you're willing to be creative and lend a helping hand when needed, you can most certainly enjoy a game of Yahtzee with your pet.
It may be useful when attempting to teach your pet to play Yahtzee to keep in mind that humans are animals. There is a tendency in modern society to think of humans as separate and distinct from other animals and "nature" in general but of course we all evolved together on planet Earth. Blindness to this obvious fact of life is a slippery slope to speciesism, whereas basic Yahtzee principles teach us that no creature is intrinsically superior to another.
The basic skills required to play Yahtzee are not unique to homo sapiens but are shared amongst thousands of species. Research has proven that a wide variety of non-human animals can count and perform other simple mathematical calculations. Some of the most studied cases include bees, crows, and even oriental fire-bellied toads. Neurobiologist Andreas Nieder has concluded that “numerical competence is present on almost every branch on the animal tree of life.”
An up-close demonstration of animal addition will soon be evident to many North Americans as hordes of cicadas emerge from their underground 17-year slumber. These insects possess the remarkable ability to count the freeze-and-thaw cycles of the changing seasons, all while in a hibernation state no less. Why do they adhere to such a specific cycle? Perhaps it is related to the statistical average of a Chance score - also 17.
Both human and non-human individuals possess different skill-sets and levels of ability. While it would surely take a very talented non-human to tally the final score on a Yahtzee scorecard, many humans also struggle with addition tasks. Even some top-level players on the Yahtzee Pro Circuit utilize a calculator for assistance, or opt for an auto-adding spreadsheet scorecard. And the ability to physically roll a Yahtzee dice shaker is definitely not a prerequisite for playing the game. Electronic versions can be enjoyed with a few mouse clicks and a wide variety of other tools can be implemented for differently abled people and animals.
Humans can share the joys of Yahtzee with all sorts of animal friends by granting some these basic accommodations. One popular method is to play “Hand and Brain” Yahtzee. Inspired by a similar variant in the game of chess, this style consists of a two-player team working in tandem. The non-human player acts as the hand and rolls the dice each turn - or clicks the mouse or whichever type of system is being used to accommodate the animal partner. The human player serves as the brain who makes the tactical decisions of which dice to keep and what Yahtzee strategy to employ.
Yahtzee enthusiasts should feel free to experiment with an array of different species. The game is, after all, based on a foundation of inclusion. Online Yahtzee simplifies the physical challenges of the game but even our non-primate animal cousins, with the proper support, can experience the joys of rolling dice. Goats and cicadas are prime candidates for Yahtzee fun but it is perhaps best to start with the family dog.