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Yatzy Poker History


A very short history of Yatzy Poker

I grew up playing Yahtzee.  It is a great, easy to learn, replayable game, that appeals to a wide range of people.  I have enjoyed playing it for decades, but there are some frustrating elements to the game.  You often have to score zeros, you often cannot use a good roll for a variety of reasons, and it lacks many elements of poker.  I have tried to greatly reduce or eliminate these issues with Yatzy Poker while adding more poker elements.  The minigames take the same concept in a different direction that I hope most people will find appealing.

Many decades ago, I learned to play a game called Yahtzee.  This was a time before cell phones and personal computers.  We mostly played when the electricity went out, which happened fairly often in the wintertime where we lived.  At the time, I did not appreciate how difficult it was to make a game that was easy to learn, very replayable, and enjoyable by a very broad range of people.  Yahtzee has all of these things.  Although young, my sister and I could manage to win games from time to time without anyone letting us win.  At least, I don’t think they were letting us win.  We could play game after game as a family, and, somewhat surprisingly, no one wanted to quit to go do something else.  My otherwise reserved mother would let out a shout of excitement when she would get the roll she wanted.  Sometimes in the middle of a game of Yahtzee, I can almost hear that wonderful shout again.


Years passed and there arrived endless forms of engrossing entertainment.  Electronic games seem to get better and more available all of the time.  However, I found that I still liked playing Yahtzee from time to time.  I programmed a Yahtzee clone for my friends and family.  It was fairly well received, but most who still played the game preferred the pad and pencil version.


More years passed, and I met someone who enjoyed playing Yahtzee as much as I did.  We played it on our first date, and it became an almost weekly event after that.  However, I now look at the game a little differently.  It still has all of the elements that make a great game.  It is easy to learn, replayable, and fun for a broad audience.  However, there were things that bothered me about the game.  Scoring zeros is frustrating, and it happens all too often.  There is a lack of balance in the game where Ones are nearly worthless compared to Sixes.  As a consequence, many of the previously mentioned zeros end up in the Ones column.  The game is trying to be a dice-poker game, and it is, but I would rather have three Twos if I am playing poker than two Kings.  Additionally, you very often get a good roll after you have taken a zero in that scoring row.  This makes you start over with only one additional roll.  And of course, there are no flushes or straight flushes, which are classic poker hands.


I began spending a lot of time thinking about how to eliminate or at least greatly reduce the frustrating elements of the game.  I also wanted it to have more poker elements.  Many hours were spent in spreadsheets trying to work out a physical dice game that would have it all.  After a few months, I had a playable game in a spreadsheet that simulated a physical dice game.  I played and tweaked this game for months, and it was fun and provided many of the enhancements I was striving for.  However, the limitations of physical dice could not provide all of the elements that I needed for the game to work the way I had hoped for.  It appeared that my ambitious quest to improve a timeless classic game was destined to fail.  That was a big disappointment, but not a great surprise.


More time passed, and I began to wonder how the game would play if there were a completely random roll capability.  That would solve a lot of problems with the current version of the game.  A computer or telephone is an electronic simulator.  Random rolling comes naturally to it.  I had spent some time working on the rolling probabilities.  It was clear that adding the four card suits would not work well with only five dice and six possible numbers.  After some experimentation and calculations, it turns out that two suit colors with one neutral color made flushes workable and straight flushes possible although difficult.  Let’s say you roll three red Fours on your first roll.  On one hand, in addition to trying for a full house or more Fours, you could try to get two more red dice to get a flush.  This is where the concept of “how are you going to play that roll?” started to become very important to me.  On the other hand, that is difficult, and will it seem wrong to have the same dice appear in a roll.  More work was needed to make the game playable.


It turns out that having the same suit colored and numbered dice did not seem to bother people.   It really isn’t much different than having the same numbered dice in Yahtzee.  Straights, flushes, and straight flushes were made easier by allowing reduced score four dice versions.  This helped to enrich the game and reduce the number of zeros scored.  Allowing a mix of red and black dice for straight flushes makes them more attainable without losing the thrill and score reward of getting a full straight flush.  The upper section scoring was rebalanced to make the lower numbers nearly as valuable as the higher numbers.  In poker, three Twos will win a lot of hands.  An OAKer and Joker round were added to allow the scoring of a second identical or nearly identical hand.  Two Pair is a classic poker hand that fit perfectly into this game for those many times when an of-a-kind or Full House attempt did not pan out.  Finally, High Hand was changed to give a reduced score for a good hand instead of just counting up the dice values.  It gives you one last thing to go for if you are lucky enough to still have it available at or near the end of the game.  It can make a difference in getting that high score.


How am I going to play that roll?  Especially near the beginning of a game, I find myself asking that question often.  That’s a good thing!  Any random roll could lend itself to multiple strategies to get a good score that round.  In other games, there is often only one, if any, obvious strategy to pursue on a random roll.  That is of course if you haven’t already entered a score in that category.  This also all but eliminates the dreaded “worst roll ever.”  A One, Two, Three, Five, and Six without colors is hard to turn into a good round with the last two rolls. 


The game of dice poker seemed to be coming together.  A few years ago, the name was changed to Doker (then to Yatzy Poker) to reflect that concept.  The Draw Yatzy minigame was added because it is more like poker in the sense that you are always trying to get the best hand each round instead of filling in categories.  The Challenges minigame is the opposite where you play five rounds trying to get the same type of hands.  We hope you enjoy the games as much as we do.  A lot of time and thought was put into them.

A very long history of Yatzy Poker

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