It’s hard to screw up a computerized version of Yahtzee. Translate the rules, render decent graphics, make sure the interface is clean, and you’ve done your job. What isn’t easy, however, is creating a digitized version of the Milton Bradley classic that adds cool twists without losing the heart of what makes the real world version enjoyable. The good news is, Zylom has done just that with its new Yahtzee offering for casual gamers.
No review of Yahtzee would be complete without a quick rundown of the rules. In a nutshell, the object of the game is to earn as many points as possible by rolling specific combinations of five dice up to three times. At the end of your turn, you choose which scoring combination to use.
The Yahtzee scorecard consists of an upper and a lower section. In the upper section, each box is scored according to the total number of die matching that box. For example, if you roll three sixes, you score 18 points in that box. If you score at least 63 points on the upper section, you earn 35 bonus points. The lower section contains a number of Poker-themed combinations with specific point values. You have 13 turns in which to top your opponents.
Zylom does a good job of expanding the above foundation for the computerized version of Yahtzee, which the developer licensed from Hasbro. If you’re a fan, you’ll be up and running in no time with one of three modes, including traditional Yahtzee, Triple Yahtzee and the unique Power Yahtzee.
The traditional version of Yahtzee allows you to play alone, against up to three computer-controlled opponents or in opposition to as many as three friends sitting around the same PC. Triple Yahtzee offers the same options while allowing you to fill in three scorecards at once. Alas, if you’re looking for a Yahtzee game with LAN or online connectivity, you’ll have to search elsewhere.
Power Yahtzee lets you mix it up with 14 power-ups that can either benefit you or hinder your rivals. At the onset of the game, you’re given the ability to use two basic power-ups, including Helping Hand, which reveals the best dice to keep after a roll, and Bad Luck, which makes it all but impossible for your opponents to roll a scoring combination for one turn.
As you win Power Yahtzee games, you earn Power-up Points that can be used to buy bonuses that are more useful. At the cheaper end of the scale, you can purchase protection against your adversaries’ power-ups or a fourth roll; among the costlier power-ups is one that blinds your opponents to which die are facing up and another that rolls an automatic Yahtzee. You can take up to three power-ups into a game, and at the beginning of a match, you’re shown which ones your opponents have selected so you can plan accordingly. The power-ups are well-balanced, fun to use and introduce an element of simple strategy into the game.
To motivate solo gamers, Zylom introduces a system of Yahtzee Points that allow you to advance in levels, earn trophies and eventually unlock Grandmaster matches. You get ten points per opponent you beat, so beating three computer-controlled opponents at once nets you 30 points. Since you can select faster-than-normal opponents in the options menu, even four-player solo games move along at a nice clip, so unlocking Grandmaster mode doesn’t take long.
In fact, just about everything has been fine-tuned to make Yahtzee a pleasure to play. The user interface is well-organized, with big, colorful buttons highlighting every option, and the transitions between screens are butter smooth. Best of all, the scorecards are faithfully rendered versions of the real thing, although in this case, the game does the math for you. I would’ve sacrificed a little playing surface for larger cards, but that’s a minor complaint.
Another, more substantial, gripe is related to the artificial intelligence behind the computer-controlled opponents. Games against the PC come in easy, normal and hard varieties, but even on normal, the computer regularly makes wacky decisions. I won fewer games on hard, but that was more often due to bad luck than brilliant decision-making on the part of the AI.
Still, Yahtzee buffs should this computerized version of their beloved pastime. Although online competition would’ve been nice, there are plenty of modes to enjoy, and the new Power Yahtzee game puts a welcome twist on an old favorite. In addition, the program is easy to navigate and it looks great — right down to the animated dice bouncing across the velvety playing surfaces. You won’t be tossing out your battered dice or dog-eared scorecards, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Yahtzee earns a permanent place on your desktop.