Yahtzee Adventures, by EA Mobile, is a great example of how to expand a simple subject into a full-featured, compelling video game. Yahtzee is a pretty cool game on its own merits, to be sure, but EA Mobile’s treatment adds some additional depth and a measure of personality to the basic offering. It’s not enough to keep you playing indefinitely–the novelty does eventually wear off–but you may be surprised by Yahtzee Adventures’ addictive qualities while the content lasts. We certainly were.
In the venerable game of Classic Yahtzee, the dice do the talking–five of them, to be exact. These are rolled up to three times to produce a hand, which is then slotted into a particular category to score points. There are six “upper” categories covering the numbers from one to six. When you choose one of these categories, you score that value times the number of dice showing that number; for example, if you’ve rolled three sixes and two other numbers, and you choose the six category, you’ll earn 18 points. There are an additional seven “lower” categories covering sets of three and four, small and large straights, a full house (a pair and a three of a kind), “Chance” (the total value of all dice, regardless of matching), and the Yahtzee (five of a kind). Some of these produce a fixed number of points (a full house is always worth 25 points and a Yahtzee 50, for instance), while others, like the sets and Chance, score whatever’s on the table. When re-rolling, you can choose to hold onto any number of dice, as if you were playing draw poker.
Here’s the catch: you have to pick a category every round–even if your dice don’t match its requirements, resulting in a score of zero–and you can only fill each category once. So, winning at Yahtzee involves maximizing your points by working the probabilities and making tactical sacrifices; there are only 13 total rounds in each game, and you have to make them count. It takes mental math, intuition, and strategy in equal measure. Do you want to take the sure thing, or go for a higher-scoring possibility, knowing that you could be stuck with a rotten score? It depends on where you are in the game, which categories are available, and how lucky you’re feeling.
And that’s just Classic Yahtzee. Yahtzee Adventures brings three newcomers to the party to skew the math and knock comfortable Yahtzee veterans off their high horses. Rainbow Yahtzee is the simplest–it merely adds high-scoring categories based on color matching. In Duplicate Yahtzee, you and your opponent receive identical rolls, resulting in a pure test of strategy. Our favorite is Battle Yahtzee, a royal rumble for two to four players. In this wild free for all, the upper categories restore your health, the lower categories deal damage to opponents, “Chance” has a random effect (it can heal you, damage all opponents, or poison you), and the categories “recharge” over time, allowing reuse if the opportunity arises. The last player standing wins. Games against two or three enemies at once introduce a bit of game theory to the mix, on top of everything else; you may find yourself working to maintain the balance of power while you wait for the right time to strike.
The game throws all four of these variants at you during the course of Adventure mode, where you basically walk the Earth to defeat your Yahtzee Sensei’s other pupils. Not unexpectedly, the underground Yahtzee circuit is stocked with all kinds of weirdos, each with a unique play style and specialty. These CPU opponents have fully fleshed-out back stories, down to their relationships with the other students, and a few special lines of dialog each. There’s a light touch of silliness to it that makes the whole thing more fun, even though you’re basically playing a bunch of bots; there are some strong personalities in there, like an incredibly obnoxious German fashionista, a carefree Gypsy, and a shifty Arab. The adventure’s good for two or three hours, depending on how quickly your Yahtzee skills progress, and we were sad to see it end.
Yahtzee Adventures also offers quick play and custom game options, as well as pass-and-play multiplayer with friends. Internet multiplayer is conspicuously absent, even though it’s a no-brainer for games like this one. Other than the character portraits, the graphics are pretty unremarkable, but they do the job; you can kill the default jazzy piano tune and play your own songs at will. Be warned that the game’s motion controls, which supposedly let you “roll” the dice, are next to worthless, especially when compared to games like MotionX Poker. We turned the feature off entirely and went with the touchscreen instead.
To summarize, Yahtzee Adventures is one of those games that can draw you in and intensely occupy you for a while, especially if you like dice and math. If it had a longer quest and internet multiplayer, we might have given it a 4–but once that initial rush is over and you’ve beaten the single-player game, it definitely becomes less interesting. Nevertheless, we still feel like we got our $4.99 worth, and it gets our recommendation.