Despite the rise of online gaming, or perhaps because of it, tabletop games remain incredibly popular. From classics like backgammon to longstanding Table Top Role Playing Games (TTRPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons, these games are enjoyed by millions worldwide. Ever wondered about the origins of your favorite dice games? Let’s explore how traditional dice games have made some of America’s most popular tabletop games today.
Yahtzee is a household favorite in the US – considered one of the most popular dice-based games of all time. The game’s ultimate origins lie in a range of traditional dice games, including English Poker Dice and the German game Kniffel. However, the version of Yahtzee as we know was invented by Edwin S. Lowe, a Canadian toy manufacturer who also brought Bingo (known then as Lowe’s Bingo) to the American masses after learning about the original game ‘Beano’ from carnival folk after their show.
The name ‘Yahtzee’ is said to come from the game originally being played with Lowe’s friends on their yacht. With Lowe’s desire to share these games with the world, by 1956, The Yacht Game, rebranded as Yahtzee, had hit the shelves. Initially unsuccessful, the game’s popularity soon spread by word of mouth over two decades and was eventually sold to Hasbro – who now sells 50 million copies of the game annually.
The unusual name of the popular American dice game, Craps is derived from the game Hazard, which dates back to medieval England. ‘Crabs’ were the nickname for the throws 1-1 and 1-2 in Hazard, which is where the name originated. Widely played in casinos, Craps is attributed to Sir William of Tyre, who is said to have invented the game’s predecessor Hazard in 1125 during the Crusades, and named it after a castle known as “Asart” or “Hazarth.”
The game would become a hallmark in English and French taverns and was later brought to New Orleans by Bernard de Marigny, however, the game mechanics were flawed and allowed players to scam casinos. Fortunately, in the 19th century, dice maker John H. Winn corrected this issue by proposing the “don’t pass” betting option. This version of the game is to thank for the craps we know today, and for its popularity on the Vegas strip.
Farkle is another household favorite in the U.S. and is traditionally a folk game. As such, its origins are quite obscure, but it has certainly evolved over time. The Company Legendary Games Inc. has marketed the game under the name Pocket Farkel since 1996. Farkle is a game you can put your own stamp on, as there’s a huge variation in additional rules and ways to play.
There are several theories on the game’s origins, however, the first ‘Farkle’ trademark was filed in 1982 by Moosehead Enterprises of Dayton. The trademark was dropped and picked up several times before a company rebranded as Farkle Games, Inc. began selling the first official Farkle games. However, another company soon did the same and a trademark war ensued. Today, both brands of Farkle are sold worldwide, so look out for the slight differences between the rules!
The modern American games we know and love have their roots all around the world. Next time you play a game of Yahtzee, you can impress your fellow players with your knowledge of these games.