Electronics Arts' Hasbro Family Game Night is an odd bird, arriving on the Xbox Live Arcade service in the form of an umbrella client from where a slew of board game classics are available for download for 800 Microsoft points each. At present, available videogame renditions of Connect Four, Battleship, Yahtzee and Sorry! are available, each with a leering Mr Potato Head surveying proceedings like a fascist overlord and whooping with bloodlust after a particularly successful play. We have already passed our discerning eye over evergreen childhood obsession Battleship, but now it is time for Yahtzee to step up and roll the dice.
While the peons rolled their dice, Potato Head let his mind wander to thoughts complete... global... domination...
For those young enough to never have bothered with playing games with actual boards or dice, Yahtzee remains a pleasingly simple concept to explain. Players traditionally place five dice in a cup and shake it around theatrically before their roll. Then, players must choose which of their dice they will preserve and which they will roll again in an effort to achieve the best 'hand' over three rolls. Yes, much like house-deposit-gobbling cultural touchstone card game poker, Yahtzee is all about obtaining the best available combination in order to beat out your rivals. Unlike poker, however, there is no avenue for deception, and it is unlikely that Daniel Craig will ever play Yahtzee opposite a megalomaniac super-villain with the fate of the free world hanging in the balance (but we will hold out hope). To be more specific, the best possible combination in Yahtzee is in fact the 'Yahtzee', wherein the player manages to obtain five dice of the same numerical value. Others include the 'three-of-a-kind', the 'four-of-a-kind', the 'Full House' (a 'three-of-a-kind' and a pair), and both small and large 'straights'. The catch is, of course, that the maximum score achievable for each combination may only be recorded once per game.
With EA Bright Light's rendition of Yahtzee, all of the above still applies by virtue of the fact that the game is a tremendously faithful recreation of the physical game experience. In addition, the often time-consuming processes of score calculation and strictly abiding by the rules are, of course, handled by the game, dispensing with any frustration or arithmetic challenges and leaving only a silky residue of clean, simple fun. The controls are simple enough for game-phobic spouses or children to come to grips with, and in a nice touch, the developers provide the option for players to use the analogue stick to simulate the shaking of the dice cup, which goes some ways to making one feel responsible for their result and avoids the sense of disconnect which sometimes accompanies electronic iterations of games of chance. Plus, who doesn't enjoy a good shake?
Complex character models and lush vistas are not visual splendours one should expect when considering whether or not to give Yahtzee a try, but on its own terms, this is a solid looking Live Arcade title. The cup and dice are nicely rendered for those who like that sort of thing, and of course, Mr Potato Head himself is recreated and animated with splendour, showcasing exactly why he has remained our favourite anthropomorphic vegetable for almost sixty years. Sound effects and music are forgettable, but unobtrusive, which is preferred in a game like Yahtzee where the soundscape will (and should) be dominated by insults, swearing, and bold accusations of cheating.
Yahtzee offers local and online competitive play which are solid, dependable fun, but like most board games this is a long-term investment which one will likely pull up from the Live Arcade menu once every couple of months for an hour or two of harmless fun and Mr Potato Head. In other words, it is the quintessential 'rainy day' title and not one which will keep you hooked to the controller for many hours at a time.
Considering the price point in the context of other Live Arcade releases, a real assessment must be made as to whether Yahtzee truly is one's proverbial 'cup of tea'. If so, the Hasbro Family Game Night rendition is hard to fault. It's faithful to its source, fun and accessible. You may not be able to take it on a long plane flight, but on the other hand, you will never have to start making your own makeshift scoring pads when the official ones run out.