Uno - a Popular Card Game Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Uno - a Popular Card Game

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A small selection of UNO playing cards.

Uno is a card game1 that was invented in 1971 by Ohio barber Merle Robbins. Merle came up with the idea as a game to play with his family and friends, and it became so popular with them that eventually they pooled some funds to have game sets produced for sale. An initial investment of $8,000 was enough to make 5,000 games, which Merle sold in his barber shop and through a few other local shops.

Eventually he sold the rights to the game to a friend who created International Games Inc through which to market it. In 1992 International Games became part of the Mattel toy manufacturing company2, and today Uno is one of the most popular card games in the world.

How to Play the Game

Original Uno is played with a speciality deck of 108 cards that make up four suits: red, yellow, green and blue. Each suit contains 19 number cards 0 - 9, and six action cards: Skip, Draw Two and Reverse. The deck also has four wild cards and four Draw Four wild cards3.

After the deck is shuffled, each player is dealt seven cards. The remaining deck is placed face down and creates the draw pile. The top card is turned up next to the draw pile to create the discard pile. Beginning to the dealer's left, players place cards on the discard pile by playing cards that match the colour, number or action displayed on the top card. If a player doesn't have a card that can be played, that player must draw a card from the draw pile; that card may be played if it is eligible, otherwise play progresses to the next player.

When an action card is played, the next player must follow the action card instead of playing their own card. A Skip card means the next player is skipped, a Draw Two makes the next player draw two cards from the draw pile and forfeit their turn, and a Reverse switches the direction of play. If a wild card is played, the player who discards it may change the colour of play (but they don't have to) and play continues. If a wild Draw Four is played, that person must change the colour of play4, and the next player draws four cards and forfeits their turn.

If at any time during a hand the draw pile is depleted, the top card of the discard pile is reserved while the remainder of the discard pile is reshuffled to create a new draw pile.

Winning the Game

The object of the game is to be the first to play all your cards. When a player has only one card remaining in hand they must yell 'Uno!' to alert the other players that drastic measures (draw cards, changing colours) are called for to prevent the end of the hand. If a player is caught not saying 'Uno' prior to the beginning of the next player's turn, that player must draw two penalty cards - leaving them with tres instead of uno5.

When one player discards their last card the hand is ended and points are counted. Depending on whether you prefer a short game or a long one, points can be awarded in one of two ways:

  • For a short game all points remaining in the other players' hands are added together and given to the player who has gone out. The first player to reach a pre-determined score, usually 250 or 500, wins the game.
  • For a long game, each player keeps his own points. When one player has reached the pre-determined score the game is over and the person with the fewest points wins.

To count points, all numbered cards score face value, action cards are worth 20 points and wild cards are worth 50 points.

Variations on a Theme

Uno can be a very exciting and fast-paced game when playing by the rules, but for a bit of fun the rules can be amended to provide more of a challenge. There are dozens of unofficial rules that can be used independently or in combination, for instance:

  • Infinite draw - when a player cannot play a card from his hand he must draw from the draw pile until a playable card is picked up.
  • Pass it along - when a player discards a Draw Two card, if the next player also has a Draw Two she may play it instead of drawing, causing the next player to draw four. This can continue around the table until the next player does not have a Draw Two, and that player must draw the total number of cards for all the consecutive Draw Twos. Once a player has drawn the count starts over. For a really vicious game this rule can apply to the Draw Four wild cards as well.
  • Multiple discard - if a player has two identical cards that are playable they can both be discarded together.
  • Mathematical Uno - if a player doesn't have a playable card he can lay down two cards that equal (by simple maths) the number on top of the discard pile. This rule can be limited to one function - the cards may only be added together - or several functions.
  • Drinking Uno - a player must take a drink whenever they have to draw a card. If the players are drinking alcohol, it's probably best not to pair this rule with the infinite draw or pass along rules.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Not to be outdone by unofficial 'special rules' and, of course, capitalising on cross-marketing opportunities, Mattel has issued many special edition card games that feature popular characters or special themes. There are several 'My First Uno' decks for younger children that feature Winnie-the-Pooh, Hello Kitty, Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street to name a few. For the older crowd there are decks featuring professional sports teams, Family Guy, Spider-Man, the Simpsons, NASCAR or professional wrestling among others. Some special decks simply feature the characters or people from their given theme, others include special rules.

  • Star Trek Uno has four special cards: the Mind Meld card allows the person who played it to see the next player's hand, the Live Long and Prosper card allows one to discard their entire hand and draw a new one (with the same number of cards), the Double Tribble card forces the next player to double the number of cards in their hand, but fortunately the Beam Me Up, Scotty card cancels the effect of any action card played before it.
  • South Park Uno includes a Dead Kenny card which requires the next player to draw from the draw pile until they turn up any card with a picture of Kenny.
  • Spongebob Squarepants Uno features the Super Absorbency card which allows the next player to increase their hand by taking two cards from each of the other players.
  • Muppets Uno has the Muppet Mayhem card for which all players must trade hands in a uniform manner of the discarder's choosing (pass your hand to the right, two to the left, straight across, etc.)
  • Harry Potter Uno replaces the Draw Two cards with Draw Three cards and features a Howler card, meaning the next player must call out all the cards in their hand, and and Invisibility card which does the same thing as the Beam Me Up, Scotty card in the Star Trek version.

But Wait, There's More!

If cartoon characters seem a little too juvenile for you and sports aren't your thing, you can still find an Uno variety to suit you.

  • Uno H2O has unique plastic cards that won't get ruined when you drop them in water, the rules are even waterproof. This deck features a Downpour wild card which makes all other players draw cards from the draw pile, not just the next player.
  • Uno Car-Go comes in a barrel-shaped case that fits in a car's cupholder. The round cards have a hole in the middle to fit over a spindle in the case so the kids can play in the back seat on car trips without losing all the cards.
  • Uno Extreme6 has a battery-operated card shooter which holds the draw deck. Instead of drawing a card, players must press the launch button and the machine may or may not shoot cards at them. Sometimes it shoots two or three cards, other times it may shoot nine or ten!
  • Uno Spin uses a spinner to randomly dictate special rules. When a spin card is played the next player has to spin the wheel in lieu of their turn. The wheel could reveal that they must draw cards until they turn up a certain colour, but they could also get to discard all cards of the same number or colour, or possibly even their entire hand save two (an 'Almost Uno').
1Similar to the German game Mau Mau which can be played with a deck of standard playing cards.2Mattel produces toy staples like Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars.3Older decks have words on the action cards, newer decks only have symbols so they can be marketed in non-English-speaking countries.4By the rules, a Draw Four may only be played if the player cannot match the colour in play. A Draw Four may be challenged and, if the player is found to have a matching colour card they draw penalty cards. If the challenge is upheld though, the challenger must draw two penalty cards in addition to the original four.5Uno is Spanish for 'one'. Tres would then be Spanish for 'three'.6Uno Attack in the US.

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