Uno: Rules and a Brief History of the Quick-Thinking Classic

Updated October 11, 2021
Uno cards in hand

Uno has been ruining family relationships since 1971, but for those of you who haven't obsessively memorized the basic Uno rules to use against your sibling's sneaky moves, it's time to re-familiarize yourself. The basics might still be embedded in your mind from childhood vacations spent playing the card game, but a small nudge in the right direction should help bring the rest of the Uno rules to the front of your mind.

Uno Enters the Game Market

Uno was created in 1971 and was loosely based on another popular card game, Crazy Eights. Merle Robbins, who owned a barbershop, and his son were arguing over the Crazy Eights game, which prompted Robbins to invent his own card game entitled Uno. At first, his prototype was played among his family, but when he invited some friends over to play with him and they really enjoyed the game, Robbins and some other family members collected around $8,000 and had 5,000 copies of the game manufactured. He sold them from his barbershop, and eventually sold the rights to a Joliet, Illinois game maker for $50,000 and 10 cent per game sold royalties. In the early 1990s, Uno was bought by Mattel - the famous children's toy manufacturer who brought the world Barbie - and has since been a popular card game to break out among friends and families.

Uno Contents

Before you try to play a round, make sure that your childhood Uno deck that's been loosely thrown into a plastic bag for decades has the following cards:

  • 19 0-9 cards in the colors red, blue, yellow, and green
  • 8 Draw Two cards and two for each color.
  • 8 Reverse cards and two for each color.
  • 8 Skip cards and two for each color.
  • 4 Wild cards
  • 4 Wild Draw Four cards
A complete Uno cards deck

Card Meanings

Before you set up your game, you need to make sure you understand what each of the cards means.

  • Number cards - These cards come in 1-9, and each color option as well. They don't have any special meaning.
  • Draw 2 cards - These cards make the next person in line after the player who's laid down the Draw 2 pick up two cards.
  • Reverse cards - These cards reverse the direction of play; clockwise becomes counterclockwise and vice versa.
  • Skip cards - These cards make the next player in line forfeit their turn until the next round.
  • Wild cards - This card can be played on any color, and lets the player who laid it down change (or keep) the color of cards at play.
  • Wild Draw 4 cards - Not only do the Wild Cards rules apply to this card, but this card also makes the next player in line pick up four cards as well. Note - You can only play this card when you don't have any cards in your hand that match the card in play.

Uno Rules to Guide Your Game

Card games are the most fun when everyone plays by the rules, and checking in with the rules before you start a game is the quickest way to make sure everyone's on the same page. You might even discover that your family's personal way of playing the game differs from the way that your friends played it themselves. From picking the first card to winning the game, you only have to keep a few simple steps in mind when competing in Uno.

How to Set up Uno

The Uno rules state that the game is for two to ten players. After the deck has been shuffled, each player is dealt seven cards, face down. The rest of the cards denote the draw pile. Someone takes the top card from the draw pile and places it adjacent, indicating the discard stack.

Determine Who Goes First

Determining who goes first should be agreed upon before the first card is played. Usually, the youngest player goes first, but if players want, everyone can draw a card from the deck before it is dealt, and the person with the highest card goes first. If someone nabs a non-number card, then that person's card doesn't count, and they should draw a second time. If you have a tie, you can either have a redraw for a tie-breaker or institute a fun game of something like the rock, paper, scissors to decide for you.

Match and Draw Cards

Gameplay then moves clockwise once the first player has been determined. The first player must pull one card off the top of the unused deck and place it in the center beside the deck. Then, the player must match the card by either its number or color. If a player doesn't have a card to play, then they draw a card from the unused deck. Official Uno rules say that the player is allowed to play this card if it's a match; otherwise the next player in line goes. This actually differs from how most people play where players without a match have to keep pulling from the draw pile until they pull a match. This makes it harder for each player as they can quickly rack up a huge hand of cards in one go. Make sure you all decide which way you want to play before you start playing.

Shout out Uno and Total up Points

As cards are played, someone will eventually end up with only one card in their hand. When this is the case, that player must say "Uno" before anyone else says it. If someone else says "Uno" first, then the person with the single card has to draw two cards, but if the player with Uno successfully said Uno first, the game continues. The first person to get rid of their last card ends the game. The person who finally gets rid of the last card in their hand indicates that the round is awarded points from whatever cards are left in the other players' hands. The cards' values include:

  • Number Cards - Face value
  • Draw 2 - 20 points
  • Reverse - 20 points
  • Skip - 20 points
  • Wild - 50 points
  • Draw 4 - 50 points

How to Win the Game

The winner of the game is the player who reaches 500 points first, meaning that you can win the game in as little as one round or as many as it takes to reach 500.

Use the Uno Rules to Your Advantage

Even in a game of chance, you can apply a few strategies to increase your likelihood of coming out on top. Here are some of the ways that you can strengthen your Uno game.

  • Keep your eyes open - Make sure that you're keeping an eye on everyone else's hands. The worst thing you can do is let someone get to Uno first, and the one assured way that you can prevent that is by shouting out Uno before them.
  • Use your specialty cards sparingly - When you first get a Wild Card or a Wild Draw 4, try not to immediately throw them down out of excitement. These cards are better used later when you need to stop a person who's approaching Uno in their tracks.
  • Get rid of specialty cards before someone Unos - If someone's getting close to Uno, try to get rid of your specialty cards before they finish the round as these cards give them the most number of points and put you further away from winning the total yourself.

Draw Fun During Game Night

Uno is a fun and quick game that requires some skill and forces you to pay attention to what others are playing. It's fun for you and your family to play together. Having a familiarity with Uno's rules will help you trip up other players on technicalities and potentially secure yourself as the winner of the game.

Uno: Rules and a Brief History of the Quick-Thinking Classic