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We've just been through half-term in the UK. It's a week-long break from schoolwork for kids - and what with the ongoing pandemic, that translates to no home-schooling for both children and parents. A welcome time for a little more calm, after too many days of tantrums. Until, that is, you remember that these small humans also need to be entertained - and guess who they turn to for that.
My wife and I don't let our kids play hours and hours of video games per day, or watch YouTube or Disney+ 'til they're red-eyed. We try to mix things up, get them out of the house, do things together. But it's hard, right now. Hard on all of us. There's so much we used to do that we just can't, now. Arguments are inevitable. So we end up giving in too easily, to letting them get an extra hour of Fortnite or Minecraft in, because it means that there's no stress, no drama, while they play. (Well, mostly - kids sure can make a lot of noise when a tiny thing doesn't go their way.)
But this half-term, we found something all of us can enjoy - and it was under our noses the whole time. I can't say for sure when my oldest son was given a pack of Uno cards, but I do know they sat on a shelf in his room for a good while. And for whatever reason - perhaps because, as a family, we'd been enjoying another card game, the Dungeons & Dragons-based Dungeon Mayhem - we decided this half-term would be the time where Uno finally got its chance.
Reader, I am a fool. A fool for waiting so long to play Uno (or, if you prefer, UNO). I'm in my fourth - wait, technically fifth, shit - decade on this planet, and it's taken me until now to check out this American classic, invented in 1971 (oh dang, it's 50 this year; happy birthday, Uno). I mean I always knew it was a thing - go into any toy shop, any games shop, any supermarket with a lil aisle of playthings, and there it is, Uno, waiting for someone to say, Ah yeah, we need a new set of that. But me? Slow.
And now I'm caught up: hey, Uno is a hell of a game, huh? I learned how to play it all of five minutes before deciding: a hell of a game. I won't bore you with the finer details of the rules - chances are, you already know them, have been playing Uno for years, and are reading this piece like: who is this idiot, coming to Uno so late, putting words on the internet about it, wasting everyone's time when we already know? Well I guess I got you, friend. Thanks for the click.
I know the first to 500 rules, where you count remaining cards in remaining hands once your cards are all down, discarded, thrown to the middle of the table in a victory flourish - after calling "Uno," of course, come on, the basics need adhering to. First to 500 across several rounds, potentially lasting ages. Sounds fun, maybe I'll get on that later. But the way we've been playing Uno is faster - single rounds where the only objective is to lose your starting seven cards before anyone else does. No numbers to count, just make them (and the colours) match. This way works for the kids and the grown-ups - and it's become such a competitive game at home, where any one of us can win.
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Okay so that may be because we're all beginners. Strategy? What strategy? But the wild, random nature of the game - who knows when a colours-scrambling Wild Card will drop and totally change the dynamic of the round, or a Reverse will be deployed and send the direction of discarding back on itself, potentially denying a player their moment of glory - means that everyone's face around the table is a journey. It's a ride and a half. A rollercoaster where your guts get left behind in a heartbeat. To see your kid's eyes light up when they realise they've one card left and they're about to win and then oh damn they're denied and that sparkle clouds over into a (not often) silent fuming? Oh, reader, it's a thrill, indeed. These kids, they've got to learn early.
Just as a Dungeon Mayhem round can last ten minutes, so too can a round of Uno played this way: just shed the cards, no mathematics necessary. Which is obviously fantastic for attention spans that have a habit of breaking after a little longer. Yeah sometimes the round goes on longer, as glimpses of completion are stolen away, but for the most part: you deal, you go around a few times, one of the kids screams "Uno" exceptionally too loudly for an indoor voice, and then it's done. Except.
Shuffle Hands. The Shuffle Hands card, oh my, what a mischief. What a troublemaker. What a show stealer. What an enigma. This single card, a wild card but not a Wild Card introduced to Uno pretty recently (I think - our pack is dated 2019), means that all the active cards in player hands get put together, shuffled anew, and then redistributed evenly. Say you've got a dozen cards, and two others in the round have just a couple each? This destroys them. It's all even again. I mean, maybe it won't work in your favour - but when you're in a losing position and you draw Shuffle Hands from the deck, it never increases your disadvantage.
Shuffle Hands is a torpedo through the hull of an otherwise unbreachable, unsinkable battleship. It's the deadliest weapon in Uno, and I love it. Unless I'm the one on the receiving end of it, of course, in which case it, much like said heavily armed floating thing, can get in the sea. It's not in the old Game Boy Advance version of Uno though, which I dug out having got hooked on this thing but apparently I can't insist my family remains around the dining room table for several hours at a time as we throw cardboard at each other. Maybe it's in the Switch version; maybe I should find out. Anyway, tl;dr: Uno's good, you should probably play Uno. I know I will be, a lot, from now on.
Featured Image Credit: Mattel Games
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