There are some games that live in pretty much every home. UNO is a classic game that permeates the collective consciousness and forms part of the culture fabric beyond the tabletop community. Although this card game lives in most homes, a simple question must still be answered: is it any good?
No game is perfect, but as I said in other blogs, a game that entertains is a game worth playing. By that measure, it is perfectly alright for someone to avoid UNO if he or she finds no pleasure in the game. I enjoy UNO, specifically because it has a simple design that anyone can learn. The cards contain two pieces of information which are easily understood, i.e. color and number. Anyone can play so long as they can recognize the different colors and symbols. It’s this minimal approach to a card that allowed me to compare the UNO cards to a classic deck of cards and teach this game to my family in five minutes. I even took a deck to El Salvador and taught my cousins how to play; it quickly became an obsession. I’ve never been able to replicate this feat with any other game since my family speaks Spanish exclusively and understand very little English.
Although I enjoy the game because it entertains my family, that is a very subjective standard of analysis. From an objective perspective, the rules are too flexible and open to house-ruling. I enjoy that awkward conversation before the game where someone asks “which rules are we using” (I erroneously thought my house-ruled version of the game was the default for everyone for an embarrassing amount of years); the conversation demonstrates how versatile a game can be. Although it can be fun to learn how each party plays the same game, the fact that so many house-rule variants exist suggest that many find the game lacking in some respect. I believe that house-rules arise out of a desire to make the game more fun. Sometimes a game benefits from a single change and is never touched again. UNO is not this sort of game. UNO has existed for generations and changes constantly which only suggests that the base game is not fun enough on its own. Alternatively, the existence of so many variants suggests that the game was not fully developed. I don’t know which alternative is worse.
Is UNO the best game I’ve played? It depends which measure you use. The game doesn’t satisfy my craving for strategy. The gameplay can become boringly repetitive if a game lasts too long (which can happen too easily). Most depressingly for me is the lack of a story or ability to create a story with this game. However, a lack of story doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of other card games, specifically, those played with a traditional deck of cards like Poker. More importantly, it is one of the best games I can play with my family. Despite age gaps or language barriers between the people playing the game, the design is simple enough that it can entertain everyone equally. UNO may not be the best game I’ve played, but it has entertained my family for many hours. Ultimately that is what keeps UNO in the market year after year; it’s a simple family game and it doesn’t have to be anything else.