Each night, when the chores are done and I’ve had enough of my daily doom-scrolling, I lie belly-first on my cushy comforter, grab my PlayStation 4 controller, and boot up a game of Uno.
Settling in for a few rounds of the classic card game turned video game by myself has become a treasured part of my nightly routine. It helps me relax and gives me a chance to wind down. I’ll turn on some cozy lighting, put on some bubble bath music like Ariana Grande, and let the warm red glow of the game fill my room.
Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve begun playing Uno, solo. When I say by myself, I don’t just mean alone in my room. I only ever play with computers, and don’t challenge anyone online. Since I am the sole broker of each game, I get to pick my own rules. I stick to a pretty standard ruleset with the only special rule being the “stacking rule.” If someone uses a +2 card, and I happen to have one, I can then play my own, and pass it along to the next person. If you end with four, eight, or even 12 cards, this will set you back a ton, because Uno is just like Crazy Eights — the only point of the game is to get rid of all your cards.
In a recent match, the hand to my right played a +4 Wild card. I scrambled, because I wasn’t sure if I was stuck with more cards, or if I could use my own +4 card to pass along a whopping eight cards to the next hand. I hesitated, but then the large TV screen flashed and prompted me to press the triangle button to send eight cards to my left. It was a relief, because the hand I sent it to only had two cards, and could have won within a couple of rotations. Contrary to previous experiences with Uno, when the player drew eight cards, I didn’t hear shouting or cursing out of frustration. That’s because my competitor was a computer named AI Hawking.
I don’t feel particularly pressed to come up with a strategy in this form of Uno. Sure, I’ll make logical decisions. If I have a hand full of red numbers, then I’ll use a Wild card to change the color to red. I’m not going up against humans, so there’s no point in strategizing around how I think people will act. I don’t even really get worried about calling “Uno” on other players. (The game’s titular rule is that if someone has one card, and someone calls “Uno” before the person with one card says, “Uno!” that person has to draw two cards.) Sharing a game of Uno with computers allows me to otherwise completely turn off my brain.
The average game ends much more quickly than one in real life. The game has a much smoother and regular cadence. There’s no more reminding people it’s their turn, or waiting for someone to get up and get a snack. Each AI player promptly takes its turn with a smooth animation of a card played.
Still, although I enjoy the smooth play, it’s also those little irregularities that give color to playing Uno. A solitary version of Uno is very much against the communal ethos of the card game. The only fun part of the game used to be its consistent ability to spark drama as people mess with one another. All the cards like Skip, Reverse, and Draw +2 make for a hell of time if two people gang up on one person. If you’re especially unlucky, you might go multiple rotations in a row without being able to play. It just sort of feels like Uno was designed for players to mess with each other and create chaos.
These parts of the game have created plenty of content fodder for memes. From the “Everyone has Uno, dipshit. It came free with your fucking Xbox” video and now TikTok sound, to the classic draw 25 cards meme, which shows how hard of a decision it would be between drawing 25 Uno cards and “texting or calling your ex,” Uno has always been funny in social settings. Even the rules themselves have become meme-ified. A tweet from the official account blew up when the makers issued a statement saying, “You cannot stack a +2 on a +2.” Fans decried Mattel’s claim, saying that the statement was just wrong and that their own family rules were correct.
It all just goes to show how deeply personal playing Uno with friends and family is. And while my family has managed to sit down for an online game of Uno on a couple of occasions, nothing beats the in-person experience of collective screaming and uncontrollable laughter at dogpiling dozens of cards onto your youngest sibling. The energy just doesn’t fully translate.
So while I miss the antics of a more energized version of the game (and I certainly miss playing cards with my family), I am also a person that is burnt out and tired. So for now, if I play Uno, I’ll do it alone.