How Uno Works

By: Marie Willsey  | 
People playing UNO
Two more cards to go until the player can shout that magic word: UNO! elPadawan/Flickr used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Are you looking for a game that's easy to learn, simple to play and fun for everyone? UNO, one of the world's most popular card games, may fit the bill perfectly. Like most games, it's great for a family gathering, a rainy day, or whenever cries of "I'm bored" threaten to spoil a long afternoon. After all, who could resist its simple appeal, bright colors and opportunities to shout in the face of imminent victory? No, really: The name of the game is the Spanish word for "one," and a player must shout "Uno!" whenever he or she has only one card remaining. The fun, of course, lies in navigating a sea of Skips, Reverses and Draw Fours to get there.

UNO was first designed by Ohio barbershop owner and card lover Merle Robbins in 1971 as a variation of the popular game Crazy Eights. It soon became a favorite with family and friends, and he realized others might enjoy it as well. His family pooled together $8,000 to print 5,000 card games, which he sold from his barbershop and in a few local businesses [source: Mattel].


Robbins sold the rights to the game to funeral parlor owner Robert Tezak for $50,000, plus royalties of ten cents per game. Tezak formed International Games to market UNO — and became a multimillionaire in the process. In 1992, International Games became part of the Mattel toy company. Now, nearly five decades after its creation, UNO is played by millions around the world.

To learn the rules of the game and strategies for winning, read on.

UNO Rules

The rules of UNO are simple and easy to explain. In fact, it's a great game for children and adults to play together (recommended age for kids is 7 years and up, but you could certainly try it with younger kids). Each game takes only five to 10 minutes to play, so it's perfect for those with short attention spans or only a few minutes to spare — although some families have been known to play the game for hours!

UNO is played using a deck of 108 cards in four-color suits, numbered from 0 through 9: 19 blue, 19 green, 19 red and 19 yellow. The deck also includes eight "Skip" cards, eight "Draw Two" cards, eight "Reverse" cards, four "Wild" cards and four "Wild Draw Four" cards. A more recent version of UNO will include "Wild Swap Hands" and "Wild" customizable cards, two of each. Just remove them if you prefer classic UNO. Here's a brief rundown of the game's rules:


Object: The object of UNO is playing all the cards in your hand. When only one card is remaining, the cardholder must shout "Uno!" alerting others that he or she is down to the last card in his or her hand.

Choosing a dealer: A simple draw of cards determines the game's dealer; the person who chooses the card with the highest numerical value deals. If a player selects a non-numerical card, he or she returns it to the deck and chooses another.

How to play: Each player is dealt seven cards at the game's start, with the remaining ones placed facedown to form a "draw" pile. The top card of the draw pile is turned over to begin a "discard" pile.

The first player has to match the card in the discard pile either by number, color or word. For example, if the card played is a red 7, the next player must throw down a red card or a 7 of any color. The player can also play a Wild or a Wild Draw Four card, the latter only if he or she doesn't have a playable card in that color. If the player doesn't have a playable card, he or she must pick a card from the draw pile and play it, if possible.

If the card plucked from the draw pile isn't playable, the next player must take his or her turn. When a player has one card left, he or she must yell "Uno!" If the player forgets, he or she has to pick two cards from the draw pile. So much for imminent victory.

Once a player has no cards left, the hand is over. Points are scored, and the dealer doles out new hands to everyone.

Scoring UNO is simple. When a player plays all his or her cards, the others count their points based on their remaining cards. Numbered cards are face value, colored special cards are worth 20 points and Wild cards are worth 50 points. The first player to play all of his or her cards receives points for the cards left in the opponents' hands. The first person to reach 500 points is declared the winner.

UNO Strategy

Some say UNO is simply a game of chance, others insist it's a game of skill. What's the real story?

Opinions differ, but you can use strategy to your advantage. The website offers lots of tongue-in-cheek advice for winning at UNO and little-known facts about the game.


Some tidbits:

  • Will counting cards help you to make the right moves? Probably not, but UNO is considered a game of chance, like the lottery, so it's safe and legal to count cards. Seasoned players use clever methods to help them remember card sequence, including the method of loci, a memory device of associating things with a story or sequence.
  • Ever wonder why zeroes don't turn up as often as the other numbers? There's a reason: While there are eight of every card numbered 1 through 9, there are only four zeroes in the deck.

If you insist on improving your UNO skill, or have something to prove to your nephew or Great-uncle Phil, try these simple strategies:

  • Discard Wild Draw Four cards. If you are holding any Wild Draw Four cards, get rid of them as soon as possible. You can only play one when you don't have any other color or number card that can be played, and it will cost you 50 points if you're still holding it at the end of the round.
  • Use Reverse and Skip cards strategically. Discard 20-point cards as soon as you can, but try to use your Reverse or Skip cards strategically. Keep an eye on the number of cards in the hands of the opponents sitting on either side of you, and use these cards to keep them from emptying their hands.
  • Hold Wild cards, if you can. Hold the non-Draw Four Wild cards as long as you can, because they are true wild cards and can be played whenever needed.
  • Minimize how many cards you hold of any one color. When discarding numbered cards, discard the highest number you can, unless you have a large number of the color just played. For example, if someone plays a blue 8, and you're holding a red 8 and five blue cards with lower numbers, play one of the blue cards. That way, you'll rid yourself of extra blue cards before someone changes the color.

You'll find UNO enthusiasts with dozens of strategies to offer, but most lovers of the game agree with this one: Smile, relax, enjoy the company of people you like and play the game!

UNO Attack and DOS

Once you've mastered the intricacies of the original UNO game, look at Mattel's UNO Attack, aka UNO Extreme. This version features an electronic card shooter that shoots out a random number of cards whenever a player has to draw. At the press of a button, it shoots out up to 10-12 cards at the players. The electric card shooter adds an element of surprise to a game that's already fast-paced and challenging.

UNO Attack rules resemble the original game's, but with a few different command cards. Instead of a Wild Draw Four card, there's a card called "Wild Hit Fire." When it's played, the next player has to hit the launch button. Since there's no draw pile, a player must hit the launch button whenever he or she must draw. As a result, you never know when a stream of cards will come flying your way.


As in the original version, players must say "Uno!" as soon as they play their next-to-last card. If the player forgets to do so and another player notices, the poor forgetful soul must press the button — and possibly add up to 10 cards to his or her hand.

Uno Attack uses 112 cards, including the colored number cards, the aforementioned Reverse, Skip, Wild and Draw Two cards, plus the addition of the "Wild Hit Fire" card.

The electronic card shooter gives this popular game a great twist. As the game's tagline says, it's a random, rapid-fire card shoot-out!

In 2018, UNO got a buddy named DOS, the goal of which is the same: shed your cards as fast as possible, gleefully yelling "DOS" when you have two cards left. The game's designed for two to four players. It uses two piles, with each player starting off with seven cards, same as UNO, and matching to the center two piles by number. For example, you can play a blue 4 on a yellow 4 (a single match). You could also play a 3 card and a 1 card of any color on that 4, because 3 and 1 add up to 4, right? That's a double match.

Once you make a match on one or both piles, the player moves that stack of cards to the discard pile. You can also earn a bonus for matching by color and number, the bonus being you get to ditch another card at the end of your turn. If you do a double match by color and number (e.g., using a yellow 3 and yellow 1 to match a yellow 4), you get to ditch a card and make your fellow players draw one. Scoring's pretty much like it is for UNO. Confused? Don't be. You'll get the hang of it soon. Mattel also made a short video explaining the rules that helps a bunch, too.

Happy gaming! And for more information on card games, see the links that follow.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • "UNO House Rules." (Oct. 17, 2018)
  •"UNO Instruction Sheet." (Oct. 17, 2018)
  • Mattel, Inc. "How to Play Uno Attack." (Oct. 17, 2018)
  • Mattel, Inc. "DOS." (Oct. 17, 2018)
  • "Uno Attack Rules." Nov. 12, 2009. (Oct. 17, 2018)
  • "Uno: A brief history." (Oct. 7, 2018