The Draconian Reality of Uno

December 7, 2020

For those of you not aware of the popular card game Uno, this one probably isn’t gonna be for you.

It’s okay.

For everyone else on the planet, can we all just take a moment to acknowledge the reality of what would happen if we exposed our children to the inflexible lunacy that is the official Uno Code of Conduct. My daughters are eight. They still like to hang out with me, which means we need things to do or else it gets awkward and they tell very long stories about Minecraft that I don’t understand.

It’s imperative that I keep them occupied when they’re around me. One of the ways I’ve discovered to do that is to play Uno with them. The basic rules of the game are easy enough to understand but, you must understand, mine is a very unstructured household. I work a variable schedule, I’m never home the same days or times, and we cram everything we need to accomplish together – including schoolwork – into the time we have. So what must feel like constricting “rules” for the game, when the rest of our lives is so temporally chaotic, are all but intolerable to my kids.

We go straight up. Colors and numbers to change colors and numbers. The cards do what they say. Don’t throw down a plus four wild card unless you wanna make someone cry.

But the fact of the matter is that this approach to Uno is actually the lazy way, in terms of parental strategy. I need to be exposing my kids to the experience of loss.

We all know what happens when an entitled child grows up to discover he can’t just have every single thing he wants, whenever he wants it, no matter what.

But I don’t. I’m the worst. I’m the worst mom because I make Uno moves designed not to win the game but to prevent the shrieking howls of disappointment that will feel like glass inside of my brain if it pierces my ear holes tonight. Or any night. Ever.

I don’t know that I have the energy – the unadulterated stamina – it would take to fully train my girls in the art of playing Uno by the rules without crying or swearing dramatic vows of revenge on one another before stomping out of the room.

It’s a short sheet of rules tucked in with the cards. This is one thing I love about Uno: zero tiny pieces to pick up or keep track of. Just the cards. If you can keep track of your wallet basically from day to day, you can make a pack of Uno cards last a lifetime, homie. That’s popup family fun on demand. It’s pretty great.

Unless you get out that rule book. Because even from the start, the rules get serious. The goal of the game is to get rid of all your cards first each round. Cool, right? But wait. There’s more. You’re also collecting points for your opponents cards at the end of each round, assuming you’re the winner, and the first person to get to 500 wins.

Whoa. Slow down, there, cowboy. Already my kids’ autonomic nervous systems are sniffing the air in their fragile slumber. Aware on some preternatural level that the potential for competition has been presented and must be acted upon, immediately, and to the death.

My kids are not aware that we’re counting points, nor that there’s an actual top limit goal toward which we’re meant to be striving. If they did we wouldn’t get through one cycle of the first round without someone deciding from the jump that they were destined to lose and shouldn’t even try to make the best of the atrocious hand they’d been dealt. But even before the first hand his dealt, there’s a protocol for how the dealer of said hand is to be decided.

Each player has to draw a card before you can even start the game, you guys, and the person with the highest number value card gets to deal.

We choose who gets to deal based on my “photographic” and abjectly uncluckable recall of past events, and who got to deal last time. Because the only way to get them to agree on a structure here is to make them question the reliability of their own memories in this one very narrow narrow niche context of their lives.

Harper went first last time.

Yes. I am one hundred percent sure. How dare you question the oracle with such insolence, child? Harper went first last time, Juniper shall go first this time, so speaketh the oracle and so shall it be so help me god.

Now, I’m not going to be able to go into the terrible oppression inherent in the Uno rulebook in great detail. But if you’re interested in crimes against the soul, you should read this aggressive manifesto for yourself. You can get it, along with a fresh pack of Uno cards, at basically any place that sells general things for like five bucks.

But some general observations include:

The player to the left of the oh-so-civilly decided dealer starts play. Not in my house though. In my house it’s the person who is oldest.


It’s always me.

Because if it’s not me then it has to be another ten minutes spent arguing why Harper should get to go first because she is two whole minutes older than Juniper and that makes her the older sister and that makes her the decider of all things.

This isn’t true information, but a rule she’s come up with in her own head, and which we’re all kind of expected to acknowledge, if not by following it then by playing along with her devastation at having had her sacred birthright stolen from her very fingers.

It’s a whole thing.

There’s a whole thing where if you believe, in your heart of hearts, that the player who just threw down that draw four wild card with a little too much sass in her giddyup actually had another playable card and just played the draw four wild to ruin your day, personally, like as a personal assault on your very satisfaction with life overall, you can challenge her.

You can call her out like Beatrix Kiddo called O Ren Ishii out to play, and if you’re right you can make her draw six cards as punishment.

The opportunity to publicly shame opponents is just a full on recipe for a bad night at my house.


My kids don’t know nothing about no Uno Challenge rule and if you tell them I swear I will die of rage and haunt you relentlessly for the rest of your miserable life.

I will learn necromancy and do it, dude.

If news of the challenge rule breaks out on this compound I’m done for.

They’ll have me run into the night like Farmer Jones and the words “Animal House” written on the garden gate by morning.

Look, I’m never going to incite the kind of violence that has the potential to brew if I were to hold my kids accountable for following the actual rules of games like Uno. I want them to enjoy playing games with me. Should I be using a game of Uno to teach my kids how to lose gracefully? I don’t know.


But for right now it’s easier, and far more reinforcing in the rapport department, for me to allow the arbitrary shenanigans that actually goes on when we gather around the deck. We play. We laugh. We toe the boundaries of our own comfort with losing, and causing other people to lose so that we can win.

That’s quite enough existential experimentation for my taste.

Thank you very much.


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