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Earlier this week, Jeff Sherman wrote about spending time with the family playing the 45-year old card game Uno. It's easy to learn and fun for kids and adults. As he also mentioned, newer versions of the basic deck might come with variant "house" rules included (and, further still, separate expanded versions feature other unique inclusions like automated card flippers).
Using the idea of those house rules as inspiration, my family and friends created an off-the-wall variant that we call Uno Throwdown. It can be played with a standard deck of Uno cards (though, if you want to cut down on shuffling, I recommend getting two).
The creation of the game happened one night probably a decade ago (this is back when The Buddha Lounge on North Avenue was still the 24-hour coffee shop Node). My younger brother Adam McDowell, my then-girlfriend Chelsea Muench and I, drunk on coffee, began stuffing the rule book with variations. Since then I've never played an "official" game of Uno and we've played it so many times that I can't remember where the official rules end and our crazy rules begin.
It started because I had a handful of six and nine cards, none of them matching, and I wished I could dump them all in one swoop to win the game.
"Sixes and nines should be interchangeable," I declared, but was quickly shot down.
After subsequently losing that game and while dealing out a new hand for the next game, I set the variation. "Okay, this time sixes and nines ARE interchangeable." For whatever reason, my friends allowed the delusion and the game began. As the night progressed and the games were won and lost, more rules were added.
Draw cards opened up Throwdowns where 5's became Reverse Draw 2's (because a 5 looks vaguely like an upside down, backwards 2), two 3's became an 8 (because a three mirrored looks like an eight), and those draw cards stacked. If you played a Draw 4, the person saddled with that card could defend themselves by playing another Draw 4, forcing the next player to Draw 8. Or a skip to skip themselves. Or play a 0 to end the Throwdown and flush the cards away (because a 0 looks like a hole).
At its high point, I remember one player having to draw 64 cards into their hand. Amazingly, though, the game played pretty quickly, and rules were made to ditch handfuls of cards at a time.
Another rule also allows players to make fun of other players for asking for rules clarifications. As a result, I've called my mom a dummy and she's called me an idiot. ("You're asking for clarification on the rules of a game you invented? You idiot!")
The process of making the game that night was a rule free-for-all, where most rules were set mid-round to give that person the advantage at the time, but after that night, all those rules and only those rules became the official version of Uno Throwdown.
If you've found your family game night to have stalled, give Uno Throwdown a try. The rules are below.
UNO: THROWDOWN OFFICIAL HOUSE RULES
Created by: Jason McDowell, Adam McDowell & Chelsea Muench
Rules officially transcribed by Kari Frea & Jason McDowell
Based (more or less) on the card game UNO, this version offers exciting tactical plays, and the ‘throwing down’ of many cards in one turn. The game is best played with two standard Uno decks (but can be played with one) and a group of open-minded friends. Let’s get started:
Be the first player with no cards left in your hand. Simple enough, right?
Regular play is mostly like regular UNO, with a few exceptions…
- The losing player from the previous game shuffles the deck. (Unless it’s the first game, then who cares?)
- The winning player from the previous game becomes dealer and deals seven cards to each player. The dealer then takes the top card from the deck and turns it over, forming a discard pile. Game play never begins with a ‘special’ card (reverse, skip, wild or draw). If a special card is turned first, it remains in the discard pile and new cards are turned over until a ‘regular’ card appears. Dealer determines direction of play (clockwise or counter-clockwise).
- The top card on the discard pile determines what can be played next based on the card type (i.e. special or number) and the color.
(Ex: If it is a blue 7, only a blue card or a 7 card can be played by the next player.)
- Multiple cards of the same type or number (but different colors) can be played at once.
(Ex: If a player has a blue 7, a red 7 and a green 7 in their hand, they may discard all three cards in one turn. So all cards of one type or number can be played in one turn.)
- During REGULAR PLAY, the following cards can be played together:
- 6’s and 9’s.
- Two 3’s can equal a 6, but there must be at least two 3’s. Provided you’ve played two 3’s, you may play any number of 3’s after that. Two 3’s do not equal a 9, nor do three 3’s. Don’t be ridiculous.
- Two 3’s can also equal an 8. 8 does not equal 6 or 9. Ever.
(Ex: A Blue 7 is played. The next player could potentially play a blue 9, followed by a yellow 6, followed by a green 3 and a yellow 3, followed by a red 8—all in one turn. The next player would then need to play either an 8 or any red card, or at least two 3’s of any color. Remember: Order matters. A player cannot play a 9, then 8 (because 8’s don’t equal 9’s), then 6 (because 6’s don’t equal 8’s)).
- A Skip card will skip the next player’s turn. Skip the same number of players equal to the number of Skip cards discarded at one time.
- A Reverse card will reverse the play back to the previous player’s turn. The direction of play reverses for each Reverse card played.
(Ex: If a player discards two Reverse cards, game play does a 180° turn and then another 180° turn, resulting gameplay moving in the same direction.)
- A Wild card cannot be used unless the player has no other moves.
- If the player cannot make a move, they must draw cards until they are able to play.
- A player’s turn ends when the next player (in order) discards onto the pile.
A Throwdown is initiated when a player plays a Draw Two or Wild Draw Four card. When either of these cards are played, the player must pound the table three times and, in their best battle cry, declare "Throwdown!"
- Unlike in a regular game of Uno, if a Draw Two is played, the next player does not automatically draw two and forfeit their turn. A "Draw Pot" is formed and, throughout the Throwdown, all draw cards are added up. When a Throwdown ends, that unlucky player will have to draw cards equal to the total number indicated on all Draw cards. Throughout the Throwdown, players are afforded a few defense options to combat the draw:
- Another Draw Two: This adds two cards to the "Draw Pot" and passes play to the next player.
- A 2 card: This acts as a Draw Two in Throwdown. This adds two cards to the "Draw Pot" and passes play to the next player.
- A 5 card: This acts a ‘reverse draw two’; This adds two cards to the "Draw Pot" and reverses play to the previous player. Reverse draw two’s can stack similar to regular Reverse cards.
- A Skip card: This skips out of the turn of the person playing the card. It does not skip the following player like in regular play. This card does not add to the draw pot and instead passes it to the next player. During a Throwdown players may play as many Skip cards as they desire, but the effect does not stack.
- A Reverse card: This reverses the direction of play and turns the draw back to the previous player, without adding to the draw pot.
- A 0 card: This flushes the draw pot and Throwdown. When a 0 is played in Throwdown, no one is required to draw and regular play is resumed based on the color of the 0.
- Just as in Regular Play, a player is able to play multiple cards at once (as long as they are the "Throwdown" cards: 2’s, 5’s, Draw Two’s, Reverses, Skips, 0’s.
- If none of the above options are available, a Wild or Wild Draw Four may be played:
- A regular Wild card allows the player to determine the color the next player must play in order to combat Throwdown.
(Ex: If the color called is "yellow," the next player must play a yellow Draw Two, 2, 5, Reverse, Skip or 0. If the next player is unable to play the appropriate color, or does not have a Wild themselves, they must draw the sum of the cards in the "Draw Pot"; this ceases Throwdown play.
- A regular Wild card allows the player to determine the color the next player must play in order to combat Throwdown.
- Once a Wild Draw Four is played, new options are restrictions are unlocked. The special cards, Reverse, Skip, Wild and 0 remain the same, but now, in order for a player to add to the "Draw Pot" and combat Throwdown, they must play in these multiples of 4:
- A 4 card: This acts as a Draw Four in this level of Throwdown. This adds four cards to the "Draw Pot" and passes play to the next player.
- At least two 2 cards; This adds four cards to the "Draw Pot" and passes play to the next player.
- At least two 5 cards; The two Reverse Draw Two cards cancel each other out. This adds four cards to the "Draw Pot" and passes play to the next player.
- Two Draw Two cards; This adds four cards to the "Draw Pot" and passes play to the next player.
- Any combination of 2’s, 5’s, and Draw Two’s; This adds two cards per card played to the "Draw Pot" and passes play to the next player. If a single 5 is played in the pair (effectively a Reverse Draw Two), the play is also reversed.
- Throwdown ends and Regular Play resumes when a player cannot combat Throwdown a must draw the number of cards in the "Draw Pot", or a player plays a 0 card and flushes the pot.
Don’t be discouraged if you end up having to draw thirty cards in one turn; this only means you have plenty of Throwdown defense in your arsenal. Refer to the 3/6/8/9 hypothetical in "Regular Play" for a chance to get rid of lots of cards in one play.
Ending the game - UNO style
The basic premise of this game is to be the first one "out," (ie: no cards left in your hand.)
- No player may "go out" on a Wild card.
- When a player has one card left in their hand "Uno!" can be called. It is in the best interest for that player to call "UNO!" audibly, no sooner than after their penultimate card has hit the discard pile.
- When a player calls their own UNO, they may choose any opponent to draw two cards (This can be someone who also has UNO or is about to go out, someone who has previously chosen you to draw two cards, someone who slept with your sister, etc.). You may only force an opponent to draw during your turn. Once your turn is over, you may recognize and call your UNO at any time, but you may not force an opponent to draw cards. You may not call your own Uno if an opponent recognizes and calls your UNO first.
- If the player with UNO fails to call their own "UNO!" and an opponent calls it for them, the player with UNO must draw 4 cards.
- UNO can be called at any time, whether it is the holder’s turn or not. Ties are determined by the rest of the group. If only two players, and a tie cannot be determined, no one draws.
- If a player erroneously calls UNO (Ex: they yell "UNO" when the other player has perhaps, DOS) the caller must draw two cards.
Players who have "gone out" may be called back in by those holding UNO, unless specifically requested by the winner to NOT be called back in. If a player is called back in, they have still won the game and will still deal next round. Loser/shuffler is then determined by the last person to "go out." This could go on all night, folks.
Leaving the Table
If, during the game, a player leaves the table for any reason, their turns during that time may be forfeited. Their cards are moved to the bottom of the discard pile unless a third party wishes to take their position.
Rule Clarifications and Errors
Optional: Depending on the sportsmanship of the players, after the rules have been taught and after the first game has been played, players may be lightly taunted or teased for asking for rule clarifications, or for mis-playing cards. (Ex: "This game is entirely logical and makes so much sense. How are you still confused about the rules?")
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.