UNO & Friends Review: The first online multiplayer card game on Xbox Windows Phone 8

Having reviewed Gameloft’s Order & Chaos Online last week, today we look at the publisher’s latest release UNO & Friends for Windows Phone 8. That’s the title, not “UNOFriends” as it’s inexplicably listed in the Windows Phone Store. It’s free and runs on all Windows Phone 8 devices (even low end ones), so it’s definitely worth a look.

One simple card game

UNO is a very simple Crazy Eights-style card game that anyone can learn in a couple of minutes. Four players compete to be the first to play all of their cards into the discard pile. Each turn you can either play a single card or draw a card. Cards come in four colors, and you can only play cards of the same color or face (number of symbol) as the card played before you. If you can’t play a card, you draw one, slowing your progression towards an empty hand.

The general interface in UNO & Friends works decently well, with players able to drag or double-tap a card in order to play it. But actually selecting the right card can take a few tries because they’re so tiny on-screen. And strangely, this game doesn’t sort cards in your hand or allow you to sort them. They just appear in a random jumble, making them harder to look through than necessary.

Every time you play your second-to-last card, you must exclaim UNO. Fail to do so and another player can issue a challenge, forcing you to draw two cards. Calling an UNO is easy enough thanks to the button at the bottom of the screen, but people still forget to do it sometimes.

One mode, lots of play time

UNO & Friends requires an internet connection to play and does not provide a single-player experience. It offers twogame types: private or public games.

In private games, you can invite 2-3 friends. They will receive a toast notification. But everyone has to be present in the lobby in real-time, so you basically need to set up the game through other means before inviting if you expect people to actually come while the lobby is open. I suppose the real-time requirement is necessary since UNO games go on for way too many turns to be fun asynchronously.

Thus the main way to play is public games, in which you get matched up against three other players. UNO & Friends doesn’t provide any rule customizations or the like, so it basically consists of an endless succession of multiplayer matches using the standard rules. It works well, other than games frequently failing to start (thus returning everyone to the title screen).

Gameloft wisely added a progression system to keep people coming back for more than a few games. After a game ends, every player receives points depending on which places they came in, their current level, and whether they completed a bonus objective. Points contribute towards leveling up. With 100 levels to attain, UNO fans will be busy for a long time.

One bonus objective per game

The addition of bonus objectives adds a little pizazz to the tried and true core game of UNO. These include tasks like playing a card on its identical match, challenging a missed UNO, and more. Complete the objective and receive 10 extra experience points after the game ends. Little nuisances: you don’t get a notification during the game itself, nor can you view the objective after the match begins.

Unfortunately, the bonus objective implementation is fairly buggy. Some objectives like “Play cards 1-4 during a game” won’t ever count as completed, even if you did exactly like what they said. Others actually seem to cause the disconnection issues I mentioned earlier. The “Add a friend” objective would be so fun and easy if it worked. Instead, it either causes a disconnection or the game will start but only allow one person to play cards while everyone else looks on helplessly as pictured above.

More than one currency

UNO & Friends has a two-currency system that free-to-play critics will hate but everyone else probably won’t mind. You can buy either currency with real money but you’re never required to do so. The first currency, gold tokens are required to play matches. Run out of tokens and you can’t go on for a while.

Every 45 minutes you get to scratch a card that will reward 2-6 free tokens. But stockpile more than 10 or so tokens and the free scratches stop coming till your supply depletes, so you can’t just save up a ton of tokens either. Basically the scratch system encourages players to check in throughout the day and actually do some playing.

The second currency, silver coins can be spent on six different boosts before each game. The only one worth buying will increase the number of points earned by fifty percent, helping players level up faster. The rest get too expensive to warrant a purchase.

Silver coins can be earned in several ways: playing, gifts from other players, and weekly leaderboard challenges. UNO & Friends has its own in-game friends list that includes Xbox Live friends and people befriended inside the game itself. People can send gifts to five friends per day – the gift will be a random quantity of silver coins or gold tokens. As for the leaderboard challenge, you’ll get a lump sum of coins depending on your overall rank for the week.

It’s easy to miss, but the game also has a shop that sells card decks, backgrounds, and graphical effects in exchange for silver coins. Annoyingly, the shop lacks a buying confirmation. Touch an item in the store and you bought it.

Less than one way to communicate

UNO is a social game by design, and UNO & Friends does well by allowing Windows Phone users to play together. But unlike the iOS version, Gameloft forgot to add a way for players to communicate. You can’t text or voice chat during a game, which totally kills the social aspect. You can send dinky little gifts to each other in-game, but they don’t get saved or do anything.

It’s the exact problem I lamented in an editorial earlier this year. Because Microsoft doesn’t provide a built-in chat interface or require developers to create one of their own, most online Windows Phone games just don’t let players communicate. Of Gameloft’s online games, Order & Chaos Online is the only one with a proper chat system – even though many of their iOS versions support voice chat.

To be fair, the iOS game only received a chat feature last week, so maybe our version will be updated with chat in the future.

20 Achievements

Most of the Achievements are cumulative rewards for actions you’d complete over time anyway. There is one for inviting five friends to private games. Luckily they don’t have to join, so you can just send out some invites without actually playing.

The two hardest/most time-consuming Achievements are for completing 50 bonus objectives and reaching level 100. Bonus objectives would be a cinch if not for the game not crediting some of them and some of them causing games not to start. I’m at level 41 and I’ve completed just over 30 objectives so far.

As for reaching level 100, that will take at least a few weeks of play. It takes 100,000 experience points to hit level 100. Remember to always purchase the point booster before every game in order to cut down on grinding time.

One Overall Impression

Gameloft’s UNO & Friends is a very good game that just needs two things to be great: some bug fixes and a chat system. Even without those fixes, this version is far more enjoyable (and longer lasting) than the previous UNO game.

The core game is great for social settings in that it doesn’t require much attention from players – just see what you can play every hand and maybe watch for missed UNOs. Since this version currently lacks a way to talk to other players, I like to play it while watching TV or listening to an audiobook. If you’re looking for a low attention game to zone out with, give this one a try.

UNO & Friends – Windows Phone 8 – 51 MB – Free – Store Link

QR: UNOand Friends

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!