I turned 24 years old a few days ago, but to be quite honest, I still think of myself as 23 (and 22 feels like a long time ago). My family and I had a little party this past weekend to celebrate. It was a good get-together: we had some cake and ice cream, played a few hands of UNO, opened some presents, blew out a few candles, and generally had a grand old time. The next day, I watched the WWE Royal Rumble wrestling pay-per-view with my cousin and best friend. That show was, in a way, also a great present and a fun way to end my birthday weekend. A lot of excitement was had by all with plenty of great stories to tell.
The UNO game was a real highlight of the party for me. It’s a quick game to pick up and play that doesn’t require a whole lot of equipment. My family and I have played it a lot in the past. The interesting thing about playing this time for me, though, was figuring out new game-playing strategies for the first time. The game’s instructions show how to play a simple five-hundred point game where numbered cards are worth the same amount as the number on them (zero to nine, to be precise), cards with words are worth twenty (Draw Two is great for you to have and play, terrible if you’re on the receiving end of it), and wilds are worth fifty (if Wild Draw Four were a military weapon, it would be either an atomic bomb or orbital laser, whichever floats your boat). This past weekend, I started to look at UNO in a new way and to add a bit more strategy in my approach to this timeless card game, one which my family and I gainfully employed to varying success during the party.
The strategy I gleaned from basic gameplay boils down to two important principles. The first one: Get rid of your word cards as soon as you can. These cards are ticking time bombs ready to rain points down on you if another player empties their hand first, and at twenty or fifty points per card, they can add up all too quickly. During the party, I saw firsthand the devastating results of having several such cards in your hand once the dust settles. One of my uncles kept getting stuck with hundred-point hands. After a while, though, we were all numbed from the pain from these types of hands and more often laughing at how the fickle finger of fate dealt these cards to us. (I do find that word cards have good uses. If you want to keep other players stuck with lots of cards in their hands, Reverse and Skip make for excellent “traffic controllers.” The Draw Twos and Wild Draw Fours are great for this, too, but their high point value makes them very risky to keep in your hand for too long. Be careful how you use them!)
The second principle I gleaned from our UNO games, and this one did come as a bit of a surprise to me, but it does make a good lick of sense: Track the colors! Depending on what your opponents play/call for when playing a wild, you can get an idea of the colors of the cards in their hands and which ones they want to get rid of. Once you know this, you can change the color on the discard pile to something they don’t have, forcing them to draw more cards. The discard color became a serious point of contention during our play time, as it meant being able to free ourselves of a surplus of cards of a dominant color or to switch up the color to break a streak of discards from an opponent about to empty their hand. It was almost like a boxer switching from one stance to another to confuse their opponent and make a few adjustments; catch them off-guard and then score a KO. This was a very interesting point to me, one I will have to investigate and practice more during future UNO games.
Speaking of strategy, the one WWE used for putting together this year’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view was one my cousin, my friend, and I spoke about quite a bit while we were watching the show. The Rumble is one of my favorite shows to watch each year, usually because it’s so hard to predict and brings a lot of surprises. One undercard bout this year really surprised me and my viewing buddies: scientific wrestling whizzes Tyson Kidd and Cesaro pulling out a major upset victory over Kofi Kingston and Big E of the New Day faction. It was the first match of the night and a bit of a shocker; normally, Kidd and Cesaro, the bad guys, would be booked to lose the opening contest so the audience could have a feel-good moment to start the show, so seeing them pull off a win was very unexpected. Good job!
The WWE World Championship match between John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Seth Rollins was likewise very delightful. All three men did a great job of bringing intensity to this top-level contest. Cena played his customary hero role to the hilt, Rollins was a desperate man looking to break through in a big way (I’m not a huge fan of his, but this was certainly his best match to date), and Lesnar steamrolled both opponents like the nearly unstoppable monster he is known to be. Lesnar won the match in the end, but all three made this one worth watching. This quickly became my favorite match of the night, and judging from the reactions of my viewing partners, the highlight of their evening as well.
The Royal Rumble Match itself, however, which came right after the world title match, was somewhat less enjoyable for us. It started out strong for sure with some big-time returns from the likes of tag team specialist Bubba Ray Dudley (who sadly did not break any tables but did pull off a sweet 3D Driver with an assist for R-Truth standing in for the strangely absent D-Von; where did that other guy go, anyway?), WCW legend Diamond Dallas Page (who pulled off several Diamond Cutter stun maneuvers on everyone he came across; great move that ranks right up there with the DDT and RKO as my go-to moves of choice), and even the worm-chewing creepy-yet-cool Boogeyman (who didn’t seem to have any worms on him this particular evening, sad to say; anyone want to bet his favorite book is How to Eat Fried Worms?). These special guests, as well as the regular superstars who entered, delivered a lot of great action for a few minutes and had me and my guests feeling confident that this year’s Rumble would be something worth remembering.
All that changed once Daniel Bryan was eliminated about halfway through the match. You see, Bryan is one of our favorite wrestlers, a real crowd-pleaser who always puts on a memorable show, but who has gotten an astonishing amount of resistance from WWE’s higher-ups both behind the scenes and on camera. Our hopes were on Bryan to mow through this year’s competition and earn the top spot at Wrestlemania, or at least to come in a close second to our other mutual top pick, Roman Reigns. Instead, Bryan got tossed out in short order, a very disappointing result to the Philadelphia audience as well as us watching at home. Why WWE did not let Bryan compete longer than he did, or at least make it to the final four remaining contestants before getting eliminated, I would surely like to know. After numerous years of following D-Bry, we wanted to see him go far, not trip over a stone miles before the finish line.
After Bryan’s unexpected exit, almost all the energy was sucked out of the match. I mean no disrespect to the other guys who stayed in the match after Bryan left, but his removal was a sore point not easily healed. Roman Reigns, of course, won the bout, but the Philly crowd and us home viewers were still a bit too numbed to truly accept him as the next big kahuna of the WWE landscape. Granted, he entered the Rumble well after Bryan left, but, in my opinion, D-Bry’s is one of the hardest acts to follow in wrestling today. Reigns did win the match in an impressive fashion by tossing out both Big Show and Kane at the same time (they’re both huge men, so lifting them both up and over the top rope in one fell swoop is an awesome feat indeed). He also got a big-time assist from his close cousin the Rock (yes, that Rock, the star of all those movies and a legit legend of the squared circle) in fending off a post-match attack from a still-vengeful Show and Kane. However, because Roman’s ascent came at Daniel Bryan’s expense, neither the crowd nor me and my viewing buddies could really accept the result on that particular night. I’ve had some time to think about it since then, and I am now willing to accept Roman’s position as WWE’s top good guy if he is ready to fill it. I have to admit, though, that until this point, I had still been on the fence about whether Roman could ever live up to the hype. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best.
After all was said and done, I’d have to say my 24th birthday was well celebrated! I’m looking forward to how 2015 plays out for me. I’m still working hard on my various writing projects and will be sharing news on them, as well as anything else I do/come across, with you. Have a happy and safe new year, and I will see you in the next blog post!