The board game publisher International Games released a number of somewhat successful popular board and card games in the past. Easily their most popular game was UNO. After the success of UNO, the company tried for a long time to create their next big hit card game. Some of these games were mildly successful, but none lived up to UNO. Probably one of their more popular games was ONO 99 (also known as O’NO 99), which was first released back in 1980.
ONO 99 had some moderate success. It was reprinted a couple times after its initial release. The game was mostly forgotten about in the 1990s though, outside of a few releases where it went by the name Ninety-Nine or Bust. I was kind of surprised when I recently saw that Mattel had brought the game back earlier this year. While I have played ONO 99 in the past, I was curious to check it out again due to this new version being released. ONO 99 is a decent simple card game that you can play while relaxing, but it relies on too much luck to be anything more than an average card game.
The premise behind ONO 99 is quite simple. Basically you need to prevent the pile’s total from going over 99. You can play any card on your turn. If you only have cards that will put the running total over 99, you are eliminated from the game. Most of the cards feature numbers which add the corresponding number to the current total. There are a number of special cards that add other abilities to the game as well. The last player remaining wins the game.
If you would like to see the complete rules/instructions for the game, check out our ONO 99 how to play guide.
If that simple description of how the game is played didn’t already give you a good idea, ONO 99 is a really simple card game. You basically just take turns playing a card to the pile. As long as the card doesn’t bring the total above 99, you are okay. You can teach the game within minutes. All you need to play ONO 99 is the ability to add and subtract up to the number 99. The game has a recommended age of 7+. I think kids even younger could play the game if they have the math skills required for the addition and subtraction.
With how simple ONO 99 is, the game also plays quite quickly. Using the original rules from the 1980s will make for a longer game (see below). Based on the rules in the newest version, games play quickly. In some ways I was kind of surprised by how long players can survive when the total gets close to 99. I would say most hands will only take five minutes though. For the type of card game that ONO 99 is trying to be, this short length is key.
Basically ONO 99 is meant to be a simple laid back game. The game is meant to be simple where you don’t have to put too much thought into what you are doing at any specific time. It is not going to be for everyone. People who are looking for a game that you can turn your brain off while playing will likely have fun with it. You can have fun with ONO 99 if you just play it for fun without really caring about the ultimate outcome. I had some fun with the game, and I can see its appeal.
The main problem with ONO 99 is just that there isn’t a lot of strategy to it. Usually you are best off playing the highest remaining card in your hand, as long as it doesn’t put your total over 99. The main reason that you want to play your highest number is that they are the hardest to play cards. You might as well play the card when you can. If you wait to play it, the total might get too high where you can no longer play it.
For your first couple of turns you should always play whatever the highest number is in your hand. Once the total reaches around 80-90, you can start to consider playing other cards. It is usually still better to play your highest number card that you can still play. Sometimes a special card can be useful if you have a good idea that the next player only has high number cards remaining. At this point you pretty much just play whatever you can to stay in the game. There might be a tiny bit of strategy when you have a couple of cards to choose from. It is usually really obvious what card you should play on your turn though.
With there not being a lot of strategy to the game, ONO 99 ends up relying pretty heavily on luck. The cards you draw especially when the total approaches 99 are key. The special cards outside of the ONO 99 are always preferable as you can always play them. After that comes the low number cards. If you end up drawing a lot of high number cards though, you are basically out of luck as you will get eliminated.
Luck is going to be the deciding factor in almost every game. While you could make a bad play, a good play is never going to benefit you enough to overcome bad luck. The player that is dealt the most low and special cards when the total gets high, is going to have a huge advantage in the game.
On top of that is the ONO 99 cards which could end up clogging up your hand. Unless you can somehow get four of the cards in your hand at a time, each of these cards limit the number of cards in your hand that you could potentially play. Once you get two or three ONO 99 cards, it becomes pretty hard to actually get a card that you can play. As you accumulate these cards, your chances dwindle at an exponential rate.
ONO 99 is a decent game that can be somewhat fun. This reliance on luck due to the lack of strategy, prevents it from being more enjoyable. If you don’t mind the heavy reliance on luck and little strategy, you could still have fun with it. Those who typically like at least a decent amount of strategy though, won’t like ONO 99.
With how many different board games and card games that I have played in the past, sometimes while playing a game it starts to feel familiar. I got this feeling while playing ONO 99. The whole premise of playing cards from your hand while trying to keep the total below a certain number seemed familiar to me. That is partially due to the fact that the game does share quite a bit in common with some other card games. In particular Boom-O and 5 Alive came to mind. ONO 99 does seem to predate most of these games, so it might have been an inspiration for them. Nevertheless, ONO 99 is not the most original card game experience.
Before wrapping up I wanted to quickly talk about the fact that the newer version of ONO 99 has slightly tweaked the rules form the original 1980s version of the game. You can find all of the differences in the ONO 99 how to play post. For the most part the games are very similar as the main elements remain the same. There are a few slight changes that I wanted to quickly talk about though.
The card deck has been tweaked some. The new version eliminated the Hold card, but it was basically replaced with adding zero number cards. The new version also has one cards that weren’t in the original deck. Probably the biggest change to the deck is just that it is twice as big. Instead of the 54 cards in the original deck, the new version has 112 cards. I like that the deck has more cards as it reduces the need for shuffling.
Most of the rule changes are pretty minor. You could also pretty easily use the old rules with the new version if you want. For example I would recommend playing with one of the original variants. This variant allowed you to play an ONO 99 card if the current running total ended in a zero. I like this variant as it allows you to get rid of ONO 99 cards, while also adding a little strategy.
Otherwise most of the rule differences deal with the end game. The new version has you play one hand, while the original game had you play multiple hands. You would either play till you were eliminated four times, or you would compare scores from the cards left in your hand. I personally don’t have a strong opinion about these differences. The original versions took quite a bit longer to play as you needed to play several hands. Giving you different ways to play the game though, added some variety. If you wanted to try these older rules with the new version of the game, there really isn’t anything preventing you from trying them out.
Before wrapping up, lets quickly talk about the components. They are mostly what you would expect from a Mattel card game. The number of cards you get with the game is pretty impressive. You rarely if ever will have to shuffle the cards in the middle of a round. The only time I could a need to would be if you are playing with a lot of players. Otherwise the card thickness is pretty typical. The card artwork is pretty basic, but it works well because it isn’t overly cluttered.
I ultimately had mixed feelings towards ONO 99. There are things that I liked. I liked the game’s simplicity as it is really easy to play. You can easily play the game without having to put too much thought into what you are doing. The game plays quickly as well. The problem is that there is little strategy to the game. When you have a decision to make, it is usually really obvious. This leads to the game relying heavily on luck. Whoever draws the best cards at the right times will likely win the game.
My recommendation for ONO 99 really comes down to your thoughts on simple card games. If you like cards games to have a decent amount of strategy and less reliance on luck, ONO 99 will not be for you. Those looking for a simple card game that you don’t have to put too much thought into though, may get enough fun from ONO 99 to make it worth picking up.
Year: 1980, 2022 | Publisher: International Games, Legendary Games Inc, Mattel | Designer: NA | Artist: NA
Genres: Card, Family
Ages: 7+ | Number of Players: 2-6 | Length of Game: 5 minutes per hand
Difficulty: Light | Strategy: Light | Luck: High
Components: 1980s version – 54 cards consisting of 24 number cards (3 of each number 2-9), 4 Hold cards, 6 Reverse cards, 10 Ten cards, 4 Minus Ten cards, 2 Double Play cards, 4 99 cards
2022 version – 112 cards consisting of 8-0s, 6-1s, 6-2s, 6-3s, 6-4s, 6-5s, 6-6s, 6-7s, 6-8s, 6-9s, 10-10s, 10-ONO 99s, 10-Reverses, 10- -10s, 10-Play 2 cards
- Easy to play and plays quickly.
- The type of game that you can just relax while playing.
- The little strategy the game has is quite obvious.
- Relies on a lot of luck due to the cards that you draw.
Recommendation: For people looking for a simple card game that you don’t have to put too much thought into.