No matter where you go, if you pull out a deck of playing cards someone is bound to know a game. Teaching someone a game or learning a new card game is a great way to make friends and practice speaking a language. So where did the fantastic universal concept of cards come from and how does each country put their own spin on it? At GoAbroad, we've compiled some interesting information about playing cards and their variations.
Playing cards first developed in Europe in the 1370s, but where they originated is unclear. Many people believe the concept traveled to Europe from Asia or Africa. These cards were covered in designs, but it wasn't until they migrated to Europe that royal figures were added. The earliest European cards were thought to be hand-painted on wood. They were seen as pieces of art rather than pieces to a game, and only the wealthy could afford them. Cards started out as learning or fortune telling tools, but as they developed into playing cards they were painted onto wood and later cardboard. Once playing cards were introduced to the United States, Americans created double-ended cards, added suit markings in the corners, rounded the corners and added the joker.
While the concept of card games is similar no matter which country you're in, the cards themselves vary. Different regions developed their own suit and number systems and continue to use these systems today. Here are a few examples of deck variations:
Italian and Spanish Deck
The Spanish deck, which is also used in Italy, was the first European deck of cards developed. These cards are similar to those used on traditional Tarot cards. The Latin suits are cups, coins, clubs and swords. In Spain, each deck has 12 cards to a suit, while in Italy most games require 10 cards for each suit. The Spanish deck contains numbers one through nine, and the Italian deck contains numbers one through seven. Both decks have three face cards: The infantry soldier, the knight and the king. This variation of cards can also be seen throughout Latin America and within South American countries with a great amount of Spanish influence.
In Germany and other Germanic countries such as Austria and Belgium, eight cards are used within each suit. Numbered cards seven through ten are used, and the face cards are called unders, overs, kings and aces. The suits are known as hearts, bells, leaves and acorns. While this type of deck is still used, many regions are beginning to use the French deck in place of the traditional German deck.
French and English Deck
The deck originally designed in France has become the most common form of playing cards. This deck has 52 cards, with numbers two through ten followed by jacks, queens, kings and aces. The four suits associated with this deck are hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. The French deck is used throughout the United Kingdom, the United States and much of China.
With so many different decks, the number of card games around the world are countless. Bridge, Poker and Canasta are three card games that are known throughout most of the world, but even these games vary depending on where they're played. A few popular games include Scopa (Italy), Tute (Spain), Dou Di Zhu (China) and 500 (Australia). If you're interested in learning these games or other games from around the world, www.pagat.com is a terrific resource.
Have you picked up any fun card games while abroad? What are your favorite international card games?