Playing cards and Dominion

A picture of four Unters of German cards

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s something geeky: an inventory of my playing cards.

Tarock (54 cards)

Wiener Veduten Tarock (Piatnik gift set w/ booklet)

Nr. 1934 (Piatnik)

Nr. 1936 (Piatnik)

Das Constitutions Tarock (Piatnik)

Cego (ASS)

Grazer Tarock (Piatnik)

Allerfeinste Kaffeehaus Tarock, nr. 1909 (Piatnik)

Luxus Tarock, nr. 1903 (Piatnik)

Tarot (78 cards)

Versailles (Carta Mundi)

Tarot de Marseille, Jean Noblet (Le Tarot)

Lo Tarot (Japon Brand)

Jeu de Tarot (France Cartes)

78 Cartes Super Luxe (Piatnik)

Hungarian Tarock (42 cards)

Ungarisches Ansichten Tarock (Piatnik)

Italian Tarocco (62-78 cards)

Tarocco Siciliano (Modiano)

Tarocco Bolognese (Modiano)

Tarocco Piemontese (Modiano)

Doppelkopf (2 x 24 cards)

Doppelkopf Deutsches Bild (ASS)

Doppelkopf Franz. Bild (Piatnik)

Standard 52-card packs (52-55 cards)

Caravelle, red x 3 (Carta Mundi)

Caravelle, blue (Carta Mundi)

100% plastic, red x 4 (Copag)

100% plastic, blue (Copag)

Anglo, blue (Offason)

Anglo, red (Offason)

Invisible Cards (Kikkerland)

Öbergs spelkort (Esselte)

Playing cards, red x 2 (Cart Classics)

Great Russia Standard, red (Piatnik)

Great Russia Standard, blue (Piatnik)

Binokel Gaigel (2 x 24 cards)

Binokel Gaigel, Württemb. Bild (Nürnberger)

Binokel Gaigel, Württemb. Bild (Piatnik)

Skat, Wilhelm Tell, others (32-33 cards)

Skat aus Berlin (?)

Skat Turnier Bild x 5 (ASS)

Skat (Couer?)

Mariàs dvojhlavy (Piatnik)

Wilhelm Tell Wilmos (Piatnik)

Magyar kártya, red (Piatnik)

Jednohlavé Hrací karty, Prager bild (Piatnik)

Zeleznicárské karty (Akord) (really cool train-themed pack!)

36 card packs

Russian souvenir pack (?)

Schnapsen (24 cards)

Doppeldeutsche Schnapskarten (Piatnik)

Schafkopf Tarock packs (36 cards)

Schafkopf Tarock, Bayerisches Bild (Piatnik)

Tarock Schafkopf, Bayerisches Bild (ASS)

Jass (36 cards)

Jass (Piatnik)

Spanish cards (40 cards)

32 (Fournier)

Barajas Espanolas (Piatnik)

Italian styles (40-52 cards)

Bresciane (Modiano)

Napoletane (Modiano)

Piacentine (Modiano)

Piacentine (Dal Negro)

Primiera Bolognese (Dal Negro)

Salzburger (Dal Negro)

Sarde (Modiano)

Siciliane (Modiano)

Toscane (Dal Negro)

Trevigiane (Modiano)

Triestine (Piatnik)

Triestine (Modiano)

The last game I played this year was Dominion, two games with Johanna. The year 2009 review is coming soon, I’ve got most of it done already. This session, by the way, pushed Dominion to over 50 plays, seventh game to reach such lofty heights (yeah, I don’t do a lot of repeat plays in general).

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Breaking the silence… Yesterday I had my first game session since the birth of our #2, Anni. Olli came to visit in the evening for hour or so. I recently bought a copy of David Parlett’s The Penguin Book of Card Games. The new 2008 edition is a really great book, the best card game book there is in my opinion. Highly recommended!

Anyway, so I wanted to play a traditional card game and Olli shared that wish, so we tried Bezique, a classic two-hander from the 19th century. It was fashionable during the 20th century, too, and Winston Churchill apparently loved the six-pack version. We played two games of the basic two-pack Bezique.

It’s a trick-taking game, where trick-taking is almost pointless. However, when you win a trick, you can declare a meld from your hand. Melds start with lowly marriages, then there are pretty nice four jacks, queens, kings and aces, the really hot trump sequence and the best, the double bezique worth 500 points when 1000 wins the whole game.

There’s plenty of luck involved, as you get half of the pack and if your half doesn’t contain the cards required for the double bezique, it’s tough luck. There are some interesting decisions to make, but many of those depend on data you don’t have (ie. what’s coming in the pack), so in the end they are fairly random — but nevertheless they are fun to make.

That’s my verdict: Bezique is fun. It was a good way to spend an hour (about 30 minutes for the first game, 40 minutes for the second) and captivating enough. There’s enough depth to make things interesting. The combination of trick-taking and melding is interesting, though the game definitely feels more like rummy than trick-taking.

So, we played two games, and I lost both. The first one was quite an obvious one, as Olli got a double bezique for 500 points in the first hand and after that I was basically struggling to cross the Rubicon (get 500 points) before he got to 1000. I did, scoring 520 points in the end. Close! The second one was much closer and we didn’t finish in three deals, like the first. It took a part of the fourth deal before Olli could secure his victory. I was close, though, missing just one card from a trump sequence that would’ve taken me over the 1000 point line.

I think I would like to try other variations, at least the four-pack Rubicon Bezique (and perhaps Fildinski or Polish Bezique, where melds are not made from hand cards but from cards won in tricks, which would emphasize the trick-taking aspect of it all). And, of course, try some Pinochle, especially the three-player auction variety.

I also invested in some proper playing-cards and bought four packs of Copag cards. These plastic cards are really well-liked and are indeed a pleasure to handle. They should last for ages without any damage and if they get dirty, they can be washed. Nice. I just don’t like the style of the cards too much, the font used is quite heavy and block-like, I’d prefer something more elegant… Well, the quest for perfect cards goes on.

Playing-card review 6: Wilhelm Tell cards

Wilhelm Tell cards are fairly common in the Central and Eastern Europe: Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, western Romania and southern Tyrol. It is a rather beautiful pattern, full of interesting details. The pack has the German suits: hearts, acorns, leaves and bells. Generally, as far as I know, the packs have 32 or 36 cards: 2 (functioning as an ace), king, over, under, 10, 9, 8 and 7 in each suit.

The overs and unders are characters from the William Tell legend (particularly the William Tell play by Friedrich Schiller), hence the name. The over of acorns is Wilhelm Tell himself. The kings are anonymous. The aces feature the four seasons, which is why this pattern is also known as Four Seasons.

The pack was invented by Schneider József, a master card painter from Pest, in 1837. Hungarian Schneider chose the Swiss revolutionary Tell, because using Hungarian characters in the pack would’ve drawn too much attention from the government censors. Funny enough, this pack is not used at all in Switzerland, even though Tell is a Swiss character.

At least Piatnik sells these cards as Doppeldeutsche (Schnapskarten and others), magyar kártya, Mariáš Dvojhlavý or dvouhlavý and with other names, in various pack sizes (24, 32, 33).

Wilhelm Tell Wilmos back

Wilhelm Tell Wilmoś (no. 2867) from Piatnik Editions is a reproduction pack. The box attributes it to Salamon Antal, Keczkemet. Keczkemet is in Hungary, near Budapest. There are no dates in the cards or the box, so I have no idea how old this pack is. I would appreciate even short historical notes in these historical reproductions, because there’s very little information available in the Internet.

Anyhow, it is a neat pack. The cards look very old: the colours are unprecise, the background is brown and spotty, but the pictures have some character and style. Of course the material of the cards is excellent, they just look old and worn.

It’s fun to compare the cards to the newer versions: obviously they are in the same tradition. The court cards are different, but the smaller pictures in the number cards are more alike in the old and new packs. The new packs are better for playing, but for artistic reasons this pack is well worth having (and it’s possible to play games with it, too, no problem about that).

The name, by the way, is cleverly German-Hungarian: William Tell is Wilhelm Tell in German (and in Finnish, too) and Tell Wilmoś in Hungarian, as Hungarian names are written with last name first and first name last.

Wilhelm Tell Wilmos Wilhelm Tell Wilhelm Tell Wilmos Summer Wilhelm Tell Wilmos 7

Magyar karty back

Piatnik magyar kártya (No. 1812 for blue, 1813 for red and 1816 for mini version) is a modern Hungarian version of the pack with 32 cards. Magyar kártya means “Hungarian cards”. The cards have texts in Hungarian, so Spring is Tavasz, Summer is Nyár, Autumn is Ösz and Winter is Tél. All the names have their Hungarian forms, as well.

The pictures have mostly the same topics as in the old version, but these are different pictures. Funny detail: in the seven of Hearts, there’s a rider wounded by an arrow. There are two bushes in the bottom corners of the card. In the old version above and in the modern pack with German texts, there’s a small dude in one of the bushes looking guilty. In this version the dude is missing.

It’s interesting, these small details, how the pack has certain standard topics: 8 of Hearts shows a man standing in a small boat, 8 of Bells is the Tell family, 9 of Bells has a wooden fence and a stick with a hat and so on. It’s a standard pattern, but with individual variations. The pictures are detailed and rather lovely. (Actually, Richard Heli’s Customs: Card Games of the Donauschwaben in 18th- and 19th-century Hungary has explanations for the different scenes.)

This Hungarian pack, apparently the traditional standard pack used in Hungary. It’s a practical pack; even though it’s pretty, it’s also good for games. Of course, it’ll take some getting used to, since there are no corner indices. Number cards have Roman numerals. In the court cards, Over and Under are indicated by the location of their suit symbol (top for Over, bottom for Under). Kings have crowns and horses, and no names. It’s slightly confusing at first, but it’s easy to learn.

The Hungarians use these cards for Ulti (one of the most complicated versions of Marriage games), Zsírozás (interesting variant of Finnish Ristikontra), Preferansz (the local variation of Preference) and many others.

Magyar karty King of Acorns Magyar karty VII of Hearts Magyar karty Osz

Doppeldeutsche back

Piatnik Doppeldeutsche (No. 1883 for red Blitz back, 1884 for Karo back pictured here, 1846 for the extra-large Kaffeehaus version and 1808 for Ornament back pictured above; 1885 for Blitz with 36 cards and 1886 for Karo with 36 cards), Doppeldeutsche Schnapskarten (No. 1756 for red Blitz back, 1760 for Karo back and 1730 for Ornament back), Mariáš dvouhlavý (No. 1848) or Mariáš dvojhlavý (No. 1809) — whew! So this is a fairly common pattern! This is the German version, with all the names and seasons in their German form. It is used in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic and probably other places as well.

The Doppeldeutsche packs have 32 cards (A, K, O, U, 10, 9, 8, 7), except for the ones with 36 cards (adding sixes). Doppeldeutsche Schnapskarten has 24 cards (just A, K, O, U, 10, 9), even though Schnapsen is, as far as I know, these days usually played with just 20 cards. Mariáš packs have 33 cards: the regular 32-card pack and the six of bells with acorn and heart symbols and the text “WELI”. This is generally an Austrian feature, I believe, but apparently it is used elsewhere as well.

One would think that the Hungarian and German versions of the pattern are the same except for the texts, but that is not correct. As I said above, the patterns differ. They look the same, but they are different — the devil is in the details, there are subtle differences. Otherwise this is the same, all the basic features of the packs are the same.

Doppeldeutsche Wilhelm Tell Doppeldeutsche Sommer Doppeldeutsche VII of Hearts

I have the Slovakian Mariáš pack and the Schnapskarten pack (and two copies of the Hungarian pack — accidentally — and the historical reproduction pack), which gives me a nice selection of these Wilhelm Tell packs. I’ve found these packs intriguing and interesting: the way the cards tell a story and feature named characters is very charming. These are also very good playing-cards once you get to know them.

Playing-card review 6: Piatnik Tarocks

Piatnik makes some very beautiful 54-card Austrian-style Tarock packs with French suits . The first of my playing-card reviews covered one of them; here are the rest. Start with that review, because the packs are actually all exactly the same on the front. What differs is the back and the presentation. Two of the packs … Continue reading Playing-card review 6: Piatnik Tarocks

Playing-card review 5: Tarock and Schafkopf

ASS Tarock Schafkopf Club and Piatnik Schafkopf Tarock (no. 182211). These packs (ASS on left, Piatnik on right) have the same Bayerisches Bild pattern with 36 cards. The Bavarian pattern has suits of acorns (Eichel), leaves (Graß), hearts (Herz) and bells (Schellen). The face cards have a king and two officers, Ober and Unter. While … Continue reading Playing-card review 5: Tarock and Schafkopf

Playing-card review 4: Piacentine and Napoletane by Modiano and Dal Negro

This time I’m taking a look at some Italian regional packs. I happen to have two copies of the Piacentine pack by different makers, which offers some comparison possibilities. Italy has 16 different regional packs, which are divided to four different styles: northern Latin suits, southern Latin suits, French suits and German suits. Both Piacentine … Continue reading Playing-card review 4: Piacentine and Napoletane by Modiano and Dal Negro

Playing-card review 3: Doppelkopf packs by ASS and Piatnik

This time I’m taking a look at some Doppelkopf packs. These packs have 48 cards, but they are actually made of two 24-card packs. Thus, the packs have A, K, Q, J, 10, 9 in each suit twice. Doppelkopf is a very good game, developed from Schafkopf. In Doppelkopf, or Doko as it’s also known, … Continue reading Playing-card review 3: Doppelkopf packs by ASS and Piatnik

Cards from Piatnik

I have good news for those of you who have enjoyed my playing-card reviews: I just placed an order to Piatnik, I’m getting 17 of their packs. Tarock, mostly, but also several different European regional packs. You see, I asked around for cards to review and Piatnik’s Finnish agent replied. I didn’t get anything for … Continue reading Cards from Piatnik

Playing-card review 2: Modiano Tarocco Siciliano, Noblet Tarot de Marseille

This time I’m taking a look at some Tarot packs that are perhaps better suited for enjoyment as art, not as playing-cards. Modiano Tarocco Siciliano. The first thing one notices is the small size. The cards are as wide as typical Bridge cards, but even shorter. Thus, they are a lot smaller than Tarot cards … Continue reading Playing-card review 2: Modiano Tarocco Siciliano, Noblet Tarot de Marseille