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.

Hot games for Q2/2008

Continuing from the previous round

Glory to Rome takes the spot as the hottest game of the quarter, by far: it has double the hotness points the second game on the list has. And why not? It’s new and it’s very, very good. I’ve played four games, once each with two, three, four and five players. All work, but five is a tad too long. Others are good; two-player game is slightly different, but I enjoyed that as well. This one’s a keeper.

1825 Unit 3 has made its way on the table twice during the quarter, and is definitely worth a good spot on the list. It’s a lovely game, just the right challenge for two rail gamers. The first time I played we used pen and paper (and calculators) for money, but I found the computerized system (a spreadsheet with automatically calculated totals) we used on the second time very helpful. With just two players, seeing the screen isn’t a problem. For railroad fans looking for a two-player game, this is a good choice.

Die Dolmengötter came out of nowhere — a friend had it for sale, I had read pretty nice things about it from Geek, why not? — and turned out to be one of my new favourites. I’ve played two three-player games — enough to figure out four is the way to go. There just isn’t enough with three, the co-operation aspect doesn’t work well enough. So, that’s a bit of a problem, but with a game this good, I’m not going to whine about it more: Die Dolmengötter with four is a really excellent little game.

Bondtolva is an easy two-player card game, with enough good stuff to make it interesting. It’s a lovely option when Schnapsen is too much, yet you want something that requires a bit of thinking. It’s one of my favourite two-player games.

Bondtolva in the park

Yesterday’s session was a disaster: Mari arrived at 16.20 or so, I arrived at 17.00 and Make arrived at 17.30 — none of us stayed long enough to meet each other. Way to go!

However, today was much better. You see, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time outside in the Kaukajärvi parks with Nooa and I’ve been rather lucky to have some good company in the form of two childminders and the children they’re looking after. It’s a win-win situation: Nooa has friends and I get to interact with actual adults.

One of them, Johanna, is interested in card games. I gave her a copy of my book as a gift earlier and we’ve been talking about playing games in the park — the kids don’t need constant attention, after all. So, today I finally remembered to bring my cards.

We needed something fairly simple, because the kids provide lots of distraction. There’s no way we could play Schnapsen, for example. Instead, we played two-handed Bondtolva, a Swedish variant of the Marriage game. It’s a bit like relaxed Schnapsen, really.

Of 24 cards, six is dealt to both players. While the pack lasts, the trick play is free, but when the pack runs out, the final hands are played with strict F, t,r rules: follow suit and win if possible, play trumps if you can and renege only if nothing else is possible. Marriages can be shown for points, and the first marriage in hand determines the trumps.

There’s one point for winning the last trick, another for winning most matadors (aces and tens; if these are tied, the court cards have point values for breaking ties). First marriage is two points, the rest are one each. The game is played to 12 points.

It’s simple, yet fun. There’s quite a bit of luck, particularly in the marriages, but also room for skillful play. The game doesn’t require too much attention, which is very good. Winning lots of tricks doesn’t count, if you don’t win aces or tens and even if your cards suck, you can still shoot for the last trick for a 1-1 result. We played four games and I was able to win three, many through pretty good luck, but I suppose my experience shows in the results as well.

But Johanna liked it, and we’ll continue later. We’ll definitely play more Bondtolva; I’ll have to think about other games. It should be something that’s fairly simple, fairly quick, doesn’t require much space or too much attention. Strohmann could be a possibility, though I’m not sure I want to expose my tarot cards to all that sand…

Thursday session: Glory to Rome, Schnapsen

I got a chance to play two more games of Glory to Rome today. It’s a great game, especially as I won both games… Well, that’s definitely not hard against newbies, and Mari, the only other player with experience, didn’t repeat her excellent performance from the last time. The buildings are fun. In the first … Continue reading Thursday session: Glory to Rome, Schnapsen

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

Two-player card games: Schnapsen, WYSIWYG

I made a return to Schnapsen — I had tried it once before, about five years ago. It’s an extremely tight two-handed trick-taker. It’s an ace-ten game, played with a 20-card pack with all the non-scoring cards removed. It seems to be a game of memory: you must remember your own points and it certainly … Continue reading Two-player card games: Schnapsen, WYSIWYG