When it comes to games, kids and adults don’t always think alike. However, there’s one type of game that seems to appeal to all ages: cards! Have you ever stopped to think about how many different games you can play with the same set of cards? It’s amazing!
If you’ve ever played cards, you know that there are 52 cards in a deck. Numbered cards go from 2 through 10, with the 1 card called an ace and three royal character cards called jacks, queens and kings.
These cards are repeated in four groups — called suits — with the symbols hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. Decks of cards also often contain a couple of extra “wild” cards called jokers. Jokers were added to playing card decks by Americans just after the Revolutionary War for the game of euchre.
Experts believe that playing cards were probably first invented in China, since that’s where paper was invented. Historians have found references to playing cards in Europe as far back as the 1300s. They believe playing cards probably came to Italy from the Middle East and spread to the rest of Europe from there. These early Islamic cards featured different suits, including cups, swords, coins and polo sticks.
Because card games are popular all over the world, you might think that decks of cards look the same everywhere you go. But they don’t! Many countries have their own unique sets of cards. For example, people from Switzerland playing a game called Jass use a deck of 36 cards. Germans who play a game called Skat use 32-card decks. French people who play a game called Tarot use 78 large cards!
The suits in a deck of cards can vary from country to country, too. For example, in Germany, the suits are often hearts, bells, leaves and acorns. The most common suits — hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds — came about in France in around 1480.
The royal cards — jacks, queens and kings — were likely developed in Europe, since the monarchies that ruled Europe at the time exerted an early influence over the production of playing cards. Cards offered an alternative to other popular games at the time, such as chess and dice. They also began to be used for other purposes, like telling fortunes and performing magic tricks.
If you spend some time looking through a deck of cards, you’ll notice a few peculiar details. The jack of Spades, the jack of Hearts and the King of Diamonds are all usually drawn in profile rather than from the front. This leads some to call these jacks “one-eyed jacks.” The King of Hearts is also the only king without a moustache!
Today, playing cards can be found in a wide variety of designs. Although the backs of the cards in a deck usually share the same picture or design, custom playing cards sometimes feature a different picture or design on the back of every single card. Playing cards sold as souvenirs, for example, might feature pictures of the sights and attractions in a particular area.