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.

22 Join the Discussion

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    • WOOHOO, we are excited to hear that you like to play cards, Bryleigh! We think it’s a fun way to play with friends and have fun! Have a SUPER day! :)

  1. I once played a few card games, and those games are go fish, slap jack, memory, and one you don’t know, it’s called “kimps”. I’ll tell you how to play this game, 1 you need 4 players, pick 1 partner and let the other one pick a partner, now you got a team, 2 make a sign using your face, hands, or cards but don’t kick under the table, 3 you need to give each player 4 cards and make a deck with the leftovers, 5 when your ready and the other team too, place 4 cards face-up in the middle. When someone says GO, you quickly pick up a card you need and put down a card you don’t need and when no one picks up any more cards, someone calls TRASH and moves the cards out of the way, then you put the cards in the middle again, 6 if you have the same number in each card you have, or ace, queens, kings, and jacks, do your team’s sign, make sure your teammate sees your sign then he calls kimps and you win. Also you and your partner have to sit diagonally, so does the other team, and if you see the other team person doing a sign, you can say STOP immediately then you win again, there is also fake signs, when you don’t have the same cards you can do the fake sign and if the other team says STOP you still win, but be careful, you can be tricked too you know, to make the game harder, the last card in the bottom is the card you can’t get, and that’s how you play kimps, it’s an expert kind of game. :-D :-D :-) :-)

    • Carlos, you did a SUPER job of explaining the game “kimps” for all of us! WAY TO GO!! We think that playing card games with you would be an absolute fun time! We hope you enjoyed today’s Wonder and we are so glad we learned something new from YOU! :)

  2. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I love to play cards!!! One of my favorite card games are Uno and Crazy 8s. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about wolves or warewolves.


    • Sweet, Alexis, we are glad you liked today’s Wonder! We think Uno and Crazy Eights are very fun card games! We hope you can play one of them soon, but in the meantime, we hope to see you tomorrow! You have a SUPER guess! :)

    • Very fun, Wonder Friend Cool! We’re glad you enjoyed our card Wonder– Crazy Eights is lots of fun to play! Thanks for visiting us! Have a SUPER day! :)

  3. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I LOVE to play cards! I like to play Garbage. I enjoyed the video and I thought it was very funny. I wonder if YOU like to play cards? I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about wolves, werewolves, or something to do with HALLOWEEN! :)

    Anika V :)

    • WOHOO, we’re excited that you enjoyed our cards Wonder, Anika V :) ! We bet it’s lots of fun to play cards with your friends and family– it’s a good way to get together and spend time with one another! We really enjoy playing Go Fish with friends, or Solitaire if we are alone. It’s exciting to think about the next Wonder… we think you’re quite close! Have a SUPER day and a Happy (almost) Halloween! :)

  4. Dear wonderopolis,

    Today’s wonder was hilarious I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about

    -cricket mouse

    your wonder friend,

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend Cailyn! We’re glad you liked our cards Wonder– it’s fun to laugh and use your imagination! We think you have SUPER guesses for the next Wonder of the Day®– we sure hope you like it! Have a SUPER day! :)

    • Thanks so much, Wonder Friend Monnie! We’re glad you liked WONDERing about different card games– do you have a favorite? :)

    • Thanks for visiting us today, Anna! We Wonder if you have a favorite card game that you like to play? We Wonder if you have ever played with a different deck of cards before? We think that would be pretty cool– but we’d need to learn the rules to the game! :)

  5. Hi I am new to Wonderopolis and I LOVE playing cards. One of my favorite card games is slapjack. I play it with my friends every indoor recess. We play it with 3 decks. I’m winning so far. And whenever sombody puts a joker down you have to say bobis, and jokers don’t count when you’re placing 1,2,3, or 4 cards down for a jack, queen, king, or ace. In my spare time I play solitare. That is my 2nd favorite card game. I can’t express to you how much I love playing cards.

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Danny! We are so glad you’re here today! HOORAY!

      Card games of all kinds are awesome, we’re happy to hear you’re a big fan of cards! What a WONDERful way to exercise your mind! It sounds like you and your Wonder Friends at school have a great time playing slapjack! We Wonder if you are thinking of inventing your very own card game? :)

  6. I like playing go fish and war. Those are my favorite card games. My family and I always play them together so, it’s always fun.

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do you like to play cards?
  • Where were playing cards invented?
  • What are “one-eyed jacks”?

Wonder Gallery

kids playing cards_shutterstock_99620012Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to play some cards? Check out the links below to learn how to play several popular card games:

When it comes to cards, the more people that play the more fun you’ll have. So be sure to grab some friends or family members to join you. If you want to wow them, learn a few of the card tricks below:

Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer to see hand-painted Playing Cards or naipes from the 19th century!

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