Germany, like much of Europe and the world at large, has a long history of playing card games. It even has a tradition of professional gamblers, known as “Spielers” which translates to “Players.”
Many German games are popular in the United States too, such as Crazy 8s, which is a derivative of the German game Mau Mau. Before World War I, large numbers of German immigrants sailed to the United States. In the modern day, that German community is prominent, particularly in the Midwestern states.
History of German Card Games
For the majority of Germany’s existence, stretching back over 2,000 years ago, there has not been a single country. That is to say, Germany has only been a singular nation for several hundred of its thousands of years of history as a people.
The Holy Roman Empire, officially established by Charlemagne in the year 800, was not truly a unified state as we would imagine today. Instead, each German principality or province was its own independent nation, ruled by its own Prince or aristocracy.
The Holy Roman Emperor was an elected position, and although there are some exceptions, most Holy Roman Emperors could only influence and manipulate the political body of Germany, without any ability to create sweeping reform or unify the country nationalistically, as was being done in France and England during the 1500s. Germany would not become a “nation” until 1871.
This disparate culture created a significant amount of regional variance, with many Germans preferring card games from their own particular area of the country. Schapfkopf, for example, is a Bavarian game, and is particularly popular in Bavaria, but does not see much play in other areas of the country.
Games can be broken up into categories based on their corresponding regions, with large divisions between North and South Germany and East and West Germany. These larger regional differentiations generally correspond to two national fractures: The Hundred Years War, with the Northern Protestants fighting the Southern Catholics, and the Partition of Germany following World War II, with the Western Capitalists culturally developing in a different way to the Eastern Communists.
A unique aspect of many German card games is their alteration of the standard 52-card deck. Many German games either remove or add cards, depending on the game being played, or have their own special decks, such as Tarock.
List of Most Popular German Card Games
A game so popular that it breaks the regional differences, and is played all over the country. It is the national game of Germany, and is also frequently played in Poland due to the historical German influence over that area. This 3-Player trick-taking card game involves a bidding phase, matchplay, and a score quota required to be considered the round’s winner.
Another popular German game, this 4-Player game is a variation on the Bavarian Schafkopf. In Doppelkopf (“Double Head”), tricks are taken, contracts are formed, and games may have their stakes raised during each Player’s turn.
The mechanic of Doppelkopf which most differentiates it from Schafkopf is the “Kontra” games. A Player may, before a game begins, declare that they will be “Re”. Re must then play against the other 3 Players, known as the “Kontra.” If Re cannot score 121 points, the Kontra will win the game.
A Bavarian card game, and considered the most popular regional game in Bavaria. Schafkopf (“Sheepshead”) is a trick-taking card game using a special 32-card deck. All the cards from 6 and down in a standard 52-card deck are removed, and then each of the four Players is dealt 8 of the 32 remaining cards.
Klabberjass, also known as Bela, is a 2-Player card game that point-trick taking game, where the number of tricks is not important. Rather, the value of each card’s associated value is added up within tricks taken, and the highest point value in the taken tricks wins the round. Klabberjass uses the same 32-card deck found in Skat or Schafkopf. In Klabberjass, 10s are below Aces, but above Kings.
A game particularly popular in Eastern and Central Germany, as well as Austria and Switzerland, using its own unique deck, Watten has alternate suits known as: Eichel (Acorns), Gras (Leaves), Herz (Hearts), Schellen (Bells).
A game that is popular in Württemberg, which is a large region in the South-West of the country. This game utilizes the same special deck used above in Watten, with the alternate suits in use. Geigel must be played with an even number of Players, however, a 3-Player game is possible. First Player to score 101 points wins.
Related to Sechsundsechzig (“Sixty-Six”), the goal is to achieve a total greater than or equal to 66 points. Like in Sixty-Six, there is also a mechanic which will provide a higher payout if a Player wins by a greater margin, incentivizing not immediately declaring upon achieving 66 points.
- Böse Dame
- Auf Wiedersehen
- Die Farbenelf
Frequently Asked Questions
What kinds of Playing Cards are used in Germany?
There are three main decks that are used in German Card Games. The 32-card “Skat” deck, the 52-card “French” or “Anglo” deck, and the 54-card “Tarock” or “Tarot” deck. All Three of these decks may use the German alternate suits mentioned above.
What are Playing Cards called in Germany?
As English is a language derived from German, it should be no surprise playing cards in German are called “Playing Cards” or “Kartenspielen.”
What are the Face Cards in German?
The Face Cards in German are known as the “Bube” (Pronounce Boo-bah) for Jack, “Dame” for Queen, and “König” (pronounced Ker-knee-sh) for King.
What are the most popular German Card Games?
Although this largely depends on where in the country you live, Doppelkopf and Skat are both ubiquitously popular, and are played in just about every German city.