Italian card games are a well-sought-out choice for leisure, finding play at parties and gatherings alike. These games stem from their long history, and due to the similarities between the traditional Italian card deck and the modern standard of the 52-card deck, traditional games still see play to this day, centuries later.
What is the History of Italian Card Games?
Italian card games’ history can be traced back to the late 14th century. The first known cards are believed to be brought from Mamluk Egypt, with localizations in terms of the imagery used. Before the merger of the many independent states, Italy existed as many different regions, forming a varied melting pot for card game influences.
The traditional Italian cards used the Latin suits of sword, cups, coins, and clubs, and had three face cards of the Knave, Knight, and King. Due to the regional variance, it was common to find use of Spanish, French, and German suits in circulation. As expected, the modern-day play uses the easily available standard 52-card deck, with cards removed to emulate the traditional shrunken decks.
The shrunken decks most commonly used in Italy card games were the 40-card stripped deck, which can be played using the Anglo-American 52-card deck by removing the 8, 9, and 10 cards. Games popular during the 1500s are still played today, examples being Primero and Ombre.
List of Italian Card Games
One of the most popular Italian card games, Primero uses the Spanish 40-card deck and is a Matching game. The game involves 2-6 players, and the goal is to build a 4-card hand with the largest possible value.
The game uses special hand conditions, with the strongest being the titular Primero, consisting of one card from each of the 4-suits. Unlike common practice, the face cards have the lowest values in this game.
A 4-player game played in teams of 2, and uses the 40-card Spanish pack. The name is Italian for ‘broom’, and it describes the goal of the game, which is to ‘sweep’ all cards from the game. Each player is dealt 3 cards, and 4 cards are revealed on the table.
Each player’s turn involves playing a card, either onto the table or to claim a card. A claim can be made if the player has a matching value in hand, or through summations. This continues until the deck is depleted, and the player with the most cards wins.
Arguably the most popular Italian card game in modern-day Italy, Briscola is a trick-taking card game for 2-6 players. Teams can be implemented so that there are always 2 teams. Each player begins with 3 cards, and the next card from the draw pile is placed face-down. This is the Briscola, and will determine the trump suit for the game.
A player can replace the Briscola with a card from the same suit. The dealer leads the trick, with the highest trump card winning. Unlike other trick-taking games, one does not need to follow the leading suit. The highest number of won tricks determines the winner.
A popular game among the European countries, this is a variation on Briscola, designed for 2 teams of 2. The 40-card Spanish deck is used, but modern-day card rankings are used. Each player takes 5 cards face down, and the remaining cards are placed aside.
The dealer leads the first trick, and at the end, each player draws 1 from the pile. If a player holds a king and queen of a suit, they can call “Marianna”, revealing the cards and scoring a bonus, and setting the trump suit until the next Marianna is called.
Tressette is another variation on the trick-taking games, played with 4 players split evenly into 2 teams. The standard 40-card pack is used with French card values. Since there are no trump suits, the leading play determines the suit for the trick.
If a player cannot follow suit, they can play any card, but they forfeit the possibility of winning the trick. Certain cards, when held in hand, will give points to the player. Using vocal cues, one can give suggestions to their partner to assist in scoring.
Sette e Mezzo
The name translates to ‘seven and a half’, the focus of the game is to build a hand close to, but not exceeding 7.5 points. Using a French 40-card deck, each face card is worth half a point, whereas the rest of the cards are worth their value.
Cards are dealt one at a time, and players can request more or to stay. The closest valid score wins the game. The dealer plays along, but cannot see their cards.
Scala Quarenta, also called Scala 40, is an Italian card game similar to Rummy. It is played with a 108-card deck containing two jokers. The object of the game is to form melds of cards to score points.
Players try to empty their hands first to win each round. Rounds continue until only one player remains. the game involves strategy in deciding when to play melds versus holding cards in your hand. It’s a fun option for 2-6 players.
A trick-taking card game made popular in Spanish territories, this game is still played today. The name is Spanish for ‘man’, and the game involves 3 players, using the 40-card Spanish deck. The ‘man’ goes against the other 2 players, and attempts to win more tricks than the other players, winning only if the bid is reached.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do I need to play Italian Card Games?
Most Italian card games use the Spanish 40-card deck, which can be emulated using the 52-card deck by removing the 8, 9, and 10 cards.
What are the most popular Italian Card Games?
The most popular Italian card games are Scopa and Briscola, which are still actively played today.
What is the major difference of Italian Card Games?
Due to the history of Italy, card games are played using Spanish-style 40-card decks, but follow a card ranking more commonly seen in French variations.
Is there a specific Italian card deck?
Traditional Italian card decks can still be found today, but are rare. Most people prefer the use of the modified Anglo-American 52-card deck.
Can I play Italian card games online?
Scopa and Briscola are extremely popular online, with multiple simulators each providing the possibility to play against yourself or other players.