Games played with French suited cards

The suits

The familiar suits of hearts heart, diamonds diamond, clubs club and spades spade were introduced by French cardmakers in the late fifteenth century. Their success was probably due to their simplicity, which makes the cards easier and cheaper to print than those using the older Latin, German and Swiss suit systems. In European countries where other suit systems are still in general use, cards with hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades are still generally known as French cards.

The 52 card pack

French suits are used in the standard international pack, which is based on English designs, which in turn are based on those formerly used at Rouen in France. The standard international pack consists of 52 cards: ace, king, queen, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 in each of the four suits. The ace is of course the numeral one, but in the international pack it is marked in the corner with a letter "A" rather than a figure "1" and in most modern card games in which the order of cards matters the ace ranks above the king rather than below the 2. The spread of the 52 card pack throughout the world must largely be due to the international popularity of Whist in the nineteenth century and Bridge in the twentieth.

The joker

52 card French suited packs almost always come with at least two additional special cards called "jokers", which do not belong to any suit, and are required for some games. Some games that use jokers require them to be distinguishable from each other, so in many modern packs the jokers are printed in different colours - red and black, or coloured and plain - or given different pictures.

The joker was invented in the mid nineteenth century in America, to be the highest trump ("best bower") in a variation of Euchre. It was subsequently adopted in versions of Poker, Rummy and other games as a wild card which could be used as a substitute for any desired card.

The joker retains its original role as highest trump in some trick-taking games such as 500. Other games, including 100 and some variations of Bid Whist and Spades use both jokers as top trumps. The jokers also act as high cards in some climbing games such as Zheng Shangyou.

Another type of use for the joker is as a card with a specially high capture value and point value in some fishing games. In the game of Zwickern (from Schleswig-Holstein in Germany) up to six jokers have been used, though three is more usual. The Lithuanian game Karuselé uses up to four jokers in a similar way.

Packs with fewer or more than 52 cards

Although the international pack, based on Anglo-American designs, is known throughout the world, most European countries also have their own distinctive designs of French suited cards. Also, in many places games are played which use fewer than 52 cards or multiple packs, and in some places packs are printed specially for these games. Here are some examples.

24 card pack: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9 in each suit
Packs of this composition are available in Germany and Austria for Schnapsen or 66, and in Poland for Tysiac.
32 card pack: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 in each suit
This type of pack is widely used in Europe - for example in the national games of France (Belote), Germany (Skat) and the Netherlands (Klaverjassen). In central and eastern Europe, it is used for Preference, for example in Russia and Austria.
33 card pack: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 in each suit plus a six of hearts
This pack is used in the Netherlands for Pandoeren.
36 card pack: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 in each suit
This is the standard pack used in Russia for Durak and other games. A pack of the same composition is used in the western part of Switzerland for Jass.
40 card pack: A, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 in each suit
This is used for games of Italian, Spanish or Portuguese origin, when these are played with French suited cards. Examples include Tressette, Calabresella, Scopa and Briscola in Italy, Sueca in Portugal, the classic game of l'Hombre, several Latin American games including Truco and Cuarenta, and some North American games such as Conquian.
63 card pack: in addition to the usual 52 cards, all suits have 11's and 12's and red suits have 13's; the 63rd card is a joker
These cards are made in Australia and the USA for playing the 6-player version of 500.
48 card pack: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9 in each suit - two copies of each card
Packs of this composition are used in northern Germany for Doppelkopf and in the USA for Pinochle.
64 card pack: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 in each suit - two copies of each card
This pack was used in Britain for the game of Bezique, and in France for the equivalent game Bésigue. (Both are closely related to Pinochle).
Multiple 52 card packs with jokers
These are predominantly used for Rummy games, including Canasta and its many variants.
Packs with extra suits
There have been many experiments with adding a fifth and sometimes also a sixth suit of 13 cards to the standard pack. These extra suits often have a new colour - green or blue - and various suitmaks such as crowns, stars and rackets have been used. Often these were made for adaptations of existing games, especially Bridge and Poker - for example considerable efforts were made in the 1930's to popularise a 5-suited Bridge game with a 65 card including a suit of crowns. None of these attempts to extend the pack have attained lasting popularity with card players, but the experiments continue and packs with more than four suits are usually available for those who want to try them out. Here is a link to some current examples. The only extended French suited pack that has remained in general use for a considerable time (over 200 years) is the Tarot pack, which has a longer fifth "suit" of 21 trumps. Tarot cards were invented in the 15th century and converted to a French suited form in the 18th. Today French suited Tarot cards are widely used in France and in central Europe.