Games played with French Suited Tarot Cards

French suited Tarot cards were first introduced in Germany and Austria in the second half of the eighteenth century as a more convenient substitute for the Italian suited Tarot cards that had been used until then. They eventually spread throughout the Austro-Hungarian empire and northwards to Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. They were also adopted in France itself from the early 20th century onwards, so that nowadays the only remaining places where the older Italian suited tarot cards are normally used for play are Italy itself and Switzerland.

The full French suited Tarot pack has 78 cards as follows:

  • Four suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades) each with 14 cards: king, queen, "cavalier", jack and numeral cards from 1 to 10. The "cavalier" card depicts a horse and rider - in some countries it is called the rider or the horse.
  • 21 trumps, numbered from 1 to 21 (or in Roman numbers from I to XXI), illustrated with animals, scenes of everyday life, or various other illustrations.
  • The fool, which is unnumbered, and generally depicts a musician or jester. In some games this is a special card that excuses its holder from following suit to the trick to which it is played; in others it counts as the highest trump - effectively the XXII.

The red suits of the French suited pack correspond to the round suits of the Italian pack. When the transition from Italian to French cards was made the reverse ranking order in the red or round suits was preserved, so the traditional suit ranking from high to low is:

  • Hearts and diamonds: K Q C J 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • Clubs and spades: K Q C J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Note that the suit aces have no special significance - they just rank in their place next to the two of each suit. In France the ordering of the suit cards was simplified at some stage (probably in the eighteenth century) so that all four suits nowadays rank K Q C J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1.

In Austria-Hungary, the Tarot pack was often shortened by omitting the lowest cards of each suit, to make a pack of 66, 54 or 42 cards - the 54 card pack being the most widespread. The traditional order was retained, so these 54 card packs have K Q C J 10 9 8 7 in the black suits but K Q C J 1 2 3 4 in the red suits.

Below is a survey of the countries where French Suited Tarot cards are now used. See also the Tarot games page for a general survey of Tarot games whose rules are included on this site.

France, Canada
French Tarot is played with the full 78 card pack. The trumps have Arabic numbers, the suit cards rank in the simplified order and the fool serves as excuse.
Denmark
Danish Tarok is nowadays played with cards imported from France. This is, however, a descendent of the old German game Großtarok; the suits rank in the original order and the fool serves as excuse.
Germany
Games with Tarot cards survive only in the province of Baden. In the Black Forest, Cego is played with a 54 card pack of a special design; the trumps have Arabic numbers and the fool is the highest trump.
Austria
The 54 card pack with Roman numbered trumps is used for a variety of games including Königrufen. In Zwanzigerrufen the pack is reduced to 40 cards by omitting trumps II and III and all but one numeral card in each suit. In both of these games the fool is the highest trump. In a small part of the Tyrol a different Tarot game Droggn survives - it is played with a 66 card version of the pack and the fool serves as excuse.
Czech Republic, Slovakia
Taroky is played in Moravia and Slovakia with a 54 card pack with Roman numbered trumps, similar to that used in Austria. The fool serves as the highest trump.
Hungary
A 42 card pack is generally used, in which the only remaining numeral cards are the red aces and black tens. The design is similar to that used in Austria; the trumps have Roman numbers and the fool is used as the highest trump. The basic game is Paskievics or call-XX tarokk. There are also some more elaborate versions of the game, such as Illustrated Tarokk.
Slovenia
Tarok is quite popular in Slovenia. A 54 card pack similar to the Austrian one is used, and the fool is the highest trump.
Romania
Tarok is played in southern Bukovina (the region around Suceava) with the same 54 card pack that is used in Austria: the trumps have Roman numbers and the fool is the highest trump.

Nosferatu has written a Tarot / Tarock module for the free format Vassal Game Engine. This enables any card game using a 78-card French suited Tarot or Tarock deck to be played over the Internet.

Hans-Joacim Alscher's Tarock Gallerie provides illustrations of various standard designs of French and Italian suited Tarot, Tarock and Tarocchi cards.

Players in North America can obtain various types of Tarot, Tarock and Tarocchi playing-cards from TaroBear's Lair.