Games played with Money Cards or Tiles

Money cards originated in China, and are probably one of the oldest types of playing-cards. The cards originally represented different denominations of money. There are three or four suits, each normally containing ranks from one to nine. The usual suits are:

  • cash - for which the suit symbol is a disc, representing a coin
  • strings - for which the suit symbol represents 100 coins strung together through holes in their centres. Drawn sideways on this looks like a striped stick.
  • myriads - representing tens of thousands. The cards of this suit usually have their denominations (10 000, 20 000, 30 000, etc) written in Chinese, rather than represented by a repeated suit symbol.
  • If there is a higher suit, it may represent a still higher denomination - tens of myriads - with cards from 100 000 to 900 000.
  • Money packs often have a few extra cards in one or more suits, or not belonging to any suit.

Like most oriental cards, money cards tend to be long and narrow. In many packs, four copies of each card are present. The suit symbols and numbers are often very stylised, making the suit and rank of some cards difficult to identify for those not familiar with them.

This page lists some types of money cards that are currently in use and some of the games played with them.

Dongguan pai

This is a pack of 120 cards, with suits of cash strings and myriads, plus three extra cards. The cards in the Myriads suit have pictures of characters from the legend "The Water Margin" and stylised Chinese numerals. The coins and strings on the other suits are in some cases overlapped or fragmented, making them difficult to count. There are four of each card in the pack, and new packs generally also come with four title cards, which are not used.

These cards are used in the county of Dongguang, in Guangdong province in China. Two of the games played with them are Quan Dui ("clean pairs") and Da Fu (or You Fu) ("big lake" or "swim in lake").

4 cash 5 strings 6 myriads big red

Hakka pai

This is four suited pack, sold as a pack of 38 with cards 1 to 9 in each of the four suits, plus two extra cards, though in practice only one of the extra cards is used in the game (37 cards in all). Each of the suit cards is marked with the name of the suit at the bottom and a stylised chinese number denoting the rank at the top. They are used by the Hakka Chinese people for the trick-taking game Luk Fu (six tigers).

6 coins 7 strings 8 myriads 9 tens

Majiang (Mah Jong)

Mah Jong is a rummy-like game normally played with tiles, though equivalent cards are also available. There are the usual three nine card suits, plus seven special tiles: three colours (red, green and white) and four directions (E, N, W, S). There are four copies of each of the tiles so far mentioned. To these are added a number of bonus tiles - typically four different flowers and four different seasons, to make a basic set of 144 tiles. Mah Jong was invented in China around 1870 and has become extremely popular there and in Japan. It was also exported to the west in the 1920's and became fashionable in America, where different versions of the game were developed.

9 cash 9 strings 9 myriads
red north south

Tò Tôm

Tò Tôm is a Vietnamese game of the rummy group played with a 120 card money pack. This is a three suited pack with 1 to 9 in suits of cash, strings and myriads plus three special cards: half cash, zero strings and old man. There are four identical copies of each card. The cards are identified by a pair of modified Chinese characters at each end showing the rank and suit. In the centre of each card is a picture of a full-length figure, which seems to have no bearing on the card rank and value. 28 of the cards are overprinted in red: the 8s and 9s of strings and myriads and the special cards. The other 92 cards are printed black on white.

A full description of Tò Tôm can be found in the article by Michael Dummett: A Vietnamese Card Game (Ludica 2, p255 - Fondazione Benneton Studi Ricerche/Viella, Roma, 1996).