Games played with single suited cards

The cards discussed on this page have ranks but no distinction by suit. Either there are no suitmarks at all or all the cards belong to the same suit. There may be more than one card of each rank, but in this case all the cards of the same rank are equivalent. Three main types of these cards are discussed:

Cuckoo Cards

These are special cards were originally made for playing games of the Cuckoo group. They originated in Italy and spread via Germany to Scandinavia. The decks consist of a single suit with numbers from 1 to 10 or 12 and several picture cards ranking above and below the numbers; there are generally two copies of each card in the pack. When played with these cards, the basic cuckoo game is normally elaborated by giving several of the picture cards special properties when a player tries to exchange with them. The Norwegian game Gnav is a typical example.

The main types of cards are as follows:

Region:ItalyBavaria / AustriaDenmark / NorwaySweden
Name:CuccùHexenspielGnavKille
Pack size:40 cards32 cards **42 cards42 cards
Ranking: the actual title on the card (if any) is given in italics.
Cuckoo:XV Cucco
Man:XIIII Hai pigliato bragon
Horse:XIII Salta
Cat:XII Gnao
Inn:XI Fermatevi aliquanto
X
VIIII
VIII
VII
VI
V
IIII
III
II
I
O:Nulla
Bucket:Secchia meno di nulla
Mask:Mascerone manco di secchia
Lion
Fool: *Matto
Bird:Pfeiff
Sentry:Werda
Cat:Miau
Horse:Hott
Inn:Einkerth
Auszahlt
XII
XI
X
IX
VIII
VII
VI
V
IIII
III
II
I
Plate:Täller
Sausage:Wurst
Beaker:Glas
Fool:Narr
Witch:Hex
Cuckoo:Gjöken ***
Dragoon:Dragonen
Cat:Katten
Horse:Hesten
House:Huset
12
11
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
Fool:Narren
Pot:Potten ***
Owl:Uglen
Cuckoo:Kuku
Husar:Husar
Sow:Husu
Knight:Kavall
Inn:Värdshus
12
11
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
Wreath:Kransen
Flowerpot:Blompottan
Face:Blaren
Fool: *Harlekin
Notes:

* The Fool does not have a fixed place in the sequence - for example in the Swedish game it counts highest if it stays where it is dealt, but if you get it in exchange for another card it becomes the lowest.

** In the Bavarian / Austrian Hexenspiel, there is only one of each of the numeral cards I - XII, but two of each other rank, for a total of 32 cards. The two Inn cards have different titles: Einkerth (collects) and Auszahlt (pays). T

*** The spelling Gjöken, taken from a pack of Gnav cards made in Oslo, is surprising since the letter ö is not normally used in Norwegian. Else Norhagen tells me that ö was replaced by the modern Norwegian letter ø around 1900. Probably the cards use the older form in order to look old-fashioned or because they are copied from an old design. The accompanying rule book uses the word 'gauken' for cuckoo. Else Norhagen informs me that Gjøken is Bokmål (the Danish influenced "book language" used by the majority of Norwegians), while Gauken is Nynorsk (New Norwegian). Klaus Kristiansen tells me that the vase is called "vasen" in Danish, not "potten", and that the fool ranks lowest if dealt, but highest if the last player gets it by swapping with the deck.

The Italian, Norwegian and Swedish cards are still made and used. In Italy and Sweden they have been adapted to play other games besides the round game Cuckoo. In Italy they are primarily used for the point-trick games Cucco and Zifuli. In Sweden, Kille cards are used for Byteskille, which is the equivalent of Cuckoo, but also for a group of plain-trick games including Knackkille, Auktionskille and Krypkille.

In Denmark, Norway and Iceland Gnav sets were often made as wooden pieces, like chess pawns, with the value shown on the base - so that you can stand your piece on the table concealing its value, and lift it to see what you have. These pieces can be bought at some museum shops in Norway, and over the Internet from Torkild Grimsrud. His web site is www.gnav.no, and you can contact him for further information and orders at . Similar pieces are used in Zeeland (in the Netherlands) for the related game Slabberjan.

For further information on games played with special Cuckoo cards, see:

  • Anthony Smith's articles in The Playing-Card, Vol XIX No 3, XIX No 4, XX No 1.
  • Das Salzburger Hexenspiel, by Günther Bauer - pp254ff of Homo Ludens II, 1992, Verlag Emil Katzbichler

Quitli cards

Quitli cards were traditionally used by Central European Jews. Several articles the history of these cards have appeared in The Playing-Card (journal of the International Playing-Card Society), notably those by the late Rudi von Leyden (Vol XI No 4, pp103-106) and by Robert Kissel (Vol XVIII No 3, pp86-100 and Vol XVIII No 4, pp101-116).

One type of Quitli cards is still made by Ferd Piatnik of Vienna. The pack consists of 24 cards - two each of the numbers from 1 to 12. Each card is identified by a large black Arabic number. There is are no pictures or decorations on the cards except for the twos and elevens, on which the number is enclosed in a frame. These cards are used for Quitlok, which is a banking game somewhat similar to 21.

Other single suited packs

Single suited packs are sometimes made for commercial games in which no suit disctinction is required and for games that were originally played with standard suited cards but in which the suit does not matter. An example of the latter are the competitive patience games related to Spite and Malice. Single suited cards made for games of this type include:

  • the 19th century game Rabouge, which was played with a pack consisting entirely of spades;
  • the early 20th century game Flinch
  • the more recent game Skip-Bo.