Card games in Germany

This short survey of German games is at present arranged according to the type of cards used.

German suited cards with suits of acorns (Eichel), leaves (Gras or Grün), hearts (Herz or Rot) and bells (Schellen) are in general use in the south and south-east (Bayern, Sachsen, Thüringen, parts of Baden-Württemberg). Each region has its own distinctive pattern, variously available in 32, 36, 24 and 48 card forms (the 48 card pack being a doubled 24 card pack).

In the north and west of Germany, German suited cards are practically unknown, and games are played with French suited cards, which come in packs of 32 cards, 24 cards or 52 cards plus jokers. The French suits have two sets of names in German - one derived from the French suit names and one purely German set. Bridge players tend to use the French derived names Pik, Coeur, Karo and Treff for spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs respectively. The corresponding German names are Schippen, Herz, Eckstein and Kreuz. Schippen and Eckstein are rarely used for spades and diamonds, though I have come across them in the Black Forest. The most usual set of names for the suits is a mixture: Kreuz for clubs, Pik for spades, Herz for hearts and Karo for diamonds.

Although the 36 card German suited pack is generally labelled Tarock, the traditional 54 card French suited Tarock pack is used in Baden for their national game Cego.

32 cards with German suits

Each suit consists of Ace (As), King (König), Over (Ober), Under (Unter), 10, 9, 8, 7. The cards which are now generally known as aces were originally twos and are still occasionally called Daus (Deuce).

These cards are used in Saxony and Thuringia for the national card game Skat. In Bavaria the games of Schafkopf and Watten are more popular. The Bavarian pattern is normally sold with 36 cards but the sixes are not used for these games.

36 cards with German suits

The composition is the same as for the 32 card pack, with the addition of a six in each suit. These cards are used for the now rare game of Bavarian Tarock and its relatives. The game itself is related to Tarot games but the pack does not have the special suit of trumps found in traditional Tarot cards.

24 cards with German suits

The composition is the same as for the 32 cards pack, but with eights and sevens omitted. It is used for the two-player game Sechsundsechzig (66). In and around Nuremberg, the 24-card Franconian or Bavarian pack is used to play Dreeg, a four-player game made up of several different sub-games based on 66. In Bavaria, Schafkopf is nowadays often played with this reduced pack.

48 cards with German suits

There are two forms of this. One is a doubled version of the 24 card pack, and is used for Doppelkopf, in south-east Germany, where German suited cards are in general use.

The second version has sevens instead of nines (two each of A K O U 10 7 in each suit). It is used in Württemberg for Gaigel and for Binokel (which is similar to the American game Pinochle).

32 cards with French suits

Each suit consists of Ace (As), King (König), Queen (Dame), Jack (Bube), 10, 9, 8, 7. These are the cards used in most of the country for the German national card game Skat. The same cards are used for other games, such as Schwimmen, Pochspiel, Mauscheln, Bauernstoss, Solo, Siwweschrööm, Klabberjaß and Fipsen, and for the version of Schafkopf played in the Palatinate.

Games played elsewhere with 52 cards are sometimes played with 32 cards in Germany - for example Mau-Mau (the German version of Crazy Eights) and even Poker.

24 cards with French suits

These are sometimes known as "Scharfe Karten" (sharp cards) and consist of only A K D B 9 in each suit. They are used for Sechsundsechzig (66), and the game Kujong, played in the Eifel region and across the border in Luxembourg, also uses this pack.

48 cards with French suits

This is a doubled form of the 24 card pack, used for Doppelkopf, which is popular throughout northern Germany. Often it is played with only 40 cards, omitting the nines.

52 cards with French suits (plus jokers)

The international 52 card pack is used in Germany as elsewhere for Bridge. It is also used for the local versions of Rommé (Rummy) and Canasta, which generally require multiple packs with jokers. There is also now a local version of President under the name "Einer ist immer der Arsch".

A pack with up to six jokers (58 cards) is used in Schleswig-Holstein for the fishing game Zwickern.

Another fishing game Hurrikan is a variant of the Italian game Scopa. It was published by ASS playing-card company around 1930 with a special deck of 40 cards (without 8's, 9's and 10's) and since then has been included in many German card-game manuals.

Two descendants of the medieval game Karnöffel, Bruus and Knüffel, are played in North Friesland.

54 card Tarock pack ("Cego")

This pack consists of 22 trumps (the Gstieß, which looks somewhat like a joker, and cards bearing large numbers from 21 down to 1), plus 8 cards in each of the four French suits. The suit cards are king, queen, rider, jack 10, 9, 8, 7 in the black suits, and king, queen, rider, jack, ace , 2, 3, 4 in the red suits. This is used in the Black Forest for Baden's national card game Cego, an unusual Tarock game, and in Central Baden for Dreierles, an ancestor of Cego that is closely related to Austrian Tapp Tarock.. It is also used in parts of the Black Forest for the gambling game Vier-anderle (also known as Strassenwart).

78 card Tarock

The games of Grosstarok and Tarok l'Hombre using the full 78-card Tarock pack with French suits were in fashion in the 19th century but died out almost entirely in the 20th, though a descendant of Grosstarok is still played in Denmark. Since German 78-card Tarock packs are no longer made, any remaining players must import their cards from France. I have heard from one family that has continued to play a 4-player 78-card Tarock game in which a partner is chosen by calling a king, which was played by students in the 1890's. Here is a description of it in German.

This page is maintained by John McLeod (   © John McLeod, 1999, 2005, 2010, 2016, 2020. Last updated: 15th September 2020