Still More Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Card Games

The Oak (A&S Newsletter of Atlantia) Earl Dafydd ap Gwystl
Issue #12

Editor's note: This is the third in an occasional series on period card games. For an overview of card games in the late middle ages, see Issue #.5 of The Oak


Source: Parlett, Cotton

Deck Used: any (52 card Italian or Spanish deck)

Number of Players: a banker plus any number of punters

Basset is an Italian game, first appearing in the mid isth century. It did not travel to France or England until the middle or late 17th century (Parlett, P. 77). It is described in Cotton with a plethora of French terminology.

Basset is a banking game, with a significant advantage for the house. It is purely a game of luck. One player is the banker.

The banker has a full deck of cards, well shuffled. Each punter has the 13 cards of a single suit of a similar deck in front of him, or perhaps a board with marks for the 13 denominations. Punters put bets on their boards before play begins. Once all bets are placed, the banker turns up a single card from his deck and wins all bets placed on the denomination shown (suit is ignored). After the first card is turned up the banker turns up cards from his deck in pairs, putting them on two piles alternately, until all bets are resolved or the deck is exhausted. Denominations that match a card turned up on the first pile lose their bets to the banker; denominations that match a card turned up on the second pile win. The banker must pay equal to any winning bets. As with the first card turned up, the banker wins any bets that remain on the last card turned.


On any winning bet the punter may decline his winnings and let the bet ride in the hope of further winnings. If the same denomination shows up again on the winning pile, the banker must pay seven times the bet; if the bet is let ride again and wins, the banker pays 15 times; if it is let ride and shows up a fourth time on the winning pile the banker must pay 30 times the bet (33, according to Cotton). Finally, if it shows up four times in one deal, the punter lets it ride into the next hand, and the same card shows up winners a fifth time, the banker must pay 60 times the bet (67, according to Cotton). The decision to let a bet ride is marked by bending up a corner of the card it lies on each time (this is destructive of cards, so I suggest using some other way to mark a riding bet).

Once a payment is declined by a punter (leaving a bet to ride) the punter can not change his mind until the card shows up again on the winning pile, when he again has the choice of taking his winnings or letting it ride.



Source: Oxford Guide to Card Games; The Game of Tarot.

Deck Used: various: 52 card French, 48 card German or Spanish, or a 32 card version of the German, French, or Spanish decks (usually produced by dropping the 6,5,4,3, and 2).

Number of Players: 3 or more

Pochspiel, or Bockspiel, appears as early as 1441 in Strasburg and regularly thereafter in Germany and Switzerland. Glic appears first in 1454 in France, and seems to be virtually the same game. Both names appear frequently from then on, and the game (by either name) was very popular throughout the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries in France, Germany, Switzerland, and England. Other names used for the same game are Boeckels, Poque, Bocken, and Bogel (Parlett, p. 86). Even without surviving rules the names can be recognized as belonging to the same game by their playing boards --a number of brightly painted boards survive from the i6th century.

Pochspiel is played with a board having eight compartments or spaces. These compartments are labelled Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Ten, Marriage, Sequence, and Poch.

There are three separate phases to a game of Pochspiel. Before play the players place stakes in each compartment except Poch. I suggest starting at the dealer and each player in sequence putting a single penny or denaro into a compartment until one penny has been put in each. Five cards are dealt to each player, and the top remaining card is turned up for trump.

The first phase is a "sweepstakes." Anyone who holds the Ace of trump wins the stakes in the Ace compartment, and so on for the other marked compartments. The "Ace" compartment is often marked Sau on German boards, and when playing with a German 48 card deck the Sau is won by the player holding the Two of trump (as the lowest trump-there is no Ace). The name Sau comes from the boar that is often found on the Two of German suited decks. Marriage is won by the player holding the King and Queen of trump (who also wins the stakes in the King and Queen compartments). The Sequence compartment is won by the player who holds the 7-8-9 of trump. If any compartment is not claimed, the stakes in it remain for subsequent hands.

The second phase is a betting phase, like poker or primero. The winning hand is that with the best combination. Four of a kind beats a triple, three of a kind beats a pair, and a pair beats a hand without a pair. Higher valued cards beat lower ones in the same class (for example, a pair of kings would beat a pair of sixes, but would be beaten by three jacks). Each player in turn may put a stake into the Poch compartment. Other players may see it, raise it, pass, or fold. When the betting returns to the first player, he may bet again (unlike betting in Poker or Primero, you cannot call). I suggest that a limit be put on the total bet. Betting stops only when every player has passed or folded. When betting stops, if only one player remains he wins the stakes in the Poch compartment. If two or more players remain (having all bet the same amount) the winner is the one with the best hand.

The third phase involves playing cards in a sequence, building up to 31. This is similar to modern cribbage: each player in turn lays down a card so that the total of the cards laid so far does not exceed 31. When no one can play (the total is too high) each player must pay the person who laid the final card of the sequence one penny. The person who laid the last card of the previous sequence gets to play the first one of the next sequence. As soon as one player runs out of cards, all the players who have cards remaining must pay him one penny for each card they still have remaining in their hands.



Source: Parlett

Deck Used: any German, Swiss, or French deck

Number of Players: 2 or more

Landsknechte shows up in documents in 1542, in the list of games in the fifth edition of Rabelais' Gargantua. It is a simple-minded gambling game with banker. In its play and betting it is reminiscent of dice game like Hazard (Parlett, P. 76-77).

The banker puts up some amount as a wager, and the punters may see some or all of it. The banker deals two cards face up, one to the left and one to the right. If the suits match, the banker wins all the bets. If the suits do not match he deals cards, one at a time, to the middle (between the two piles) until one of them matches either the left or the right pile. If the left pile is matched the banker wins; if the right one is matched the banker loses.

When the banker loses, the deck passes to the next player in line, who becomes the next banker. Alternatively, the game may be played so the banker may auction off the bank, with the highest bidder becoming the next banker.



Sources: Dummett (interpreting rules from Maison academique, 1659)

Deck Used: 78 card Tarot deck

Number of Players: 3

The Tarot deck seems to have come to Switzerland from Italy at the same time it reached France, in the early 16th century (Durnmett, p. 217). It got to Germany later, apparently through France towards the end of the 16th century or the beginning of the 17th. It enjoyed a wave of popularity in both places.

Order of Play: Counter-clockwise

Order of Cards

Permanent Trumps:  As normal: XXI down to I
Swords, Batons: (high) K Q C J 10 9 8 7 6,5 4 3 2 1 (low)
Cups,Coins: (high) K Q C J 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 l0 (low)

Play of the Game

Each player antes an agreed upon stake before play. The dealer deals out 25 cards to each player, and takes the last three remaining cards to himself.  He then chooses three cards to discard (they may not be any King, the Fool, or any Trump). These three discards count just as if a trick won in play. A game consists of three rounds, with a different dealer each round. The person with the highest score at the end of the game wins. Play is normal for Tarot games (follow suit if possible, must trump if void in the suit led).

Le Fou (The Fool)

The Fool may be played instead of following suit or being forced to trump. The Fool cannot take a trick, but neither is it captured with the rest of the trick by the winning card; instead the one who played it may exchange it for a card he has taken and lay it with his captured tricks. If the one who played the Fool has no card to exchange for it when he plays it, he may wait and exchange it later when he takes a trick. If the one who played the Fool takes no tricks through the game he may not exchange it.

Point Value of Cards:

The counting scheme is:
Le Monde (the World, XXI): 5
Le Basteleur (the Magician, I): 5
Le Fou (Fool): 5
Each King: 5
Each Queen: 4
Each Cavalier: 3
Each Jack: 2

Counting Points:

1. A trick with three counting cards has a value of the sum of the card values- 2. For example, a trick containing the Cavalier of Swords, the Queen of Swords, and the Fool would be worth 3 + 4 + 5 -2= 10 points.

2. A trick with two counting cards has a value of the sum of their values - 1. For example, a trick containing the World, the Magician, and Death would be worth 5 + 5 - 1= 9 points.

3. A trick with one counting card has the value of that card.

4. A trick with no counting cards has a value of 1.



Cotton, Charles. The Compleat Gamester. London, 1674.

Parlett, David. The Oxford Guide to Card Games. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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