A card game called Scartino, the favorite of the Este family, is one of which we hear much from a brief period around 1500: there are over a dozen references to it between 1492 and 1517. We have no idea how Scartino was played, although it appears to have demanded a special type of deck; for instance, Lodovico il Moro wrote in 1496 to Cardinal Ippolito d’Este complaining that the latter had not sent him the carte de scartino that he had promised, and there are other references to orders for packs of “Scartino cards”.
The game seems to have originated in Ferrara. It was a favourite game both of Beatrice d’Este, wife of Lodovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, and of Isabella d’Este, wife of Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. Isabella loved to have her impresa, or device, embroidered on her robes and painted on her playing cards, which is why she had her decks commissioned by notable artists. The name Scartino is presumably connected with the verb scartare, ‘to discard’, and games are often named after their most characteristic or novel feature. It is therefore a possibility that this was a trick-taking game in which a new practice was introduced, namely that the dealer took some extra cards and discarded a corresponding number. If so, it could be that it was from Scartino that this practice was taken over into Tarocco games, in which it had been previously unknown, and that Scartino, after its short-lived popularity, died out, having made a lasting contribution to card play.
This, of course, is the merest guess (according to Dummet). Scartino may not have been a trick-taking game at all, but, say, one in which the winner was the player who first contrived to get rid of all his cards after the fashion of a stops game.
We learn from Isabella’s brother-in-law’s letter to the Marquis in 1503 that attending the theatre and playing cards was her regular pastime: “Yesterday I went with this illustrious Madonna and Signor Federico to the school of Messer Franceso, whose scholars recited a fine comedy exceedingly well. It was a very pretty sight, and pleased us all highly. Afterwards we drove as usual to take the air in the town, and returned to the Castello about five o’clock; and Madonna (Isabella) sat down to cards to spend the evening after her usual custom, and played till after eight. Then she rose from the table and … went to her room…”
So, since playing cards was a custom of noble ladies such as Isabella, I certainly want to add a few appropriate card games to my repertoire. I think learning Scartino would be meraviglioso!
Modern rules for an Italian card game called Scartino are:
Players: The game is played one on one or two against two in pairs.
Deck: To play you need a deck of Napoli (Naples) style cards.
Rules: At the beginning of the game the dealer deals three cards to each player. The deck is then placed at the center of the table and the first player’s turn begins to discard the top card. Takes who threw the highest card is the stake of that number. For example, if Player A discards a three of hearts while B throws a five of clubs, B will take the cards because it was the highest card between the two.
The only exception is the five card that takes any card except a five-pole belonging to the highest.
Finally there are the figures, said scartini, which are used to discard a card pulled from Rival Gaming. For example, if A discards a six card, and B an eight card, these two cards are excluded as in the discard pile and the points are given to B.
Winner: The first player to reach 112 points.
The order of the cards by points is as follows:
5 (The card with which you can take everything and that is worth 5 points)
7 (Normal card with the value of 7 points)
6 (Normal card with the value of 6 points)
4 (Normal card with the value of 4 points)
3 (Normal card with the value of 3 points)
2 (Normal card with the value of 2 points)
1 (Normal card with the value of 1 point)
10/9/8 (Scartini! These cards are valid points, but they can “discard other cards”)
The four marks (suits) of the Neapolitan (Naples style) cards are called poles and they are:
Coins – Denari
Swords – Spade
Sticks – Bastione
Cups – Copa
Purpose: The aim of the game is to reach 112 points before your opponent.
Where can you buy cards? MacGregor Historic Games for a reproduction 15th Century Visconti Tarrochi deck!!
From their site: “Believed to be the earliest, and most complete surviving tarot deck. It was commissioned by the Visconti family who were the Dukes of Milan in the 1450’s. The face cards and Major Arcana on this beautiful decks have gold foil backgrounds.
Contrary to popular belief, tarot cards were used for games long before they were used for fortune telling. They were the ancestors to modern trump, or trick-taking games.
We also include our booklet with a short history of Tarot cards, and six of the earliest surviving Tarot games.”
The Book of Tarot by Dummet
Website – http://www.regoledelgioco.com (for Scartino rules, translation double-checked as a courtesy by Paco Smith)