Cards appeared in Spain and Italy about 1370, but they probably came from Egypt. They began to spread throughout Europe and came into England around 1460. By the time of Elizabeth’s reign, gambling was a common sport. Cards were not played only by the upper class. Many of the lower classes had access to playing cards. The card suits tended to change over time. The first Italian and Spanish decks had the same suits: Swords, Batons/ Clubs, Cups, and Coins. The suits often changed from country to country. England probably followed the Latin version, initially using cards imported from Spain but later relying on more convenient supplies from France.

In Orleans, France (1408) an inventory of the Duke and Duchess of Orleans lists “ung jeu de quartes sarrasines and unes quartes de Lombardie” (one pack of Saracen cards and one cards of Lombard, Dummet 42). Italian cards featured the latin suits of coins, cups, batons, and swords. Italian cards influenced Spanish, German, and French cards… which then influenced English cards. German and Swiss cards favored shields, acorns, flowers, and bells while the English used the French system of suits (clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades). During the Elizabethan era in England cards were block printed, unwaxed, bore a single image in the center of card, and had blank backs.

Two of the most popular games in Italy, where tarocchi (tarot or tarock) or trionfi (trump) decks were used, were scartino and imperiali. These decks had 78 cards; four suits numbered one through ten, a page, a knight, a queen, and a king, twenty-one tarots which acted as trumps, and a fool which acted as an ‘excuse’ or a special trump. The tarot deck was not originally used for divination, but for a trick-taking game that is one of the oldest card games known. The numbers on the trumps are the only thing that matter, the images have no effect on the game itself and as such could be altered at the engravers whim (Ortalli 24).

Most of the decks that have survived use the French Suits: Spades, Hearts, Clubs, and Diamonds. In England even before Elizabeth I had begun to reign, the number of cards had been standardized to 52 cards per deck. Interestingly, the lowest court subject in England was called the “knave.” The lowest court card was therefore called the knave until later when the term “Jack” became more common.

Archaeologia by Daines Barrington, 1787
The Game of Tarot by Michael Dummett, 1980
The Prince and Playing Cards:The Este Family by Gherardo Ortalli, 1996

Game of Ruff (Italy, 1522) –

Needs: standard deck of cards, four players. Aim: to score nine points. Players agree on a stake. Deal 12 cards to each player and turn up remaining top card on deck to determine trump suit. The player with the Ace of the trump suit declares “I have the honour”, and scores a point for each of the four honour cards they hold (Ace/Asso, King/Re, Queen/Regina, Jack/Fante). The player to the left of the dealer leads and all players follow suit. Aces high or trumps takes the suit. If they cannot follow suit, they may play any card. The winner of the trick leads. The players gain one point for every trick taken. If there is no winner, another stake is required and another hand played.
52 playing cards ca1475 Burgundian metmuseum heilbrunn timeline

Draughts (Checkers, Europe, 1300s) –

In draughts the object of the game is to capture your opponent’s game pieces by making diagonal jumps over them. The game is a descendant of the Egyptian game of alquerque, which was played on a five-by-five-point board with twelve interlocking “L” shaped pieces. The game was played at court and in the taverns of England by all classes. The Earl of Leicester had a set made with pieces of crystal and silver and a board bearing his family’s heraldic crest. This game was also known as jeu force in France, for a game where a player must take and opponent’s piece whenever possible (as does alquerque).

Draughts (per Master Damiano Bellini) “was played in France, England, and the Spanish Marches before 1500. In the Italian version, the 8×8 board is placed so that the double black corner is on the player’s left instead of right. Each player has twelve pieces set up on the black squares of the first three rows in front of him. The pieces move only on the black squares and black has the first move. The pieces move diagonally forwards one square at a time and may not move backwards.

The object of the game is to capture or immobilize your opponent’s twelve pieces. A capture is made by a piece (man) jumping over an enemy piece and landing on a vacant square immediately beyond. If the capturing piece can continue to leap over the other enemy pieces they are also captured and removed from the board. When a piece finally comes to rest the move is finished.

If an uncrowned piece reaches the opponents back line it becomes a king. Crowning ends a move. After crowning a king can move diagonally backwards and forwards one square at a time, and captures by a standard jump. There may be several kings on the board at a time.

In Italian Draughts, a number of rules apply to captures (Bell 73):

  • A player had to take when possible or lose the game
  • A man (piece) could not take a king
  • If he had a choice of capture he was forced to take the greater number
  • If he had a choice of capture he was forced to take the greater number
  • If this number were equal (each option containing a king) when there are two or more options, then he must capture wherever the king occurs first. This rule was known in Italy as ‘il piu col piu’ (‘the greater to the greater’)


Sports and Games of the Renaissance (2004) by Andrew Leibs.



Maw was developed in 16th Century Ireland and was a favorite in the British Isles. The object of maw is to win three tricks or prevent other players from doing so. It can be played with anywhere from 2 to 10 players. A pot is decided and the winner gets the pot. If there is no winner, a second hand is played and the first to win three tricks gets the pot. Each player is dealt give cards from a 52-card deck. The top card of the remaining cards is flipped up to determine the trump. Regardless of suit, the trump cards rank; five, jack, ace of hearts, ace of trump, king queen. If the trump suit is red the remaining cards rank from 10 down to 2, and vice-versa if the trump suit it black. Non-trump cards of the same color rank the same as trump cards. The person to the left of the dealer leads, playing one card. The other players must follow suit or play a trump. If a player can do neither, she may play any card. A player can hold the five and jack of the trump or the ace of hearts if they choose, but lesser trumps must be played if the player can not follow suit.
Bingo’s Origins in Italy

Most agree that Bingo was first played in an Italian lottery called “Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia”. The game appears on record around 1530 in the late Renaissance Italy. It is said to have developed from a game known as “Lotto” which in Italian means “destiny or fate”. It was first played in a period during a corrupt election that needed a fresh way to select a leader. Numbers were chosen randomly and the person who had that specific number would then be the new leader purely by fate.

Bingo then moved to France where it became known as “Le Lotto”. Bingo is still today played in France every Saturday in a similar fashion as we play nowadays. It is played with playing cards, tokens, and numbers called aloud.

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 pack; 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 from 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 also loved to use her impresa, or device, embroidered on her robes and painted on the playing cards. 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: 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.

Many wonder if it was appropriate for women to play cards. We know the Isabella and her sister-in-law Elisabetta were known to sit in the afternoon and “together they sang French songs and read the latest romances, or played scartino, their favorite game at cards, in the pleasant rooms which Francesco had prepared for his bride on the first floor of the Castello, near the Sala degh Sposi. Together they rode and walked in the park and boated on the crystal waters of the lake, or took excursions to the neighboring villas of Porto and Marmirolo.”

A letter of August 1493 quoted by Malaguzzi-Valeri and by Luzio and Renier appears to imply that Scartino was a three-handed game. The earliest reference is from 1492; one is from 1509, one from 1517, and all the rest from the 1490’s. Several concern the obtaining or ordering of packs of Scartino cards (para de carte da scartino or para de scartini), which appear all to have come from Ferrara; what was special about these cards there is no way of telling. It is just conceivable that Scartino was itself a particular type of Tarot game, and that these were therefore Tarot packs of a special type; but, unless they were very special, it does not seem very likely that Lodovico Sforza should have been having to obtain Tarot packs from elsewhere. Most of the references are about games of Scartino being played.

We learn from Isabella d’Este’s brother-in-law letter to the Marquis in 1503 that 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 told me that she would not come to supper as she felt pains, and went to her room, and we sat down to table, and I supped in the Castello. And before we had finished, the said Madonna gave birth to a little girl, and although we greatly desired a boy, yet we must be content with what is given us.”


Cartwright, Julia. Marchioness of Mantua
F. Malaguzzi-Valeri, La carte di Locovico il Moro, vol. 1, Milan, 1913, p. 575;
A. Venturi, ‘Relazioni artistiche tra le corti di Milano e Ferrara nel secolo XV’, Archivio Storico Lombardo, anno XII (pp. 255-280), 1885, p. 254;
A. Luzio and R. Renier, Mantova e Urbino, Turin and Rome, 1893, pp. 63-5, especially fn. 3, p. 63;
A. Luzio and R. Renier, ‘Delle relazioni di Isabella d’Este Gonzaga con Lodivico e Beatrice Sforza’, Archivio Storico Lombardo, anno XVII (pp. 74-119, 346-99, 619-74), 1890, p. 368, fn. 1, and pp. 379-80;
A Luzio I precettori d’Esabella d’Este, p. 22;
G. Bertoni, ‘Tarocchi versificati’ in Poesie, leggende, costumanze del medioevo, Modena 1917, p. 219;
Diario Ferrarese of 1499 in Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. 24, p. 376.

Playing Card Styles

Master P W of Cologne’s pack of seventy-two rounded playing cards is generally believed to be his last work in the medium of engraving. This card, the 9 of hares, is 6.3 cm in diameter and was made circa 1500 in Koln, Germany. It comes from a pack of seventy-two round playing cards and is unique in having five suits, rather than the customary four: roses, columbines, carnations, parrots and hares. The images on the cards depict plants and animals based on the study of nature, rather than of model books as previous engravers of cards had done (VAM).

The 9 of Hares
The 9 of Hares

An early use of the woodblock for printing was for making playing cards. Surviving examples of printed cards date to as early as about 1420. This sheet is thought to have been made by an artist called F. Durand in Rouen or Lyons in the first half of the 16th century. It has not yet been cut, showing the way in which cards were made for economy, printed many to a sheet and cut at a later stage. The high quality of detail and careful application of hand-colouring suggests that this pack was intended for a well-off client. It is an uncut sheet of playing cards, containing eight subjects, four Kings and four Queens bearing titles of legendary and historical personages (VAM).

French Woodcut From 1500s
French Woodcut From 1500s
Victoria and Albert Museum


Need 2 dice and three or more players (can be played with two players but it gets a bit dull).
The board is arranged in the following manner




Tarot or period playing cards can be used if one does not have a board made. My board is made from pictures copied from period playing cards. Our camp chaplains board was copied from woodcuts of the 12 positions of the cross (he is a Lutheran after all).Note: There is no 4. Rolling 4 is effectively a pass.

All players start the game by putting a coin on 7 then a coin on two other numbers they like.

The player rolls the dice. If a 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11 is rolled, the player checks the number for a coin. If there is a coin there, the player takes it. If there is no coin, the player puts one down on that number.

If a seven is rolled, the player puts always puts a coin in (the pile coins on 7 could get quite large).

If a two is rolled, the player takes the coins on all numbers except 7.

If the player rolls 12, the player takes all coins.

If a 4 is rolled, the player does nothing.

After the player rolls, the dice are passed to the left.

The Game of the Goose
Players take turns rolling two dice and moving their pawn around the board by the sum of their roll. The board has all the same special spaces that Goose games throughout its history have included:

  • The Bridge on space 6 that advances the player to space 12.
  • A roadside Inn on space 19 where the traveler tarries for one turn.
  • The Well on space 31, where the visitor loses 2 turns.
  • The Maze of space 42, wherein the traveler loses the way and returns to space 30.
  • The Dungeon on space 52, where the prisoner remains until another arrives and the two trade places. An additional means of escape is to roll a 9 and go to one of the fields with dice.
  • Space 58, where a cooked goose appears in place of the traditional Grim Reaper, sends the player back to start.

Additional rules:A lucky throw of 9 at the beginning of the spiral path advances a player to one of the fields with dice.

Landing on any of the pretty geese doubles a player’s move.

An exact count on one or both dice is needed to reach the center goose, and if the number rolled is too great, the player has to take the surplus numbers in reverse.

Landing on another player’s space sends that player to where the new arrival began the turn. Could be backward or forward. Lots of laughs!

You can get a lot more information and amazing historical notes on Peter Aleff’s website about The Game of the Goose and the Phaistos Labyrinth.

Smerelli (Morris)

The basic aim of Smerelli or Nine Men’s Morris is to make “mills” – vertical or horizontal lines of three in a row.  Every time this is achieved, an opponent’s piece is removed, the overall objective being to reduce the number of opponent’s pieces to less than three or to render the opponent unable to play.   To begin with the board is empty.

Player’s toss a coin to decide who will play white – white moves first and has a slight advantage as a result.   Play is in two phases.  To begin with, players take turns to play a piece of their own colour on any unoccupied point until all eighteen pieces have been played.  After that, play continues alternately but each turn consists of a player moving one piece along a line to an adjacent point.

During both of these phases, whenever a player achieves a mill, that player immediately removes from the board one piece belonging to the opponent that does not form part of a mill.  If all the opponents pieces form mills then an exception is made and the player is allowed to remove any piece.  It is only upon the formation of a mill that a piece is captured but a player will often break a mill by moving a piece out of it and then, in a subsequent turn, play the piece back again, thus forming a new mill and capturing another piece.

Captured pieces are never replayed onto the board and remain captured for the remainder of the game.  The game is finished when a player loses either by being reduced to two pieces or by being unable to move.

Bocce (Redacted by Modar)

Bocce Equipment
A Bocce set is composed of 9 balls. One small “target ball” called a Pallino and eight Bocce balls (four each of two different colors). In period, the Bocce balls were usually wooden, and about the size of a coconut. The Pallino was about the size of a modern golfball.

The modern official size Bocce ball has a diameter of 4 1/5″, a circumference of 13 1/2″, a weight of 2 lbs. 2oz., and is usually made of phenolic resin. The Pallino, also made of phenolic resin, is still about the size and weight of a modern golfball.

A measuring tape, while not required, can be useful (or a simple piece of string to help judge distances).

Bocce Rules
While there are modern rules with formal “courts” on which to play, most of games played up through the Middle Ages was done in a style that is today called “Open Bocce”. This means it may be played almost anywhere on a variety of surfaces, in the back yard or front yard, on a smooth lawn or rough grass, along a dirt road or grassy meadow, on a sandy beach, on level ground or hilly terrain. Variety in surface and terrain calls for variety in skills and techniques of play, producing a game rich in surprise and suspense.

You need two equal teams to play Bocce, with either one, two or four persons per team.

Determine in some fair manner, which team will start.

Determine a “foul line” that players must stay behind when they toss or bowl their Bocce balls.

Standing behind the foul line, the target ball, called the “Pallino,” is thrown out by a member of the starting team. He may toss the target ball any distance (and in Open Bocce, any direction) that he chooses.

Staying behind the foul line, the same player then rolls or throws his first Bocce Ball only. He then steps aside and does not bowl again until the opposing side has gotten one of its Bocce Balls closest to the Pallino

Then a player on the opposing team rolls and tries to place his balls nearer the target ball.

The side whose Bocce is closest to the Pallino is called “Inside” and the opposing side “Outside.” Whenever a team gets “Inside” it steps aside and lets the “Outside” team bowl.

This continues until one side has played all of its Bocce Balls.

Then the remaining team may toss its remaining balls, trying to gain additional points.

One point is awarded to a given team for every ball that is closer to the Pallino than the closest ball of the opposing team. (In the case of a tie, no points are awarded.)

A game is 12 points.

The team that wins a round starts play in the next round (tosses the Pallino).

Balls are delivered underhand or overhand, in one of two motions: they can be tossed through the air or bowled. The ball must leave the hand before the player oversteps the foul line.

Strategies can include knocking away an opponent’s ball, knocking the Pallino to change its position, and using the terrain to bank shots.

Bassetta (by Modar)

Basset is a multi-player gambling game created in the middle of the 15th century in Italy.

The number of players determines the number of standard 52-card decks used. The number of decks to use are:

1 deck – 2 to 3 players and a dealer

2 decks – 4 to 7 players and a dealer

And so on. Each additional deck allows up to 4 more players.

Thirteen cards are dealt, face up, to each player.

No cards are dealt to the dealer.

Each player then decides which of his own cards he will bet on.

Betting is done by placing the wager upon the card being bet on.

Any or all the cards a player has may be bet on.

Wagers may be of any value (although “House Rules” can set a limit on the wagers).

Bets have to be made by all players before the next step in the game is taken.

Next the dealer turns one card face up from the remainder of the deck, dealt from the bottom.

The dealer wins all bets placed on cards that match this card’s rank.

The dealer then deals two cards off the top of the deck, face up.

The dealer wins all bets placed on cards that match the first card’s rank.

The dealer pays all wagers that match the second card.

Once a wager on a card has been lost, the card is taken out of play.

Once a wager on a card has been won, the player has a choice: He may a) take the card out of play and keep the wager won, or b) leave the card and wager (the original amount only) in play.

To signify that a winning card and bet is left in play, a corner of the card is turned up.

If a card is left in play after winning and it loses, the dealer gets the original bet on the card (only), and the card is then taken out of play.

If a card is left in play after winning and it wins again, it is paid off at 7 times the original bet.

A card that has won twice can be taken out of play or left in play, with the original bet on it.

To signify that a 2-time winning card and bet is left in play, two corners of the card are turned up.

If a 2-time winning card is left in play and it loses, the dealer gets the original bet on the card (only), and the card is then taken out of play.

If a 2-time winning card is left in play and it wins again, it is paid off at 15 times the original bet.

A card that has won three times can be taken out of play or left in play, with the original bet on it.

To signify that a 3-time winning card and bet is left in play, three corners of the card are turned up.

If a 3-time winning card is left in play and it loses, the dealer gets the original bet on the card (only), and the card is then taken out of play.

If a 3-time winning card is left in play and it wins again, it is paid off at 30 times the original bet.

A card that has won four times can be taken out of play or left in play, with the original bet on it.

To signify that a 4-time winning card and bet is left in play, all four corners of the card are turned up.

If a 4-time winning card is left in play and it loses, the dealer gets the original bet on the card (only), and the card is then taken out of play.

If a 4-time winning card is left in play and it wins again, it is paid off at 60 times the original bet.

A card that has won four times is taken out of play.


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