Playing cards are amazingly versatile; they can be used for thousands of different games. But even with all that diversity, games with cards display similarities that let us group them together into a “family tree” of card games.
This has the merit of making primary groups of games that go together because they ‘feel’ the same in play… (62)
…in this classification games that are historically related, being derived from each other or having a common ancestor, tend to end up together in the same group.
Although I’ve shamelessly plundered both sources (drawing on Parlett for the broad divisions and McLeod for the detailed groups and game lists), I’ve made a few tweaks. When possible, I try to follow a modern cladistic approach to phylogeny, with groups bifurcating at each level based on a single differing feature. As a result, any quibbles you have with classification are probably my error and should not be held against either Parlett or McLeod.
Naturally, some games include more than one type of mechanism. (McLeod calls these “compendium” games.) I have tried to sort these by the mechamism that seems most fundamental to the nature of the game.
Click to expand nested groups; click to collapse nested groups.
Comparison GamesPlayers compare cards to see which is best.
Showdown GamesAll players compare a card or cards to determine the winner.
Banking gamesEach player competes individually against a banker.
Vying gamesPlayers can raise the stakes before comparing hands; those who do not accept the raise can drop out.
Exchange GamesPlayers exchange cards to improve their holdings.
Exchange Among PlayersPlayers exchange cards among themselves.
Exchange with the StockPlayers exchange cards with the unused stock or a pool of cards.
Draw and Discard GamesA turn begins by drawing a card from a stock or discard pile, and ends by playing a card to the discard pile.
Basic Draw-and-Discard GamesThe object is to improve your original hand by replacing cards from the stock and/or discard.
Rummy GroupThe object is to form sets of matching cards (same rank or suited sequence).
Conquian groupA drawn card must be melded immediately.
Basic Rummy GamesThe object is to make sets quickly and go out.
Contract Rummy GamesEach player’s first meld must meet a particular contract, which gets harder with progressive deals.
Manipulation Rummy GamesPlayers can rearrange existing melds to meld cards from their hands.
- Carousel / Vatikan / Shanghai / Manipulation
Knock Rummy GamesA player can go out with unmatched cards but is penalized if another player has a better hand.
Meld-Scoring GroupMelds earn points, so waiting to go out can improve your score.
Commerce groupPlayers can swap cards from hand with cards from a face-up pool.
Miscellaneous Stock-Exchange GamesPlayers pass a hand around, exchanging cards if desired, and announce increasingly higher poker holdings until another player calls for verification.
Outplay GamesPlayers release cards from their hands, generally to capture other cards or eliminate their own cards.
Forced-Play GamesPlayers have no choice in the cardplay; hands are kept face-down, and the top card played each turn. [Note 3]
Selective-Play GamesPlayers choose which card to play and/or how the card is played each turn.
Trick-Taking GamesEach player plays one card face up to the table to form a trick; rules determine which card wins.
Plain-Trick GamesThe object is to win or lose tricks themselves, regardless of the cards they contain.
High-Card GroupSuit is irrelevant; the trick is won by the highest card played.
Follow-Suit GroupPlayers must follow suit to each trick if possible.
No Trump GroupThere is no trump suit; the highest card of the led suit wins.
Trump GroupCertain cards (trumps) outrank all others during the hand.
Trump Cards GroupSpecific cards from one or more suits are “trumps.”
Trump Suit GroupAll the cards of a particular suit are trumps.
Small-Hand GroupA hand is typically 3–5 cards; the object is to win a majority.
Basic Small-Hand GamesMany of these games display peculiarities of other mechanisms, such as not needing to follow suit, having a trump rank, or holding an auction.
Rams GroupPlayers who don’t drop out are penalized for taking too few tricks.
Spoil Five GroupTop trumps can renege; black suit numerals are in reverse order.
Euchre GroupThe trump jack and the other jack of the same colour are high.
Full-Deck GroupThe full deck is divided among the players.
Deal-and-Play GroupPlayers or partnerships try to win tricks; a rule determines the trump suit.
Auction GroupAn auction determines a soloist who can choose trumps.
Exact Bid GroupEach player tries to fulfill a bid exactly.
Point-Trick GamesScores are based on the point values of cards won in tricks; the tricks themselves have no value.
Tarot GroupThe deck has a series of special cards that are permanent trumps. Court cards, certain trumps, and the Excuse are worth extra points.
Type IVarious trumps are worth extra points; the Excuse can renege but loses the trick.
Type IIThe top and bottom trumps are worth extra points; the Excuse can renege but loses the trick.
IntermediateThe top and bottom trumps are worth extra points; the Excuse can renege and lose or be the highest trump.
Type IIIThe top and bottom trumps are worth extra points; the Excuse is the highest trump.
Trappola GroupWinning a trick with the lowest card of a suit earns a bonus.
Tressette GroupThere is typically no trump suit, and the 3 and 2 are highest in each suit.
Reverse GroupThe object is to avoid taking card points.
All Fours GroupPoints are awarded for having or winning certain trumps, and for capturing valuable cards.
Manille GroupOne numeral is promoted above the Ace; that and the court cards are worth extra points.
Ace-Ten GroupThe Ace and 10 are typically the highest cards in each suit, often worth 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Basic Ace-Ten GamesIn Latin decks (with no 10), the 3 or 7 takes its place.
Schafkopf GroupThe Jacks and/or Queens are permanent highest trumps.
Marriage GroupThere is a bonus for declaring certain combinations, primarily the King and Queen of a suit.
Basic Marriage GamesThese games often feature a bonus for winning the last trick.
Jass GroupThe Jack and 9 are the highest trumps.
Sedma GroupSuits are ignored; cards are beaten by cards of equal rank or wild cards (often the 7).
King-Ten-Five GroupKings (sometimes Aces) and 10s are worth 10 points; 5s are worth 5 points.
- Da Bai Fen (Hundred)
- Tuo La Ji (Tractor)
- Zhao Pengyou (Looking for Friends)
- 200 (Deux Cents)
Picture GroupHonors are worth 1 point each; the ♠A beats all other cards but must obey follow-suit rules.
- Japanese Napoleon
Miscellaneous Point-Trick GamesPoint-trick games that do not fit any other category.
Combination Trick GamesEach player declares each kind of contract exactly once; contracts may be plain-trick, point-trick, or layout.
Relational GamesEach card played bears some relation to a previously played card.
Sequential GamesEach card played continues a rule-based sequence of some kind.
Matching GamesEach card played matches a previous play somehow; the object is usually to get rid of all your cards.
Stops GroupCards are played in ascending order, regardless of who holds them; missing cards (“stops”) break the sequences.
Poch GroupThese games actually comprise three mechanisms: a round where particular holdings win stakes; a showdown, sometimes with vying; and a stops round. The showdown round is a likely ancestor to Poker.
- Three in One / Tripoley
Basic Stops Games
- Michigan / Boodle / Newmarket
- Pope Joan
Eights GroupEach card played must match the rank or suit of the previous card; some games allow wild cards.
Layout GroupThe object is typically sort the pack of cards into order, by moving cards onto a layout according to specific rules.
Competitive GamesPlay may be simultaneous or by turns.
Single-Player (Solitaire) GamesA player “wins” if the entire deck can be properly sorted.
- Aces Up
- Baker’s Dozen
- Clock Solitaire
- Forty Thieves
Beating GamesPlayers must beat (with a higher rank or trump) previously played card(s), or else pick up the card(s).
Single-Attack GroupEach turn, an attacker plays a card that the next player (defender) must beat.
Basic Single-Attack Games
- Svoi Kozyri
Round GamesA card that successfully beats an attack becomes the next attacking card.
Basic Round Games
Climbing GroupPlayers can pass without penalty. A player whose card is unbeaten by all other players has won a “trick.”
Multiple-Attack GroupEach attack may contain multiple cards.
Basic Multiple-Attack GamesThe defender picks up any unbeaten cards.
Continued-Attack GroupEach attack begins with a single card but may be continued by any non-defender adding cards of equal rank to currently played cards. If any attack is unbeaten, defender takes all played cards.
- Podkidnoy Durak
- Duren Piatkowy
“I Doubt It” GroupCards are played face-down; players may bluff but are penalized if challenged by an opponent.
Adding GamesEach card played adds to a running total; the object is typically to reach or avoid a particular total.
Miscellaneous Sequential GamesThe nature of the sequence changes from game to game.
Fishing GamesPlayed cards either capture matching cards from a pool or are added to the pool.
Asian Fishing GamesAfter each card played from hand, a card from the face-down stock is turned over and played.
Western Fishing GamesCards are played only from hand and can capture multiple pool cards.
Balkan/Turkish Fishing GamesThe pool is a single pile; matching the top card captures the pile.
Miscellaneous GamesGames that do not fit into any other category.
- Parlett, David. A History of Card Games. Oxford University Press, 1991. Back
- McLeod, John. Games Classified by Mechanism. From the Card Games Web Site. Accessed 2009 Nov 6 at https://www.pagat.com/class/#mechanism. Back
- The simple children’s game War is usually classified along with these games, but the simultaneity of play in War means it is essentially a Comparison game. Beggar My Neighbor and the others I have called “forced-play games” have a more sequential mechanism, in which the value of the card is important but not how it compares with other players’ cards. Back