A brief history of playing card games

A brief history of playing card games

Story courtesy of Power Play

Because most of us have been brought up playing card games with our families, it seems odd to think about the fact that they haven’t always been around. We have put together a brief history of playing card games for you, which will allow you to truly appreciate just how far cards have come to enable us to play the games that we know and love today. 

The journey to develop the deck of 52 cards that we know and love today took hundreds of years, and if you were to go back in time to show somebody these cards, it would be something completely unknown to them. 

Eastern Countries

Although nobody really knows exactly where playing cards originated, it is believed by many that the first playing cards were actually used and developed in China, during the Tang dynasty. There is some evidence of card games being played at this time, many of which simply included matching cards together, and these games often included drinking – just like many games that are enjoyed today. The icons which were used on the cards included things like polo sticks, swords and gold coins, which were representative of interests at the time, and very much help to see when exactly the cards may have originated from.


By the 1400s, card games had made their way across to Italy. Not only did people enjoy playing the games, but games were also mentioned in sermons, during lists of things that should be denounced. This shows just how much of an impact these kinds of games were starting to have in Europe. The decks used in Italy were the first that began to use the royal figures that we know today, including a king, a queen and a knave. Because mass production was far from being possible, cards were hand painted, meaning that they were only enjoyed by the upper classes.


Card games gradually made their way across Europe, and crossed the Channel to England. Although lots of people were enjoying the games over the water by that point, importation was expensive, meaning that it was still a game for the upper classes in England. Card makers began to see just how much money they could make from producing mass decks in England, and several moved to live across the water, helping to cement card games into English culture for good.

The design that we know today were thought to have been brought over from Belgium, and were very similar to the decks that we play today. The more modern card designed included the double headed cards, to enable opponents to see the card that was being played more easily.

With the rise of cards being available came the rise of card games, and thus the rise of gambling. Today, card games such as Poker and Bridge bring a huge amount of money into the industry – and without the early days of playing cards being produced in the Chinese dynasty, it may have been the case that they would have never arrived here at all. 

Photo by Slava on Unsplash

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