It is hard to deny that card games and their many intriguing variations have been a classic way to while away dull hours now for a very long time. While it is hard to pinpoint the exact origins of just when the use of cards in gaming began, some experts, including Andy Bodle writing for The Guardian, believe the concept emerged in China during the Tang dynasty more than 1,400 years ago.

Enduring popularity
Many believe that playing cards then first arrived in Europe around the 14th century, with the classic style we know and love – featuring suits, kings, queens, jacks etc – reaching our shores relatively fully formed after picking up influences from many other countries. This of course means that such cards have now been in use for literally hundreds of years and through that time have led to the creation of a myriad of games. While many will have undoubtedly fallen by the wayside, a huge number of games have of course also endured and even evolved into new takes on old classics. The likes of blackjack, baccarat and poker – which is thought to derive from the French game poque which was first played in French America in 1803 – were once seen as more to the tastes of sophisticated elites or suave spies like James Bond. However, they are now played by a wide audience and in many different forms. According to Statista, mobile social poker gaming alone brought in $76 million in the USA. A visit to an online casino will demonstrate just how many variations of such games have been embraced over the years in virtual format, with blackjack alone morphing into the likes of Blackjack Gold Series, European Blackjack and Multi-Hand Blackjack, choice is plentiful. Of course, playing cards are not just used for casino games either, with people choosing to use them for games from simple classics like Snap or Pairs to the likes of Rummy, Whist and Bridge.

Different formats
However, there is much more to card games than purely those played with the classic suits format and across the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s a host of other games were developed which were base on the simple premise of splitting a single deck and competing against loved ones. Taking a look back at the ’70s first, we’ve already covered one or two notable games – such as Marvel Super Heroes – elsewhere on the site. However, it would feel foolish to discuss cards in this decade without referencing one of the most popular and enduring contemporary games ever made – UNO! Invented in 1971 allegedly as a result of an argument about the card game Crazy Eights, the game based around different coloured suits and a host of action cards which can turn things on their head is undoubtedly a classic. Under the control of Mattel since 1992, the game has been transferred into a range of formats including video gaming. Themed packs based on major blockbusters, including releases from both the Marvel and DC cinematic universes, also remain popular.
Image – “Uno” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by elPadawan

Happy and angry
Another card game that many of us no doubt have fond memories of playing is Happy Families, with the concept revolving around collecting the members of each family displayed on the cards. I’ve got extremely fond memories of playing this game with my family as a young child, and adding our own rule of having to always say Please and Thank You when taking a card, otherwise you have to give the card back. I’m looking forward to the day that we can play it with our children. Won’t be long! While its heritage is thought to go all the way back to the 1800s, it remained very popular towards the end of the 20th century and no doubt received a lift in the 1985 from the CBBC series of the same name based on books by Allan Ahlberg.
Happy Families

Card games are not all sweetness and light however. As mentioned earlier, it is not uncommon to see new twists taken on games and this very thing happened with trick-taking card game Oh Hell!, which was transformed into Rage in 1983. As with UNO!, the new version of the game saw the introduction of a special pack which featured coloured suits and numbered cards.

Time to trade
By the time the 1990s came around, a new card-based concept emerged which would remove the old-school playing card format and aim for a more collectible direction. Pokémon may have found a lucrative home in the mobile gaming world in the past 12 months, but the franchise first launched for Nintendo in 1995 and went on to spawn a trading card game released in October 1996. The aim? To simply pit the creatures you own against those of your opponent to see who will come out on top. Another game which followed the trading card style was Yu-Gi-Oh!, which had its roots in manga and was launched by Japanese video gaming giant Konami in 1998. Eleven years later the game was named the top-selling trading card game in the world, with sales reaching a mind-boggling 22.5 billion cards. Like Pokémon, the aim is to use the cards in your possession to take on an opponent and reduce their “Life Points”.
Image – “My Pokemon cards I thought were lost are” (CC BY 2.0) by Marilyn Roxie.

By the end of the ’90s more traditional playing card-type games were also still going strong, with Apples to Apples offering a bit of word-based fun and winning a few awards in the process. There is also a strong argument that its influence has been felt well into the 21st century, with Cards Against Humanity offering a fairly similar – if far more risqué – experience. The latter was launched in May 2011 and has gone on to be supported by a number of expansion packs.

Built to last
While the digital world has massively changed the landscape when it comes to gaming, the success of the likes of UNO!, Cards Against Humanity and also the hugely popular Magic: The Gathering shows that there always remains a place for card games in the hearts of a huge number of people.

The games we’ve mentioned above are purely a handful of the classics created down the years and we’re sure they and many more – we like the look of the rap battles in Vers and the intriguing Am I Normal? in particular – will endure for a number of years to come. We also haven’t touched at all on Top Trumps, but expect a full article just focussing on this classic series coming soon.

[Banner image – “Playing cards – isolated on white backgr” (CC BY 2.0) by wuestenigel]