Where the first playing cards originated is open to debate by card historians. China is a guess as they had paper long before Europe did. The first card decks were hand-painted, and only wealthy patrons could afford them. When woodcuts for printing were invented in the 14th century, card decks were mass produced and soon became household entertainment. Though most card games are played with a deck of 52 cards, other games require different types of card decks.
The most popular and recognizable deck of 52 cards is based on what is known as “the French suits.” This deck consists of four simplified suits--hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades--each containing 13 cards. The 13 cards are numbered 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen, king and ace. Popular games that can be played with the 52-card deck include many variations of poker, hearts, spades, solitaire games, bridge, baccarat, and rummy and its variants.
Pinochle is played with one or two decks of 48 cards taken from a 52-card deck. The single pinochle deck consists of 12 cards in each of the four suits, doubling the ace, king, queen, jack, 10 and 9, and eliminating all cards below nine. The double Pinochle deck consists of 80 cards, doubling all the aces and suit cards, and discarding the nines and all cards below it. Pinochle is a game with many variations largely dependent on region and family whims.
Canasta is played with a standard two 52-card deck plus four jokers for a total 108 cards. Jokers and deuces are wild cards, and threes have special functions and values. All other cards are worth varying points.
Euchre is a popular plain-trick taking game for four players in partnerships of two each. Only the tricks are of any importance. The deck of 25 cards consists of the ace, king, queen, jack, 10 and 9 in each of the four suits of a 52-card deck, plus a joker.
The tarot card deck consists of 78 cards. It is one of the earliest games to introduce the trump concept. The deck is devised from a regular deck of playing cards by the addition of four new court cards and 22 lower cards. Though popular as a card game in countries other than the United States, the tarot card deck is also used as a tool for divination.
Uno is a recent addition to “classic” card games, being invented in 1971 by Merle Robbins, supposedly the result of a dispute over the rules of Crazy Eights. This card deck is composed of 108 cards of four different-colored suits with wild cards and action cards such as reversing direction of the play, skipping the next player and making the next player draw extra cards. Easy to learn, the action of Uno is in the game of quick thinking and strategy.
Commercial card decks are specialized to a particular theme or promotion. Many of these are used as teaching flash cards or children’s games such as Authors (famous authors), Deal a Word (word game), Geoplunge (a geography game) and Phase 10 (a variation of rummy). Rook and Uno are also commercial games. Each card deck has its own number of cards and rules.