Ancient Origins: The Evolution of Card Games

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A lot of people pick up a deck of playing cards without really knowing the amazing history involved. Cards are thousands of years old and have inspired thousands of different games, too, all with varying levels of success.

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Card games can be so simple anyone can understand them, or they can get really complex. Modern card games may tell a story or have a fantasy theme attached to them, people don’t just rely on standard decks either.

Board and card games are seeing something of a resurgence, which may be surprising. Some people assume digital games would have been the end of card games, but instead, many have incorporated online trading and gameplay.

Early card games are thought to have been played in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) when the earliest known playing cards were used. They looked a bit like dominoes and were said to be used for both gaming and as currency. Hundreds of years passed but the games spread, and in the 14th century, card games made their way to Europe where they began to turn into the kinds of games we may see today, but there was still quite a journey for them to go on!


Casino Games

Cards are associated a lot with different casino games. Even the games that don’t use cards physically may still have imagery from these games. When people invented certain card-based gambling games in the 1700s and 1800s the imagery became even more iconic, so when we eventually got slot games, they would also use a lot of this imagery. Slot games and pokies onlinelink outside website may use the card decks as their imagery or they also regularly have symbols like “A, K, Q, J, 10” which are all derived from the values of a traditional deck of playing cards.

The internet in the late 20th century changed everything, and online casinos emerged in the mid-1990s, which brought some digital versions of popular casino card games. It wasn’t just gambling games that went digital though, and there were some other card games becoming playable online. Solitaire used to be loaded onto the majority of the computers sold! Spades and Hearts also got online versions of the games.

All of these games are talking about traditional decks of playing cards, but the card game enthusiasts know that this is just one part of the industry…

Collectible Card Games

Further growth came from the fact that new forms of trading and playing cards were released. Collectible games let people build their own decks. Added to the fact that these decks may have characters or tie in with films and other franchises, was the chance for rare cards.

Collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering have some cards that have astronomical valueslink outside website. Magic combined the strategy of traditional card games with the excitement of collecting and trading cards. The game's popularity spawned numerous other CCGs, each with its own unique mechanics and themes, and just like the current board game industry, there are more people looking to play.

We’ve seen developers and game makers becoming more inventive, too. Digital card games, such as Hearthstone, also had their part to play. Unlike basic decks of cards, some of these games have complex and engaging gameplay experiences, even telling a story. Players can compete online, participate in tournaments, and collect cards. Meetups are also popular and there’s a whole social scene around a lot of these games.

We’ve also seen hybrids and games that have interesting, experimental mechanics.

Gwentlink outside website, originally a mini-game in the video game The Witcher 3, became a standalone title that combined traditional card game mechanics with strategic gameplay elements. The makers describe this game as “a strategy card game of choices and consequences, where skill, not luck, is your greatest weapon.”

When you start to think about it, there are lots of card games out there. Some simple research will show there are tie-in games with massive franchises. Lord of the Rings even has its own card game connected to it. Many people play these games due to the depth they have to offer, and the fact they often incorporate more mechanics than some simple card games do.



Card games have a long history, from being played on tables, in bars, and in houses from China to the US, they’ve now become a huge industry. Cards informed casino games (even the ones that don’t use physical cards) and there have been some innovations in the industry meaning new forms of card games. Lord of the Rings and Magic: The Gathering games are some examples of this.

Humble Solitaire games and Rummy can still be played any time, but cards have created a much more wide-reaching industry than this and will continue to evolve far past what was originally made in China all those years ago.