Hi, I’m André Meadows and this is Crash Course Games. Today, we’re going to be talking about playing cards, gaming artifacts that have truly stood the test of time. These simple, small pieces of paper have been entertaining people for over a millennium. There’s a countless variety of card games, from Go Fish to Yu-Gi-Oh! to solitaire, which you probably play once or twice on your computer when you’re supposed to be working.
And if you need more proof that they’re an unrivaled phenomenon, we even have a gaming Mecca in the middle of the Nevada desert thanks to the popularity of gambling card games. There was even an entire family of cards that branched off hundreds of years ago and became the modern fortune-telling cards we know as tarot. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen a rebirth of the card game. Magic: The Gathering helped create the trading card game craze and games like Dominion helped popularise deck-building games. So let’s shuffle into the history of card games and see why they are so popular, and what effect they have on people and culture. [Theme Music] I want to start with the story of a man — Seth Manfield.
Seth had a particularly great 2015. He played a life-changing card game, winning the title of World Champion and walking away $50,000 richer. During the game, he commanded four Siege Rhinos, three Den Protectors, and even Tasigur, the Golden Fang. That’s right — Seth was playing Magic: The Gathering. And, just like Seth, Joe McKeehen also had a great 2015. Joe was the World Series of poker champion that year.
The 24-year-old from Philadelphia walked away with a cool $7.6 million after winning his first ever World Series of poker. So how do we reach the point where people make a living playing card games professionally? Well, it turns out that many cultures and civilsations have always enjoyed a good game of cards. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.
Most scholars agree that playing cards were invented in Imperial China as early as the 9th century Tang Dynasty. These cards were originally based on paper currency of the time. But because using real money was inconvenient and risky, they substituted play money known as money suited cards. There were two varieties — Lut Chi, from the south of China that used four suits, and Kwan Pa’i, that had a heavy focus on coin imagery.
By the 13th century, the Persians had ganjifeh, which was probably introduced by the Mongols or traded on the Silk Road. And then the Mugals brought these cards to India in the 16th century. In India, the cards took on a circular shape that kind of looked like the game POG from the 90s. And, moving further west, the Egyptians had a card game known as mamluk, which arrived sometime during the 12th or 13th centuries. These ornately hand-painted cards were of Islamic origin and named after the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt.
A complete 15th century pack contained four suits — polo sticks, coins, swords, and cups — and three additional court cards — king, vice king, and second vice king. Gaming scholar David Parlett claims that “Egypt’s mamluk entered Southern Europe in the 14th century,” which is just one of many theories. But what we do know for sure is that France’s King Charles VI purchased three packs of playing cards in 1392. These cards featured similar imagery to the mamluk cards with cups, swords, coins, and batons, but also had 22 extra high cards that eventually became tarot cards used by mystics for divination. And as playing cards travelled to many European countries, their suits evolved with them. The Italians had cups, coins, clubs, and swords.
The Germans had hearts, bells, acorns, and leaves. It was the French who created the established suits we know today — hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. Thanks, Thought Bubble.
So what about that joker we usually see in a deck of cards? Well, the US was responsible for that. The card started out as the highest trump card in euchre and then was adopted into poker as a wild card and renamed the Joker. Poker is one of the most well-known betting games. Poker can trace its ancestry back to the 16th century, with the Spanish game of primero, nicknamed “poker’s mother”.
By the 17th century, the French had a popular betting game known as poque, and by the 18th century, Germans had a similar game called pochen. These two games established betting and bluffing mechanics that would become a key component to modern poker. French colonists brought poque to Canada, which then followed immigrants as they travelled down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.
It eventually spread throughout the country and gaming parlors on river boats. It was growing rapidly in popularity and in 1834, Jonathan H. Green (different John Green) wrote that this new cheating game was dominating the boats and replacing the popular Three-card Monte games, and went on to coin the term poker in his book on gaming. And the game of poker continued to spread, becoming a staple in Western saloons. Poker had continued to increase in popularity, spawning versions like seven card stud and Texas hold ’em, solidifying its place within the gambling community. Now, before I reach modern times, we should also briefly cover the origin of skrill payments New Zealand. Trading card games are defined as games that are mass produced to be purchased and incorporated within a player’s deck for strategic play.
The first real trading card game, or TCG, was the baseball card game, published in 1904 by the Allegheny Card Company. The game consisted of 104 player cards that deck builders could supposedly collect to compete within the game. But because this game was only a prototype and never mass produced, the deck-building component was never fully realised. 1993 saw the first modern trading card game — Magic: The Gathering. Invented by game designer and math professor Dr Richard Garfield, the entire initial 2.6 million print run sold out within the first month, encouraging the publisher, Wizards of the Coast, to print another 7.3 million cards before its official release. Another 35 million cards would be printed between 1993 and 2007.
And as of 2015, there are 13,651 different cards in 11 languages, attracting an estimated 20 million players. In 1996, the Pokemon trading card game was released in Japan by Media Factory. Now, there were other Pokemon sets before this, but this was the first set based on the Pokemon video games, and would eventually be brought to the US in 2003. As of 2015, there are a total of 125 Pokemon trading card game sets and nearly 15 billion of these cards have been produced worldwide. There is even an official Pokemon League, where players can compete against others in their community.
And the Pokemon card game is so popular that it switched roles and became the inspiration for several Pokemon card game video games, including Pokemon TCG Online and Pokemon Card GB2. So what makes the TCGs so popular? Well, Mark Rosewater, the head designer for Magic: The Gathering, said that it was the player’s ability to customise and personalise their decks with a near endless supply of cards for success. He said, “If you compare it to something like Monopoly, every time you play you’re getting a pretty similar experience.”
“But what’s neat about Magic is that the game itself keeps changing.” “It’s about exploring, and you get to constantly rediscover it.” And people have certainly continued to discover it. According to 2008 sales data, trading card games earn around $800 million just in North America. But it’s not just the sales and prevalence of these games that make them significant. They are also having an impact on our lives.
Human-computer interaction assistant Professor Geoff Kaufman from Carnegie Mellon conducted a study in 2015 that used a new research method, known as embedded game design, in a series of card games. Kaufman wanted to see if he could decrease gender biases in people by including pro-equality messages in card games without making those messages too blatant. He found that his games were encouraging people to have increased social identity complexity, which is basically a measure of tolerance in groups.
Players tended to think more broadly and inclusively about social groups. They also had stronger and more assertive responses to multiple kinds of social bias. Basically, the games encouraged participants to embrace diversity. It may not always be as obvious in a game like Pokemon TCG or Yu-Gi-Oh!, but the study helps to show the small role card games may play in bringing people together.
Playing cards and their games have continued to have a hold on the public and players. There are many major card games we didn’t even have a chance to talk about, like blackjack, gin rummy, even Uno! Oh, draw four. And, of course, trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG and the classic Legend of the Five Rings. And while you play games with physical cards with people in the same room, one unique aspect of the modern age is the digital card game.
In Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, players go online to play and collect TCG cards, as they would in real life. The difference, of course, that there’s nothing physical to own, but the cards come with animations and sounds. The game is increasing in popularity and shows the merger between modern tech and traditional gaming mechanics.
Regardless, the point is cards and card games have forever changed gaming, even in the modern age. They show no signs of stopping and are even responsible for some of our video games. Remember those century-old Hanafuda card that was made by that company called Nintendo? Who now has Pokemon? Who has card games AND video games?
That’s full circle right there. Ain’t that right, Eevee? You are Eevee, right?
We’ll see you next time. Thanks for watching. Crash Course Games is filmed in the Chad and Stacey Emigholz Studio in Indianapolis, Indiana and it’s made with the help of all these nice people.
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