Karnöffel
the oldest recorded card game


Karnöffel is recorded as early as 1426. I have omitted my research notes for this presentation of a truly different partnership card game. These rules presume use of the USA/British standard pack and not the more appropriate German cards.


Karnöffel is played with a pack of 48 cards, omitting the Aces from a standard pack of 52. In all suits except «trumps» the cards rank in the accustomed order King (high), Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (low). Four players play as partners, each player seated between two opponents and across from their partner.

Deal: The first dealer deals five cards to each player, one at a time. The first card is dealt face up to each player, the others face down. The lowest-ranking face-up card...in case of ties, the first such card dealt...determines the «trumps» for that round. All players then pick up their cards.

Play: The player to the left of the dealer leads any card to the first trick. Each other player in clockwise order plays any card. There is NO requirement to follow suit, as in other games. The player of the highest card of the suit led, or of the highest «trump» if any are played, wins the trick and leads to the following trick. Continue until all cards have been played; the team winning a majority of the five tricks wins the round. The player who led to the first trick then deals for the next round.

Unlimited table-talk is allowed. Partners may advise each other on play!

The «Trump» Suit: Unlike almost all other card games, only some of the cards in the suit designated as «trump» have special trick-taking power. And most of those cards only have power some of the time!

The special cards are:

  • Trump Jack (Karnöffel): Beats all other cards.
  • Trump 7 (Devil): Beats all cards except Karnöffel, but only if it is led. Otherwise, it's just a Seven and not the Devil. The Devil cannot be led to the first trick.
  • Trump 6 (Pope): Beats all cards (except the two above).
  • Trump 2 (Kaiser): Beats all cards (except the three above).
  • Trump 3 (Oberstecher): Doesn't beat a King (or the above trumps).
  • Trump 4 (Unterstecher): Doesn't beat a King or Queen (or the above trumps).
  • Trump 5 (Farbenstecher): Doesn't beat King, Queen, or Jack (or the above trumps).

Condensed from Signore Giovanni Fontananera's article, «Period Pasteboard Pastimes», in issue #106 of Tournaments Illuminated, the national magazine of the Society for Creative Anachronism.


This way to Giovanni's SCA Page


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