Traditional Ligurian card games
Scholars tell us that cards arrived on the Italian peninsula from the Middle East in the 14th century, via maritime trade, and that from there they spread throughout western civilisations, all the way to the Americas. In this ancient and noble pastime, long enjoyed by all social classes, a single pack of cards will allow you to try your hand at thousands of different games, each with its own history and its own way of testing your intellectual and concentration skills.
On this website we have collected the rules of a number of Ligurian card games, including some that were at risk of disappearing completely.
Considered by many players to be the most noble and strategic card game, since its invention in 15th century northern Italy, the tarot game has travelled throughout Europe, and has even reached Texas and Greenland.
For centuries, tarot was one of the most popular games in Liguria. Unfortunately, nowadays, players of this ancient game are encountered more and more rarely. After almost disappearing without trace, the rules of the Ligurian tarot have been documented and rescued thanks to the work of enthusiasts who have recorded the accounts of the few remaining players.
- “Pinch” Tarot (chinze, or taròcchi à pessigo)
A very distinctive Ligurian tarot game, extremely lively and with a strategic depth rarely found in two-handed card games. Related to tressette.
Original version of the Ligurian tarot game. It is played four-handed (in pairs), three-handed or two-handed (every player for themselves). Related to the northern Italian tarot game known as Mitigati, but with peculiarities that give it greater strategic depth.
Scopa is one of the best known Italian games. Possibly invented in Naples in the 18th century, it has spread along with its variants throughout Italy, as well as abroad. The games described below are the traditional variants practised in Liguria, in neighbouring regions, and by Ligurian communities abroad.
Quintessential Ligurian pastime. Cirulla is a favourite amongst children and adults alike. In this easy-to-learn game, Fortune’s whims reduce the disparity between experts and beginners. It is not a game to be played in silence: in cirulla people chat, gossip, laugh and argue.
Cirulla’s big brother. To play cirullone you will require a little more concentration and seriousness. As a reward, you will find a game that allows for more complex strategies, but with the same cheerfulness as cirulla.
Biscambiggia, along with its many variants and briscola, descends from an extinct French game family that counted among its members brisque, brusquembille and briscan. When they arrived on the Italian peninsula, these games gave rise to many variants. Below we describe the main Ligurian variants.
2, 3, 4, 6
The Ligurian cousin of briscola, to which it closely resembles. A rather simple game, to the point that one could call it banal. The truth is that biscambiggia – since it does not require too much concentration – is the perfect game for those who want to chat and have fun without racking their brains.
A more complicated and strategic version of standard two-handed biscambiggia. Widespread throughout Liguria, but nowadays played mainly in the eastern part of the region.
- Auction Biscambiggia
A much more strategic variant of biscambiggia, for five players in two teams. At the outset, the precise composition of the teams is unknown to the players. Who amongst you is going to be the traitor?
The games played in Liguria (today or in the past) do not end with those on this list. Amongst the most important ones not yet included here we would like to mention:
- Belòtta, widespread throughout Eastern Liguria. It arrived in Liguria from France, where it is the national game (under the name of belote). The Dal Negro company produces a 32-card Genoese-type deck specifically for this game.
- Picchetto, another French game (piquet).
- Gòffo, a gambling game, perhaps of Genoese invention. Like primiera, it can be considered an ancestor of poker.
- Tressette (in Ligurian: treisette), a game spread throughout the Italian peninsula, with its many variants such as ciammatrei.