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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

Tam Cúc 三菊

Tam Cúc playing cards from Vietnam, based on Chinese chess, 2016

Tam Cúc playing cards purchased in Vietnam. Like Four Colour Cards, the deck is based on Chinese chess. However this is where the similarities end. Decks have only 32 cards, the distribution of cards exactly mirroring the pieces in a game of Chinese chess. Instead of 4 colours, there are two (one with red overprints, the other without). The deck contains 1 general (tướng 將), 2 advisors (sĩ 士), 2 elephants (tượng 象), 2 chariots (xe 車), 2 cannons (pháo 砲), 2 horses (mã 馬), and 5 soldiers (tốt 卒) repeated in red and black.

Tam Cuc is a trick-taking game

Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) was mainly inhabited by Cantonese people. In each of these zones, cards and dominoes were customized and adapted to local varieties.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to Anthony Lee for additional research. Visit his blog here

Images courtesy Kody McGregor.

Tam cúc playing cards from Vietnam, 2016
Tam cúc playing cards from Vietnam, 2016

Above: Tam cúc playing cards purchased in Vietnam, 2016. 32 cards in box, separated into red or black.

Tam cúc playing cards from Vietnam, 2016
Tam cúc playing cards
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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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