Historical Sunday: 17th Century Card Game

Castillo de San Marcos is a Spanish fort in America’s oldest city: St. Augustine.

Castillo San de Marcos Courtyard

The inside of Castillo San de Marcos in St. Augustine, FL.

The fort has at one point or another belonging to the Spanish (several times), the British, the United States and the Confederacy.

Now, Castillo de San Marcos is part of the United States’ National Park Service.  This weekend, as I wandered around the fort, I wondered what game the Spanish soldiers of the 17th century might have played behind the fort’s solid walls.

A little research revealed the favorite pastime of 17th century soldiers is one that continues to this day: gambling.

Reenactment soliders at castillo de san marcos

What games might soldiers have played for recreation during the Fort’s height?

Cards were easy to carry or store with the very limited space allowed in the fort. The beds/ bunks were quite small; often housing two soldiers in a space smaller than the standard twin sized beds of today, and also had to store each man’s gun. This would limit space for other popular games of the time such as Droughts (checkers) or chess.

One card game that was likely played is Hombre (or Ombre).

This game is historically significant as it is the game that introduced trump suits. At the time of Castillo de San Marcos, the game was a four person game using a Spanish deck, which had only 40 cards. There were no 8, 9 or 10s.

Basic rules:

Deal cards out to four players (10 cards each), each person bids how many tricks he can win. The highest bidder (Ombre) plays against the others, who try to keep the Ombre from capturing his bid.

The Ombre plays the first card and the must follow suit.

The winner of each trick leads the next.

If Ombre wins the first 5 tricks he can declare victory or may choose to continue the game, but he then must take all nine tricks to win (or “Vole”).

If the Ombre thinks he cannot win he can give up before capturing the fourth trick. One of the opponents can then take over the role of Ombre and the potential win (the other player then joins the first Ombre in the opposition).

This game was all about winning money which might have made it popular during this time in St. Augustine.

If you get the chance to visit this old city, be sure to make a visit to the Castillo de San Marcos.

(Game rules and information adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ombre cited at Sports and games of medieval cultures, Sally E. D. Wilkins, pg. 111. 2002 Greenwood Press, Westport ISBN 0-313-31711-9)

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2 responses

  1. Very interesting! I love history and this was such a cool angle. Lots of great pictures, too. Thank you!

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