The cuckoo family of playing cards

This family of playing cards consists of four closely related regional variants: the Italian Cu cù, the German Vogelspiel, the Swedish Kille and the Danish Gnav. Gnav also exists in a version with wooden pawns instead of cards, and a fifth regional variant, the Dutch Slabberjan is derived from this.

None of the four card games can be the source of any other, so a lost Italian ancestor of all of them must be postulated, with all features that is shared by at least three of the surviving versions. Alternatively one could imagine a scenario where Cucco preserves something very close to the original, while the remaining three derives from a lost intermediary with the features that is shared by at least two of its descendants. I can see no reason why the latter should be more probable, however.

To focus on the common features, I will first describe the hypothetical lost ancestor (or the lost intermediary), postponing the differences to the description of the individual variants. A deck has two copies of each card, of which there are three groups: number cards from 0 to 12, five trumps outranking these and three low cards below zero. The number cards are marked with roman numerals, except zero which surprisingly considering the age of the game is marked with the arabic numeral 0. The top trump is the cuckoo which gives the name to the game, this is followed by the soldier, the cat, the horse and the inn. Each of these has particular properties in the game. Below zero is the vase and a card that differs between all variants, both without any special properties. The last card is the fool, whose exact rank and function varies both between and within the four types, but it is generally a low card.

Northern Italy:Chu chu, Cu cù, Cucco, Cöch Germany, Austria:Vogelspiel, Hexenspiel Sweden, Finland:Kille, Harlequin, Kambio, Kucku Denmark, Norway:Gnav, Vekselspil
Hand-drawn deck from the second half of the 19th century. Based on scans provided by Peter Endebrock. Point at each card to see the alternate design.