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The Cow Game - A Simple Trick-Taking Card Game for Children








Trick-Taking Card Games

Trick-taking card games are the most popular card games played around the world.  Each round involves every player adding one card, then one of the players wins the round and takes the cards, called the trick.   Bridge, or Contract Bridge, devised in 1925, is the most popular of all. 

But Bridgeís precursors and relations are popular, too.  Solo Whist, for example, a non-partner form of Bridge, is still played throughout Britain, including at national championships.  And Hearts, a trick-evasion game, is a game commonly played at family get-togethers.  The list is endless, really:  Oh hell, Spades, Pinochle, 500, Euchre, Briscola, SkatÖ

Teaching Children

Teaching young children how to play trick-taking games can be difficult.  The jump from childrenís games like Go Fish to Hearts or Bridge is often too large for very young children.  But there is a very old trick-taking card game that can bridge the gap:  La Vache or The Cow Game. 

The earliest recorded references to a game like The Cow Game are from the 1300s, but it is likely older than that.  It comes most probably from the area where Spain meets France, and is still played in tournaments in some south-western French towns. 

The Cow Game is simple because:

  • It ignores card suits completely, so there is no trump suit. 

  •  Itís the highest value card that wins the trick.  The child need concentrate only on the card value Ace-low to King-high. 

  • There is no bidding, predicting how many tricks a player will take each hand. 

  • And it can be played by 2  to 4 players, no need for partners.

How to Play The Cow Game

  1. The first player to deal, shuffles the deck, then deals 9 cards to each player.  The remaining cards are set aside.  The deal rotates.

  2. The person to the right of the dealer plays the first card.

  3. The players continue in order, each playing a card, hoping to win the trick with the highest value card.  Ace-low to King-high. 

  4. The won trick is placed in front of the trick winner, and that person starts the next trick by playing a card.  Play continues in this way, until all 9 tricks are won.

  5. The player who wins the most tricks, wins the hand. 

  6. The players can agree ahead of time on how many hands to play.  And the player who wins the most hands, wins the game.

  7. There are only two special rules in The Cow Game, and they relate to when the high-card values are tied.  When the high-card values tie, the trick is set aside, and the winner of the next trick collects both.  And when the last trick of a hand is tied, it goes to the player who won the first trick of the game.

Itís fun to see the children quickly pick up the strategies that help them win.  They donít need them explained.  They learn them best when left to discover them on their own.  Soon theyíre:

  • drawing out other playerís high cards,

  • discarding useless low ones when they can,

  • purposely matching high-cards to force a tie to hold the trick over for them to win on the next round,

  • and recalling which cards have been played--predicting which might still be in play.


The Cow Game allows them to learn intuitively the strategies that help them later, when they take up Hearts, Whist, Bridge, any trick-taking card game.  To move that learning one step further, you can introduce partner-play to The Cow Game. 

Have them play with 4 players, and those seated across from each other trying to win more tricks than the other team.  They very quickly learn to sacrifice a trick to their partner for the overall win.  And youíll even catch them trying to signal each other!  The original game has many variations, so this is authentic.

The Deck of Cards

Just one more note.  Iíve described The Cow Game using a standard 52-card deck.  But the traditional game uses a 48-card Spanish deck.  If you wish to be purists but donít have a Spanish deck, just remove the 10s from a 52-card deck.  That works fine.  If you wish to use the Italian deck to help them learn the Italian cards, it works just as well.

For more trick-taking games, try Wikipediaís listing.

Here are direct links to for Italian playing cards (there are images at Amazon of all the products) and two old Italian Tarot card decks, for those interested in history.


Alida is an on-line store based in The Republic of San Marino.  They ship Italian playing cards (Tarot, Regional, Historical) all over the world.  The cards are reasonably priced, and shipping is fast (airmail) and very reasonably priced! 

They also sell special historical cards which I think  are too beautiful to play with and should all be framed!  I've purchased cards from them without any problems whatsoever, and an very happy with the GORGEOUS cards!

Visit my Playing Cards page