Das Patiencespiel: How to play the World’s Oldest Solitaire Game

“Das Patiencespiel,” documented in 1788 in Berlin, Germany, is the oldest known description we have found in the History of Solitaire games. Although there are seemingly older references in novels (Russian, I read somewhere) where someone is referred to as playing “Patience,” until 1788 we had no clue what was meant by a game having that name. The first book ever recorded to this date, explaining a game of Solitaire, is the book “Das Neue Königliche L’Hombre.” This book, a comprehensive guide to a variety of card and board games popular at the time, is the thirteenth edition and was published in 1788.

Das Neue Königliche L’Hombre

Das Neue Königliche lHombre

In the book, there are three forms of card games that we can now categorize as types of Solitaire, and it is the strongest link to the claim that Solitaire originated somewhere in Europe. The games Quadrille and Cabale (Kabale is the word for Patience in Denmark) are still used today as names for Solitaire games. However, the first officially named “Patience” game is “Das Patiencespiel,” and in this article, we are going to dive deeper to understand how this game was played.

This Is How the Oldest Known Solitaire Game “Das Patiencespiel” Was Played!

We have translated the game rules literally from the book “Das Neue Königliche L’Hombre“. However, the rules are very difficult to understand, even in English. Therefore, below is a simplification of the rules of “Das Patiencespiel” as described in the book. The problem is that the rules still do not provide enough information to play the game as such. Anyway, see for yourself if you could play the game based on this explanation.

Setup & Gameplay

  • Deck Preparation: Two complete decks are shuffled together.
  • Drawing Cards: Cards are drawn one at a time from the deck. These are placed in piles according to some particular rules, specifically looking out for aces and kings.
  • Aces: When an ace appears, it is placed on top of the relevant pile.
  • Kings: When a king appears, it is placed below the relevant pile.
  • Tablau “Pile Formation”: There are eight different piles where cards belong. Each of these piles will have a full deck’s worth of cards when the game is over, but they will be in a specific order.
  • Top Pile: The aces will be at the bottom, and the kings at the top.
  • Bottom Pile: The kings will be at the bottom, and the aces at the top.
  • Tableau “Player’s Area”: The player has room to place 20 cards in two rows. If the player places 20 cards but cannot place the 41st card on one of the eight piles, the game is lost.
  • Losing Conditions: A player also loses if they place a card such that it blocks another card from being placed later.
  • Betting: Observers can bet for or against the player. It’s advised that betting against the player is more advantageous.

Unclear Aspects: What is not clear from these rules?

After reading the rules, several unclear aspects remain:

  • The initial layout of the game is not explicitly described, leaving questions about the starting positions of the 8 piles or whether they are formed during the game.
  • It is not clear whether the player draws the cards into their hand or immediately places them into piles. The description suggests more of the latter, where cards are placed into piles as they are drawn.

What Makes “Das Patiencespiel” Unique?

What stands out is that “Das Patiencespiel” is not directly comparable to any other Solitaire game we know. The Solitaire setup is unclear but seems to be quite unique. The most likely comparison would be to a similar game in the book “Le Livre Des Patiences” by Madame de F* (Marquise de Fortia), Paris, France, 1842, but that is not the case. The elements that make Das Patiencespiel unique are:

  • Two-Player Element: Today’s Solitaire is a one-player game. “Das Patiencespiel” involved two people and also betting, making it more of a social game.
  • Betting Component: Most versions of Solitaire today don’t include betting, except for Vegas Solitaire obviously. But in this old game, betting was crucial, and advice was even offered on whom to bet against.
  • Complex Tableau: In modern Solitaire, we usually deal with seven piles, adding a card to each as we go along. Das Patiencespiel had a far more complicated tableau, requiring a strategic layer absent from most modern versions.
  • Strict Card Placement Rules: A single mistake in card placement could lead to losing the game in Das Patiencespiel, which adds a level of unforgiving complexity not seen in most of today’s Solitaire games.

So what can we say about Das Patiencespiel, the oldest know form of Solitaire in History?

Das Patiencespiel gives us a glimpse into how far the game of Solitaire has come. From being a two-player, betting-involved, complex game, it has evolved into a simpler, solitary game like Klondike Solitaire that can be played anywhere, anytime. If you have more additional rules or if you have any idea how this game was played and what the layout should look like at the start, don’t hesitate to contact me!