Kille (card game)

Last updated
Hallwylska museet 2012 03.jpg
Kille cards manufactured in 1897 in Stockholm by A Boman. From the collection of the Hallwyl Museum
TypeCuckoo group
Players3 – 13
Cards42 cards
DeckKille cards
Playing time5 min/deal
Related games
Chase the Ace, Coucou, Cuccú, Gnav, Hexenspiel, Ranter-Go-Round

Kille (pronounced /ɕɪlːɛ/ or /kɪlːɛ/ [lower-alpha 1] ), also called Cambio, Campio, Kambio or Kamfio, [1] is a game played with special playing cards, dating from a mediaeval French gambling game. In Sweden, the game had its heyday during the 1750s, but it is one of the oldest card games still played. [2]



The French gambling game of Coucou was invented in France around 1500 and spread across Central Europe. In the late 17th century, an Italian manufacturer produced a deck of cards adapted for the game. The game was named Cuccú after its highest card. Cuccú had 38 cards and two cards of each denomination (thus 19 unique denominations). Eleven of the cards in each suite were numeral cards, numbered 0-10. The other cards were picture cards, two of which – the Bucket and the Masque – ranked lower than the numerals. Five of the cards were ranked higher: the Inn, Cat, Horse, Guard, and Cuckoo (highest). The nineteenth card, the Harlequin, was outside the rankings and its value was determined by the game played and could vary in the same game. [2]

Cuccú spread north across Europe and became known in southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland by the names of Hexenspiel and Vogelkarten, which roughly means "Witch game" and "Bird cards". [2]

The card game changed somewhat on its journey through Europe and was mentioned in Sweden as Campio for the first time in 1741 in a court record. Campio was a distortion of cambio or camfio, which was the name that began to be used in Sweden. The name Kille is first documented in 1833 (found in private correspondence from 1826) and was widely used from the 1850s. Kille is probably a corruption of Harlequin which was now the highest ranked card, but still had a special position in some games [2]

The card game's numeral and picture cards changed so that the pack consisted of 42 cards (again in pairs, so there were only 21 denominations). The number of numerals had increased to twelve and were numbered 1-12. There were three cards with lower values than the number cards; the Noll (Zero) numeral card became the Wreath, the Bucket became the Flowerpot and the Mask became the Fool, often depicted with a mask. The cards with higher values than the numerals were, in ascending order: the Inn, Cavalier, Pig, Hussar, Cuckoo and Harlequin. [2]


The game of Kille has left its mark on the Swedish language. For example, the phrases "Svinhugg går igen" ("the pig bites back"), referring to a rudeness that rebounds on the performer, and "gå värdshus förbi" ("go past the inn"), a lost opportunity, both come from the game of One-Card Kille.

Kille has also found its way into Swedish literature. Carl Michael Bellman's Fredman's Testament number 181, The Game of Cambio, is about a player's despair during a game: [3]

Hej, gutår, och kambio!
Granne, marsch ur potten!
Blaren, den hundsvotten —
Kambio . . . och kuku står.
Jag ser skorsten ryka:
Värdshus måste stryka...

Falstaff, fakir rhymed in an ABC for the letter P: [4]

Proletären gärna ville
dricka punsch och spela kille


The Harlequin from a traditional Swedish Killekort pack Killekort-Harlekin-IMG 7677.jpg
The Harlequin from a traditional Swedish Killekort pack

A Kille pack consists of 42 cards. There are no suits in Kille, just two cards of each denomination. The denominations, from highest to lowest, are:

Kille packs are still available. Two Swedish manufacturers, Öberg (Carta Mundi) and Offason, make them today. The images are in a sepia colour. A coloured pack was produced in 1975 but is no longer available.

One-Card Kille (Swap Kille)

One-Card Kille (Enkortskille), also Swap Kille (Byteskille), is the traditional game of chance played with Kille cards and may be played by 3 to 13 participants.

Dealer gives one card to each player. The objective is not to have the lowest ranking card after all players have had the opportunity to exchange cards. The one with the lowest card is knocked out, but there are other ways to be knocked out before the cards are finally exposed.

The turn to act is clockwise starting with the player to the left of the dealer. Players may exchange their card with the person sitting to their left, and in that case say "switch" (byte) and push the card forward. If a player does not want no exchange cards, the player declares that he is "satisfied" (nöjd) and slaps the table. With a few exceptions, the exchange is made with the cards face down. The exchange is not always carried out. If the player to the left has one of the cards below, he exposes the card and quotes a phrase:

Other rules:

When there is a showdown, either because all players had the opportunity to make an exchange or because a player has encountered a Cuckoo, the player with the lowest card is out along with those who were knocked out for other reasons during the deal. It is possible to re-enter the game for another stake, but only three times: the first time for a single stake, the second time for half the pot, and the last time for a full pot.

When two players remain, the cards are re-dealt if one of them has received the Harlequin, and there is an immediate showdown if one of them has received the Cuckoo. A player who tries to exchange with the Pig or Hussar has immediately lost. [7]

Other games with Kille cards


  1. The pronunciations with "k" is more common in southern Sweden.
  2. Although Kille can mean "boy" or "guy", it is not pronounced with a hard "k", but a softer "ch", so it may be a nickname for Harlequin.

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    1. 1 2 "kille". Retrieved 2017-12-10.
    2. 1 2 3 4 5 Insert sheet in Killelek from Offason. Regler för Killespelet – Historik. Dan Glimne.
    3. Fredmans Testamente nummer 181, Kambiospelet. Carl Michael Bellman. Läst 2012-06-17
    4. Envar sin egen professor, på Artbin. Falstaff, fakir.
    5. "Kille". Språktidningen. Retrieved 2017-12-10.
    6. "Kucku". SAOB. Läst 2012-01-29.
    7. Insticksblad i Killelek från Offason. Regler för Killespelet. Ali Jerrimalm.