Scopa is an Italian card game all the kids play here– Natalie & Jacobo both have sets of cards in their school bags. On the surface, the pack looks similar to ordinary cards, but oh ho ho – fools are ye that think they are the same . . . Last night, Jacobo thrashed Vittorio, and I took over, eventually winning, but only because my son helpfully pointed our when I made ridiculous mistakes. This is because the bloody cards are impossible. In the summer, when we were in Lavinio, we borrowed a pack of these cards from V’s parents. I had just about got my head around a horse plus one equaling a king, when we move to Rome & V buys a pack of our very own, and these are NOT Neopolitan, but from Piacenza (no idea . . .) And so, we’ve been playing with these cards for about 6 weeks, and I’m still totally rubbish, whilst the kids are honing their skills daily. First of all, the difference between the people who are worth 8, aren’t always clearly different from the people who are kings – it all rests on the difference of a hat, and I’m sorry, but at least one of those chaps who purports to be worth 8, has a hat on that looks suspiciously like a crown.

The blokes who have crowns on, are kings, and they’re worth 10. Apparently, I’m alone in Italy in finding this distinction tricky. Last night, whilst playing Jacobo, I had to ask Natalie to meet me in the hall, so I could confirm that I had a king, and not one of those ponking creatures who are worth 8. And if that were not enough, there’s the 5 of swords (confusingly called spade, pronounced sparday), which as well as its 5 swords, has two other fleur de lis sorts of things, so I’m constantly thinking I’ve got a 7 (which are the best cards).

Same issue with the 4 of gold coins (which is the best suit, called denari), which as well as its four coins, has some other circular nonsense going on in the middle, so I’m constantly thinking I’ve got a 5, when it’s a 4 . . .

I do manage to remember that if there’s a horse, it’s worth 9, but it took a while. And then there is the scoring. O God the scoring. First of all, you get a point if you’ve got more cards than your opponent, then you get another point if you’ve got the most gold coins, another for having settobello (7 of gold coins), another for primero, which is how many 7s you have, and if you haven’t got sevens, how many sixes, and finally, a point for each of your scopas (clean sweeps). I’m not going to explain what they are because I’m exhausted from thinking about it. You have to play in multiples of two, so I’m regularly roped in for my ritual Scopa humiliation – the Italian is irritatingly smug, my children quick, and I am still flushing red for not being able to add up, or faking it that I knew I had a match, when in fact I had no idea. . . I miss Quirkle.

Share your thoughts