Perlåggen is a card game that is nowadays played above all in the Tiroler Oberland region, in the Innsbruck area, and in South Tyrol. Two teams, usually consisting of two individuals each, attempt to communicate via secret verbal and nonverbal signals and win as many points as possible in the process. The game is played with 33 German-suited cards (Acorns, leafs, bells, hearts), of which up to eightdepending on the region and the situationare designated Perlågg and thus given a special function. Fibbing and fooling ones opponents are important elements of this game, which also involves the lingo known as Perlågger-Latein or Kårter-Sprech. This contains a number of words for certain moves, for special cards, and of praise or rebuke for other players actions. Perlåggen is played by people of all ages, classes, and genders, and games take place particularly at inns and in private homes. Local tournaments are held every year, and the past few years have also seen an all-Tyrol Perlåggen championship held, the location of which alternates between South and North Tyrol.
The roots of Perlåggen can be traced back to the 19th century. One of the sources from which it developed was the Giltspiel card game. The first written mention of Perlåggen being played is from 1833. The term Perlåggen itself probably comes from the area around Salurn. There, Berlicche is the local name there for the Devil, whojust like the Perlåggen cardscan take on whatever form suits him. Depending on the place where a game is played, both the number of cards used and the rules can vary. In 1890, a meeting known as the Perlåggerkongress was held in Innsbruck in order to standardise the games rulesan endeavour which, to this day, has failed. But the community of players had now agreed that it is always those rules that are valid at the place where the game is being played that apply when players from different places meet.
The players are united in their being speakers of the Tyrolean dialect, whichwith its special Perlåggen terminologyis of great importance. Particularly expressions for things like special playing cards, moves, praise, rebukes, and opposing players presumed positions are referred to as Kårter-Sprech [Card Player-speak] or Perlågger-Latein [Perlåggen Players Latin]. The game is played mainly in groups of four individuals, with the members of each two-person team sitting diagonally across from each another. The process of bidding therefore requires some acting talent, including the ability to deceive and bluff. Communication within the teams takes place in the most secretive possible manner, both verbally and non-verballyfor the most part via traditional signals using the fingers, inconspicuous shrugs of the shoulders, and secret motions of the eyes and mouth. A primary reason for this games popularity is the Plodern that takes placethe talking and interpretation, fibbing and deceiving done either to inform ones partner or mislead an opponent. All these diverse forms of communication, in their interaction with playing strategy and psychology, give the players a feeling of identity.
While Perlåggen used to be played mainly by members of the upper-class, todays players can be found across all segments of the populaceand the communities of Kematen, Imst, and Tarrenz even play host to their own annual championships in addition to the all-Tyrol event. The ones in Imst and Tarrenz are called Perlåggerball [Perlåggen Players Ball], although these days, they no longer bear any resemblance to a ball. The winner in Tarrenz is known as the Perlåggerkaiser [Perlåggen Emperor], while the winner in Imst merely becomes a Perlåggerkönig [Perlåggen King]albeit with the insignia of crown, sceptre, and purple robe.