Is it "play" as in "play the game" or "playing an instrument"? Or both?
I'd say suonare is playing an instrument and giocare is playing a game. It's in the same word family as the English sonata, which makes it quite logical.
That's right I think
In the conjugation explanation for this verb, there are slightly different spellings suggested; can anyone tell me which are more usual? Is it a regional thing, or just preference?
you mean "giuocare"? The Treccani Lexicon says that it's a form used in literature. Better to use "giocare".
Yes that's right, 'gioco' vs. 'giuoco' and so on. That's very helpful, thank you.
whats the difference between giocare and suonare?
to play a game or a sport VS to play an instrument