Game Night Blog Carnival: Cribbage

Welcome to another Game Night Blog Carnival!  This is a recurring feature Roving Band of Misfits is running once each month with numerous roleplaying-game blogs.  Visit their site for more information about the blog carnival initiative. The previous entry in the series can be found at Going Last, which discusses Mansions of Madness.

This month, I present the classic card game, Cribbage. The game of cribbage was foreign to me before 2003. My wife and her brother introduced me to the game while on a camping trip to Itasca State Park, the Headwaters of the Mississippi River, in Minnesota. I learned to really love the game as we passed many hours playing cribbage, having a few beers, and talking about a wide range of topics. As my wife has told me, “It’s a game best played with good friends and good drink.”

Classic Cribbage Board.

Cribbage is an easy-enough game to pick up but it takes much practice to truly master. It’s a game for two to six players. It can be played 1-on-1 or in teams of two players. To play the game, you only require a standard deck of cards and a cribbage board. Although you could count out the points on a piece of paper if you did not have access to a board and pegs. The most-common cribbage board is a simple piece of wood with sets of 120 holes that represent the points earned during the game.

The pegs are used in a leapfrog fashion to demonstrate the number of points earned during each hand. Points are earned through playing cards, which are dealt each hand. One game of cribbage – a race to 121 points – will take anywhere from 10 to 20 hands to complete. The game moves along at a brisk pace and several rounds of cribbage can be played in less than an hour. I will talk about specific rules below and introduce you to the wonderful world of Cribbage Board Customization.

The rules for cribbage can be found in multiple locations on the Internet. A review of all of the rules is beyond the scope of this article, although I will review the very basics. First, you need a standard deck of cards; the Jokers are removed as they are not used in the game. For the purposes of this article, I will assume that four individuals are playing the game, which would comprise two teams of two players each. The players on each team act cooperatively with each other and attempt to score points quicker than their opponents.

Setup

Each player is dealt five cards. The players than individually inspect their five cards and determine one card to discard. Teammates are not able to consult on the cards to discard even though they are playing cooperatively. The four discarded cards make up what is known as The Crib. The teams take alternate turns using The Crib at the end of the round to earn points. There are many strategies for planning how to influence The Crib; a quick summary is that you want to build the best Crib when you will be using it to earn points and build the worst Crib when your opponents are using it to earn points.

Custom-made boards come in many shapes and sizes.

Scoring

One of the best methods to earn points in Cribbage is to play combinations of cards that add up to 15. For instance, in a four-player game, Jack and Jill are on one team and Luke and Leia are on the other team. The teams alternate playing cards, so the order would be Jack, Luke, Jill, Leia. Jack has to act first and plays an 8. Luke now has numerous ways to earn points. If he had an 8, then he could score two points for a pair; each pair is worth 2 points. If he had a 7, then he could play that to create a total of 15, which is also worth 2 points. The number 15 is a big factor in Cribbage, and maximizing your chance to earn multiple 15s in one hand is a good strategy.

If Luke did play the 7, the sum of the played cards is 15, and it is now Jill’s turn. She could play a 7 to earn 2 points for a pair or any other card to keep the gaming moving along. The hand continues until the total reaches 31 or no player can play a card. The total of the hand cannot go over 31, and a player must play a card if capable of moving the total closer to 31 but not going over. For instance, if the total is 30 and one player has an Ace (represent 1 in Cribbage), then that player must play the Ace. Reaching a total of exactly 31 is worth 2 points to the team that played the final card. All cards are played in this fashion until no cards remains.

Next, each player collects their cards and adds up their points. For example, Jack has the following four cards in his hand: 7, 8, 8, K. For this hand, Jack would get 2 points for the pair of 8s and 2 points for each 15 created by the 7 and 8 cards for a grand total of 6 points. Meanwhile, Luke has the following hand: A, 2, 3, 7. Luke would earn 3 points for the run of three cards (A, 2, 3), but he does not have any combination of cards that equal 15.

Finally, whichever team has The Crib turns over those cards and adds any applicable points to their total. The points are tallied most commonly on a cribbage boards through a pair of pegs, which leapfrog over another until one team’s peg reaches the 121st hole. A typically game of cribbage can feature wild swings as one team may believe they have the game in hand only to get caught by a massive hand by the opponent.

Face cards (J, Q, K) represent 10 in cribbage. The following would be a fantastic hand in cribbage: Q, Q, 5, 5. The player would get 2 points for the pair of Queens and 2 points for the pair of 5s. However, the player would also get 8 additional points for the various combinations of 15 that can be achieved by combining the cards. Each Q can be played with each 5 to create four combinations that result in 15, and each combination to total 15 is worth 2 points. The grand total for this hand would be 12 points, which is a very solid round for cribbage. There are many better hands than this in cribbage, but this gives you an idea of how to build hands that give you multiple ways to earn points.

Final Note

Perfect for camping trips!

I’ve seen some tremendous pieces of art created for the game of cribbage. I’ve seen canoe paddles drilled out to become large cribbage boards. If an industrious craftsman is interested in building me a cribbage board in the shape of a dragon, then please let me know! ;-) Having a custom board is the final piece to the cribbage puzzle. My wife and I still lament that we did not purchase a fantastic custom-made board during that first trip to Itasca State Park. We use a standard board as we continue to keep an eye out for just the right custom board. Happy playing!

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About The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.
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9 Responses to Game Night Blog Carnival: Cribbage

  1. Never seen a snake board before! Glad you learned the game in MN–deep crib country!

    • @TheIdDM says:

      I hadn’t seen the snake board before, but I’m seen many other great custom boards. I was trying to find a dragon board through Google Image Search, but didn’t come up with anything.

  2. boccobsblog says:

    Sweet, now how to work it into an RPG?

  3. Zzarchov says:

    Side note: You can play 3 and 4 player games that do not involve teams. I am a third generation cribbage fan. We play as harsh point thieves in my family outings, worse than the worst killer dm you could imagine. :)

    • The Id DM says:

      That is true; it was a challenge to decide the most vital rules and points about the game to discuss. I left out Knobs and a *lot* of other stuff! You can’t let anything slide. If your oppenent misses counting that extra 15, then you simply must jump on it for an extra 2 points.

  4. Bob hanks says:

    I love cribbage , played a lot more when I was younger .
    I still have the cribbage board my grandad made , its a triangle. Awesome game!!!.

    • The Id DM says:

      Thanks for stopping by the site. I have not played in a good while; I need to change that soon. I hope to go camping this Fall so that will certainly be a good time for it.

  5. I created a new version of the card-board game Cribbage.
    Crazy Cribbage aka Muggins & Mulligans is exciting and ALOT of fun..
    Am working on designing a Crazy Cribbage game board and On-Line
    application with ecribbage.com ..
    Please donate a $1 or more to the project at Amazon.com’s KickStarter
    Program if you like the concept…
    Donations of $25 or more will get a Cribbage Board as a reward.
    Thanks for your support. Tell your game lovin friends..
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1441244995/crazy-cribbage-aka-muggins-and-mulligans

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