I talk about Cribbage quite a bit on social media, the Patrick and Eric in the Morning podcast, and my favorite game lists. I’m not the only one — if you do a search on the Punchboard Media website for the word Cribbage, you will find it has been tagged in about three dozen posts. My pal Alex Goldsmith just posted about his grandmother passing and getting the family Cribbage board and how important their games were to him. I’ve posted a few things here and there about why Cribbage is important to me so I’d write something more detailed here.
Let’s start off with what Cribbage is. It’s a two-player card game, although it does have three and four player variants. You typically score using a “Cribbage board,” which is a track of 121 points — the first to 121 wins. The game is played in a series of phases. Phase one is the deal, with each player getting six cards. Each player keeps four, with two being discarded into the dealers “crib,” which is a second hand for the dealer that’s scored later. At this point, the deck is cut and the top card flipped up as a future scoring card that will be added to all hands, including the crib. Hoping for a specific card to be flipped up may impact what cards you decide to keep. Hands are scored by pairs, runs, flushes, and some Cribbage specific things like totals of 15, as well as edge cases like “knobs,” which is when your jack matches the suit of the flipped up card. The next phase is “pegging.” Players take turns playing a card from their hand, adding up each until they meet but do not exceed thirty-one points. Scoring is the same, so if Sue plays a four and Mary plays a four that is a pair, so Mary would get two points. Sue could add a seven and this adds to fifteen and would score an additional two points. After all cards have been played, each player scores their hands, including the flipped up card. The non-dealer counts first, then the dealer, then the dealer’s crib. This can have an impact on the end game, if the non-dealer reaches 121 first. Cribbage also has a lot of lingo like scoring your fifteens first by two, then pair, then runs, such as “15-2, 15-4, a pair is 6 and three makes 9.”
Cribbage was a huge game in my household growing up. As a family of hunters, this is a perfect game for sitting out at camp and they played it often. As a kid, I saw my dad and uncles playing the game. I was fascinated watching as they played this unusual game with a strange wooden board, and the equally strange banter. I eventually learned, and would play with my father and brothers. My father also was a silly Cribbage player — he played with a ton of sayings such as adding “15-2, 15-4, and the rest don’t score”, “You count yours, I’ll weigh mine” (I still don’t get this one), or if you made a mistake he’d say “I get 2 points for that” but move his back peg forward, which didn’t actually change the score. If you want to learn more, download the “Cribbage with Grandpas” app and set up the casual banter mode and they will say a lot of the same kind of things.
As I became hobby board gamer, classic card games were not discussed often. On a Ludology podcast I heard Geoff Engelstein discussing Cribbage and mentioning that he’d never played it. This was shortly before a Gen Con, so I decided to pick up a travel board to tuck in my gaming bag and bring to conventions. I talked about it on Twitter. I never did meet up with Geoff, but others reached out with interest. I made a trip up to Jonathan Gilmour’s and played some games for a day — I think I taught him Cribbage. Later at the Board Game Geek convention, several other friends wanted to learn, and others wanted to play, and Cribbage conversation started to happen on Twitter. Travis sat next to me at breakfast at Origins and said “so teach me Cribbage”. I remember teaching him the rules and showing him the edge cases like knobs, and he looked at me like I was making the rules up. Sometimes it feels like that when you teach it.
More recently, family Cribbage resurfaced when my parents’ health took a turn. My dad developed dementia and I was concerned if we’d be able to continue to play. Fortunately, even though he sometimes had trouble remembering who I was or why I was there, he did remember how to play and the value of hands and could tell me the score before I could ponder it as I laid my cards on the table to count them. Not long after his dementia settled in, my mother’s cancer returned in a bad way. It made sense at this time to put both of them in a Veterans Retirement home for my mother health reasons. This move was good for them — they seemed to enjoy having company there and the social opportunities. My dad found some new friends to play Cribbage with.
I lived several hundred miles from them, but visited as often as I could. When I was there the one thing I had to share with my dad was Cribbage. Months later I received the call that my mother was quickly failing and I should return. My family and I spent a lot of time in their room waiting — and a lot of Cribbage was played. It was good to have something familiar to pass the time. A few months after my mother passed, my brother arranged a trip to take my dad out “hunting” — it was really putting him in a garage to look at deer outside the back door, but it was important. Of course we played Cribbage — in fact we played our last game of Cribbage, I just didn’t realize it at the time. My dad passed a month later.
I set aside my boards and apps for a while, not sure how I’d feel playing the game again. About three months later, Daniel and I were sitting around at G2S one morning and he suggested we play a game, as he knew I liked it and we had played before. I didn’t say anything, I just agreed and decided to see how I held up. It was okay. Daniel is a good friend and we had a good time. It was good to be playing the game again, and carrying on like one should while playing Cribbage.