Board Games, Podcast, The Five By

Cribbage

This review of Cribbage appeared in Episode 106 of The Five By. The following is the script I used when recording the podcast, and, as such, there might be some discrepancies between the text and audio due to editing for time and flow.

Back in the beginning of 2020, my partner Lorena and I decided to take up a gaming challenge. A few months earlier we had started playing Cribbage and so we decided that we would play Cribbage every day for all of 2020. It seemed like an ambitious goal right off the bat. After all, Three hundred and sixty five games of anything might be a bit much. We started off pretty strong, keeping up with our daily games, making up for days missed by playing two or three games on some nights. Then in March of 2020, well… we all know what happened then. Here in Los Angeles, a stay at home order came down and Lorena and I hunkered in to stay indoors whenever possible and played Cribbage.

So, how is cribbage played? Long esteemed by sailors and submariners, Cribbage is played with a deck of cards and a Cribbage board that is used to keep track of scores.Players each cut a card from a standard deck of playing cards and the player who cut the lowest card becomes the dealer. Six cards are then dealt and to each player in a two player game. Each player then privately keeps four cards for their own hand, adding the other two cards to the dealer’s crib hand. The crib hand will come into play later. 

The non dealer, or pone, in Cribbage parlance, then randomly cuts the deck and the dealer reveals the top card which then becomes the starter card. The starter card will be used by both players when evaluating their hands in the latter part of the round but I’ll come back to that later. Players then take turns playing cards on the table and scoring points by completing or continuing runs and pairs. Players keep track of the total point value on the table when playing a card. So the non-dealer player will play a seven of hearts, the dealer might then play a different seven, bring up the count to fourteen, scoring two points for the pair. 

Players can also score points by being the first to bring the total value of the cards on the table to fifteen. So, in the previous example, the non-dealer player might play a one (suit doesn’t matter here), bringing the total to fifteen, scoring two points. Players take turns playing cards from their hand until they can no longer do so because they’ve either run out of cards or can’t play a card without raising the total card value on the table past 31. The last player to have placed a card scores a point and if you manage to hit thirty one right on the dot, you score two points, one for hitting thirty one and one for playing the last card.

Once players have played every card in their hand, the non-dealer player shows and counts the points in their hand. Runs of cards in sequential order, score one point per card in the run. Pairs score two points, three of a kind will get you six points, and four of a kind nets you 12 points! Players also score two points for every fifteen in their hand. It’s also possible to score points for flushes.

So a hand of 4,4,5,6 with the starter card being a 3 would score a total of 14 points. Two points for the pair of 4s, four points for the 3-4-5-6 run, another four points for 3-4-5-6 run with the second 4, 2 points for the 15 with the 4,5, and 6 and two more more points for the second fifteen with the other 4. So when putting together their hands, players want to hold on to cards that will create runs, fifteens, pairs, and so on, while sending trash cards to their opponents crib. 

And sometimes the choices aren’t’ always so clear, as you have to keep in mind your position on the Cribbage board. After all, Cribbage is a race to 121 points and you might want to add cards to your opponent’s hand that are less likely to give them points when they evaluate their crib hand, even if it means breaking up a hand that would give you a good chunk of points. Once players have played and showed their hands, the non-dealer player becomes the dealer and another round is played. The first player to peg 121 points wins the game.

If all of this sounds a bit confusing, well it’s kinda hard to convey a card game in a five minute review, but hopefully this gives you a little taste of the game. There are some little rules and odd scoring mechanisms that I won’t go into here.

There’s also a great app on ios and android called Cribbage with Grandpas from Less Than Three Interactive that lets you create your own virtual grandpa to play Cribbage with. What’s great about the app is that you can have your grandpa be super helpful and they’ll let you know that you’ve left points on the table. Or you can have your virtual grandpa teach you by claiming the points you’ve left on the table for themselves. Either way, Cribbage with Grandpas is a great way to exercise those scoring muscles.

So, how did Lorena and I do in our 2020 challenge? We hit a wall sometime in the summer. L.A. heatwaves and working from home made sitting at the dining room table/work-from-home-desk to play games a bit less appealing. We ended up playing something like 200 games, not quite 365 games but, hey, that’s still a lot of Cribbage games. And still, Lorena and I keep coming back to Cribbage. It’s a game we love to play during the weekend with some pan dulce and coffee. We love racing each other across the board, dealing with the hands we’ve been dealt, playing out cards and trying to out play each other for points from pairs fifteens, and runs. And we’ve even started up another 365 games of Cribbage challenge for 2021. I’m fairly confident that Cribbage is a game that will keep us entertained while we stay at home and try to stay afloat during these turbulent times. I guess I see why Cribbage is a favorite of sailors and submariners.

For The Five By, I’m John Gonzalez. Find me on Twitter and Instagram as bookofnerds.

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