OBJECTIVE OF CRIBBAGE RULES: Be the first player to score 121 points (or 61 points).
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 2-3 players
MATERIALS: Cribbage board, Standard 52 card deck
TYPE OF GAME: Card game
AUDIENCE: All ages
OVERVIEW OF CRIBBAGE RULES
Cribbage is a 400-year-old game descended from an English card game called “Noddy.” The game’s creator was Sir John Suckling, an English poet! The most interesting facet of Cribbage is its use of a cribbage board to keep score rather than a pen and paper. This board also makes scoring more efficient, which, in turn, makes the game more fast-paced and engaging.
This game plays 2 or 3 players. However, players can form teams of two in a four-player game.
The game’s goal is to accumulate points to the target of 121 points (or 61 points). You earn points by making card combinations. Below, we will explain the rules thoroughly and review a few other ways to play Cribbage.
THE CRIBBAGE BOARD
A Cribbage Board has four rows with 30 holes in each row. The rows are split into two sets of rows by a middle panel. Each player receives a total of 121 continuous holes on some boards. The players keep the board centrally. Each player grabs two pegs that are the same color. Every time players score, they move a peg along their side of the board. One hole equals 1 point. Pegs jump each other to demonstrate the increment of the points gained between turns. A game of 61 points is “once around,” and a game of 121 points as a “twice around.”
Using a shuffled deck, each player cuts a single card, leaving a minimum of four cards at the end of the deck. If two players draw cards of equal rank, they must draw again—the player with the lowest cut card deals first. The deal alternates after the first hand. However, when starting a new game, the loser of the previous one is the first dealer. The dealer shuffles the cards last and lets a non-dealer cut the deck before dealing.
After, the dealer passes each player six cards face-down, starting with their opponent or the player to their left.
Players examine their 6-card hand and must “layaway” two cards for four cards in hand. Those four cards laid away are “the crib.” The crib is the dealer’s; however, you do not reveal these cards until after the hands are played.
Once the crib is “laid away,” a non-dealer player cuts the deck. You place the top card of the lower part of the deck on top. This card is the starter card. If this card is a jack, it is “His Heels,” dealer pegs 2 (scores 2) points. You do not use his card in Cribbage play but the player uses it later when they make card combinations.
HOW TO PLAY CRIBBAGE
After you flip the starter, the non-dealer plays a single card on the table, face-up. Then, the dealer follows, revealing a card. This action continues back and forth, exposing their hands one card at a time. Players keep the cards in their hands separate.
Each player must announce the running total of the value of cards by adding the one they are playing to the one previously played. For example, if the play begins with a 2, the non-dealer says, “two.” Next, the dealer plays an 8; they say “ten.” Kings, Queens, and Jacks are all worth 10 points. Number cards are worth face value or pip value.
The card’s running total cannot exceed 31. Once a player cannot play a card without going over 31, they must say “go.” Their opponent then pegs 1. After the Go, the opponent can play any cards in hand without making the total exceed 31. They can also score points for pairs and runs described below. If a player hits 31 exactly, they peg 2. Whoever called Go leads in the next phase of play, the count begins at zero again. You cannot lead the next phase with cards previously used to score combinations. Whoever plays the last card gets to peg 1 for Go and an extra peg if they land directly on 31.
The goal of the game is to collect points through pegging. Players can score points for a Go and the following combinations:
Fifteen: Playing a card that makes the total = 15, Peg 2
Pair: Playing a card of equal rank as the one previously played, Peg 2
Four (Double Pair, Double Pair Royal): Adding the 4th card of the same value, Peg 12
Run (Sequence): Adding cards that with cards previously played, form:
- Sequence of 3, Peg 3
- Sequence of 4, Peg 4
- Sequence of 5, Peg 5
- Each next card in a sequence, Peg 1 each
Be careful to keep cards in the order in which you play them.
Once play finishes, players count the three hands in this order: non-dealer, dealer, and crib. Non-dealers can “count out” near the end of the game and win before the dealer can count their hand. The starter applies to each hand, so they both total five cards. You count them as follows:
Fifteen: Each set of cards that total 15, 2 points each
Pair: Two cards of equal rank, 2 points each
Royal Pair: Three cards of equal rank, 6 points each
Run: Sequence of 3+ cards, 1 point per card
Flush: 4 cards of the same suit (not including the crib or the starter), 4 points
Four cards in hand or in the crib that are the same suit as the starter, 5 points
His Nobs: Jack of the same suit as the starter, either in hand or in the crib, 1 point each
END OF GAME
You set the Cribbage score at either 121 points or 61 points, and the game ends once a player reaches the target points. If the non-dealer goes out first, the dealer does not get to score their hand, and the game ends. If one player goes out before the other reaches half the target score, the loser is said to be “lurched,” and the winner scores for two games rather than just 1. Some variations play “skunk” or double game, which means if the loser fails to meet 3/4 of the target point, the winner wins a double game. And, if the player doesn’t reach half of the target score, it’s a “double skunk” or quadruple game.
OTHER WAYS TO PLAY CRIBBAGE
There are many variations on the classic Cribbage rules, but below we will discuss some of the more popular ones.
Lowball Cribbage takes the aim of the Cribbage rules and turns it on its head! Players are trying not to peg points. The loser is the first to peg 121 points. You can score a skunk in this game by scoring 91 or less when the game ends.
In Crash Cribbage, you play on a board with a figure 8. Players start at the same place but then choose which path they wish to score on. When pegs crash into each other, this displaces the pegs and affects the scoring.
In this version of Cribbage, players do not discard cards to the crib. Instead, players are dealt four cards and start from there. The remainder of the Cribbage rules remain the same.
You use jokers as a type of wild card in this Cribbage variation. When pegging your scores, you must declare the joker’s value, calling its rank and sometimes suit.
Nineteen is a variation that awards hands worth 0 points, 19 points instead. This makes hands that are usually poor for scoring into redeemable strategies.
Is Cribbage Hard to Learn?
Cribbage is a medium-level entry game. This means that the Cribbage rules have a lot of mechanics to learn, but once you have a good understanding of them, you’ll be able to play and learn more strategy.
What Is Muggins in Cribbage?
Muggins is an optional rule of play for Cribbage. Muggins means that if a player did not score all the available points for themselves at the end of the play, you may call Muggins and score the extra points yourself.
What Is a Skunk in Cribbage?
A skunk means a player has finished the game with 31 or more points than all players.
What Is the Best Hand in Cribbage?
The best score for a single hand is 29 points. It can only happen when a player holds three 5s and a jack, and the final five is revealed during the cut. The jack and cut five must be of the same suit.