Cribbage isn’t exclusively a card game. A proper game of Cribbage requires a “Cribbage board” to keep score and as part of the gameplay. You can use pencil and paper to keep score if you don’t have a cribbage board handy, but this will be a rather tedious process.
Cribbage is a game of making matches and groups of cards in order to score certain point amounts.
A standard game of Cribbage is usually played with just two players, but the game can be adapted for four or even more people.
Although the ins and outs of this complex game may take a minute to get a grasp of, like any seemingly complex card game the gameplay will eventually become second nature.
To simplify the instructions, let’s assume you have a cribbage board. Along with the board, you’ll need four pegs — two to represent you and two to represent your opponent.
Cribbage Deck – Cribbage Cards
Cribbage uses a standard deck of 52 cards — that’s a regular deck of playing cards minus the Jokers.
The Object of Cribbage
The first player to accumulate 121 points wins. Because of the ins and outs of Cribbage, many games end in the middle of a deal or of a hand — this is okay and there’s no need to “play out” a game once a winner has been established.
Dealing Cribbage and Cribbage Gameplay
To determine who deals first, cut the deck. The person with the lowest card is the dealer. The dealer deals exactly six cards to each player.
To start play, each player looks at their hand of six cards and chooses four to keep and two to discard into a pile by the dealer known as “the crib”. Since two players are discarding two cards, “the crib” will contain four cards, just like the hands of the players.
The player who did not deal cuts the deck to determine a top card. Both players will use this card, known in the game of Cribbage as “the cut”, as a fifth “wild” card to count points at the end of the round.
Special note — if this “cut card” is a Jack, the dealer gets to peg two points right off the bat. This two point score at the outset is called “the heels.”
The basic gameplay goes like this — players alternate laying cards down, starting with the non-dealer. As they play each card, they call out the value of the total.
Cribbage Point Values & Scoring
How do you know the value? Face cards are worth ten points, while all others are worth their numeric value. Aces are always only worth one point. Suits do not matter in this first round, only the numeric values.
This play continues until a player cannot lay down another card without exceeding a point total of thirty-one. At this point, that player says “Go.”
If the other player can still lay down another card without exceeding thirty-one points, that player must do so for as many times as necessary to complete his hand.
Once the opposing player lays down as many cards as he can without going over thirty-one, he also says “go” and earns a single point. If the player ends up with a point total of exactly thirty-one, this player earns two points instead of just one.
Some other scoring notes — when either player reaches exactly fifteen points, he earns two additional points.
Points can also be earned (and pegged) for making pairs. If the first player lays down a Seven and the second player immediately lays down another Seven, the second player earns two points. If the first player then lays down a third Seven, he earns six additional points. This can continue all the way through a fourth sixth, which is worth twelve points.
After “31” (or as close as possible in the hand), the person laying down the last card takes a point for having the final card. If the last card makes exactly 31, player gets another additional point.
You can see how Cribbage appears confusing at first, but a few rounds of the game and you’ll have these intricate point scoring rules memorized.
Once all cards have been played it is time to count them up. The person to count first is the non-dealer, then the dealer, then the “crib” pile. Your hand consists of the four cards you played, plus the cut card which is shared by both players..
A player scores one point if he holds the Jack of the cut card’s suit. This is called “Jacking”.
Pairs, triples and quadruples count for two points, six points, and twelve points respectively.
Any combination of cards that adds up to fifteen points is worth an additional two points.
A flush (a set where all four cards are the same suit) is worth four points.
A common variant of Cribbage is to play the game with the Jokers included. This is called (naturally) Joker’s Cribbage, and goes a little something like this:
Four jokers is ideal, as it makes for plenty of high scoring hands and really amps up the “energy level” of Cribbage. Two Jokers is also acceptable.
The gameplay is the same as traditional cribbage with just these differences —
Obviously, a Joker can be used to stand for any card the holder wishes.
When you play a Joker during the pegging round, you have to establish a single value during the gameplay. This rule makes it impossible for you to avoid strategizing the Joker – you have to decide if you want to use the Joker to your advantage in the pegging round or for scoring your total hand.
A Joker can be the same card as another card — in other words, you can form identical pairs. This rule allows for hands up to 5 of a kind (scored at twenty points), and flushes involving two of the same card. Also, you could “Jack” more than once in a hand, using “identical Jacks”.
If a joker is cut as the cut card, the player with the crib gets two points for “heels”, but both players can also use that cut card as a truly Wild card.