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Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Cribbage is one a select few “10”s for me - “always want to play and expect this will never change”. I believe that results from a combination of the mechanisms, which stand up to modern designs, and the wonderful tradition and rituals associated with the game.

Cribbage as a modern game

Cribbage stands out from other traditional card games because it doesn’t belong to the large trick-taking or rummy families. In some ways it feels more like a modern Euro card game with multiple ways of scoring points, different phases and even a victory point track. I play it strictly as a 2-player game (though 3p and 4p variants exist) and with its half-hour play time and significant (but manageable) randomness, it would only take some light theming to fit it into the Kosmos line.

A hand starts with a deal of six cards to each player, from which they must select two discards. These form a new four-card hand, the 'crib' which scores for the dealer, leading to a pleasant puzzle of what to keep and what to throw. I’m surprised I haven’t seen this mechanism used elsewhere -- I could see it being used as a hand-management problem in a more complex game.

There follows a cat-and-mouse like exchange of card plays, gradually revealing information about the likely composition of players’ hands as they try to set traps for each other. This process seems almost random at first but it's where much of the skill of the game comes in. Another appealing (and Euro-like) feature of Cribbage is that it is engaging and fun all the way up the learning curve from rank amateur to expert. But while great expertise is certainly possible, the luck of the deal always offers the chance of an upset.

To conclude a hand, the players score various combinations present in their four-card hand plus one turn-up card, and the dealer scores similarly for the crib. The turn-up is revealed only after discarding to the crib, adding a risk-reward calculation to the discard decision.

But a game is not just a series of isolated hands. It’s a race to the finish line at 121 points, where the order of scoring can be crucial. Towards the end of a close game, you have to choose whether to play a hand ‘tight’, hoping to restrict both players’ score or ‘loose’ , depending on your relative positions on the scoring track.

The game has an interesting ebb and flow where the current dealer will score three hands in a row (their own, the crib, and then their hand as a non-dealer) before the other player does the same. This can act as a catch-up mechanism: if you get your timing wrong on the home straight, expect to see your opponent sail past you to the finish. And there’s also something still to play for in a blow-out; a ‘skunking’ (fewer than 91 points when your opponent reaches 121) counts double. Even if you’re not playing a multi-game sequence, it still smarts!

Cribbage as a traditional game

Catch-up mechanisms, timing and hand-management; so far, so mechanical. But what makes Cribbage a truly joyful experience for me is the feeling of being part of four centuries of tradition. You could extract the logical core of the game and play it without any of its peculiar embellishments, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice.

Cribbage has its own arcane and delightful vocabulary, from “one for his nobs” (a Jack in hand matching the suit of the turn-up card) to the call of “nineteen” for a hand scoring zero points (there is no possible combination of cards that scores exactly 19). You don’t need to know that getting pipped to the post while you’re on 120 points is to be “stuck in the stink hole” but I enjoy the game all the more for it.

The board itself is part of this charm. The game could easily be scored with pen and paper like many other traditional card games, but pulling out a chunky wooden board sets a certain mood, and instantly identifies Cribbage players in a pub or cafe. We learned with a modern and rather flimsy “29”-shaped board, but once the game became important to us we upgraded to a solid piece of inlaid wood that reminds us of a hurricane-beset holiday in North Carolina.

The rituals of the game are important to the mood too. Dealer deals, non-dealer cuts, dealer turns the ‘starter’, non-dealer plays the first card of the pegging -- there’s something calming about the routine, and the way the scores are intoned to a set pattern. Almost all my games have been with my wife: it’s the one game she’ll always play, on the couch, in bed, on a train, and it never fails to make us feel closer. I almost feel like I’m cheating when I play the game with someone else!

We must be unusual in learning the game (with difficulty) from a rule-book, which definitely had not been Euro-fied. Like other traditional games, Cribbage belongs in an oral tradition. I wish I had a story to tell about learning it on my grandfather’s knee, or from a stranger in a far-flung drinking-house, but I already look forward to passing the tradition on to my children when I have them. “Always want to play and expect this will never change”
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Joseph Reissmann
United States
Wausau
Wisconsin
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Excellent review! This article made me smile repeatedly. I love cribbage! It will always be a favorite of mine. I can't believe I didn't even think to look for it on this site until this came up for geekmodding. I've played this game more than every other game combined. Thank you for the article and for the reminder of what a great game really is.
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Jason Meyers
United States
Central Illinois
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Best 2-player game in existence, any genre, period. The tradition and "culture" surrounding it, as you allude to, makes it all the more special.

Agree it's really a game that needs taught, not self-read, but that even increases its charm!

I did learn "from my grandparents' knees" so to speak, but rarely get to play anymore - a couple of my kids are ready for it, I think, so I should be getting on that.

When my grandmother, the one who taught me, was on her deathbed in hospice (she was 81), some of her final words as she was drifting in-and-out were, "fifteen for two, fifteen for four, and a double run makes 12." What a memory that was...
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David Anderson
United States
seattle
Washington
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One of my "10's" too. I've been playing for 30+ years since my Grandma taught me. Every year I look forward to playing a world ranked player at the Washington state fair. If you win you get a certificate and a deck of cards. So far I'm 1 for 3.
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Jason Meyers
United States
Central Illinois
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turtleback wrote:

One of my "10's" too. I've been playing for 30+ years since my Grandma taught me. Every year I look forward to playing a world ranked player at the Washington state fair. If you win you get a certificate and a deck of cards. So far I'm 1 for 3.


Nice! That's probably one more than I could manage!
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Chris Talmadge
United States
Clinton
CT
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I have also ranked Cribbage a 10 and is probably up there with poker for my most played game. Where I enjoy cribbage with two, the 3-player cutthroat version is most fun IMHO, followed by 4-players team play. Both should be considered "advanced" variants, as they are much more challenging than the standard game.
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John McD
Scotland
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I used to play this game endlessly. It is excellent.
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Caleb
United States
Seminole
Florida
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"Fifteen two and the rest won't do"

I always ended up saying that a lot as a kid when playing against my dad
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The one and only (but one of two in BGG)
United States
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OK, what about the subject line? I know Sir John Suckling is credited with inventing cribbage (or developing it from the earlier game Noddy). But where does the USS Bremerton come in?

Is it because cribbage (along with backgammon) is something of a tradition in the US Navy?
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Doctor X

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Bremerton_%28SSN-698%29
Quote:

When USS Los Angeles (SSN-688) was decommissioned on 23 January 2010, Bremerton became the oldest commissioned submarine in the US fleet. On that day, Richard O'Kane's cribbage board was transferred from Los Angeles to Bremerton, a tradition that dates back to World War II.


(I didn't know this either.)
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Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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ldsdbomber wrote:
I'll thumb it because its you Martin but cribbage is bloody rubbish.


Saying something like that in a place like this could cause a fight Lee
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Jim Ransom
United States
Forest
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Doctor X wrote:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Bremerton_%28SSN-698%29
Quote:

When USS Los Angeles (SSN-688) was decommissioned on 23 January 2010, Bremerton became the oldest commissioned submarine in the US fleet. On that day, Richard O'Kane's cribbage board was transferred from Los Angeles to Bremerton, a tradition that dates back to World War II.


(I didn't know this either.)


Beat me to it! Yes, cribbage is very popular aboard US Navy submarines. And that cribbage board, on which Medal of Honor winner Dick O'Kane of USS TANG scored his famous 29, is a prized tradition of the Submarine Force.

And Cribbage is my only game rated 10.
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Lee Riekman
China
Tianjin
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cannoneer wrote:
"Fifteen two and the rest won't do"

I always ended up saying that a lot as a kid when playing against my dad


"Fifteen two, fifteen four and the rest don't score."



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Pete Belli
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Superior performance!

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Cribbage anecdote:

Years ago I sold a beautiful vintage Cribbage board (one of my thrift store purchases) to a descendant of the original Drueke family. cool
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James Ludlow
United States
Saint Louis Park
Minnesota
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I have very fond memories of playing Cribbage, but absolutely no idea what the rules are anymore. This review makes me want to remedy that.
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Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Love all the stories that are coming out here!
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The one and only (but one of two in BGG)
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I never knew anyone who played cribbage when I was growing up. But we had a paperback Hoyle at home, and I pored through that. Cribbage sounded so interesting that I read the rules closely. A few years later I bought a cribbage board. Still didn't have anybody to play it with, though. I don't think I actually played until I got married; turned out my wife knew how to play. I played quite a bit after that, with her and friends. Somehow that dried up, though, and nowadays I have an Android app for cribbage.

Though I usually don't care much for card games, I like this one a lot. There's just something about it.
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David P
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Vancouver
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I learned the rules from my grandmother. She never played muggins rules with me except once when I asked to. I was still young, under 10 years old, and I got creamed, but I got better because of it. And it's one of the ways I remember her.

It's definitely not a perfect game. The flush rules, for example, are needlessly complex. But Cribbage is one of those games that I love, and I'll be playing forever.
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The one and only (but one of two in BGG)
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smorange wrote:
It's definitely not a perfect game. The flush rules, for example, are needlessly complex.

The flush rules make more sense in the earlier, five-card version of cribbage. A couple things got weird when they added the sixth card to each hand.
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Phil Dennis
United Kingdom
Llanon
Ceredigion
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I will be playing Cribbage on Saturday night with a lovely pair of 80 year olds, having a real hoot and enjoying every minute. All the tradition, ritual and the funny expressions, "Two for his heels" make it a 10 for me as well.
On Sunday I will be out playing Yedo, Memoir 44 and Relic. Again, having a real hoot and enjoying every minute, but will folks be writing about any of them in the year 2413?
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David Anderson
United States
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Maybe you should create an entry for the 5 card version. You seem to be a big fan.

Patrick Carroll wrote:
smorange wrote:
It's definitely not a perfect game. The flush rules, for example, are needlessly complex.

The flush rules make more sense in the earlier, five-card version of cribbage. A couple things got weird when they added the sixth card to each hand.
 
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The one and only (but one of two in BGG)
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turtleback wrote:
Maybe you should create an entry for the 5 card version. You seem to be a big fan.

I've never played it. I figure there must be a good reason the 6-card version caught on and has become standard. But anytime I start wondering about the quirks of the 6-card game, I get some satisfaction from looking back at how it used to be in the old 5-card version. It may not be as good a game, but the rules seem cleaner.
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David Anderson
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Aw, that explains it. Still, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have an entry for it on BGG. I don't really know how to go about it though.
 
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James Fallows
United Kingdom
Penrith
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I don't have a good cribbage-learning anecdote because I only learnt how to play after reading the love for the game here on the geek. I do have a favourite Sir John Suckling quote, though: “Love is the fart of every heart: It pains a man when 'tis kept close, And others doth offend, when 'tis let loose. ”
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Pugnax555
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Westminster
Colorado
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
smorange wrote:
It's definitely not a perfect game. The flush rules, for example, are needlessly complex.

The flush rules make more sense in the earlier, five-card version of cribbage. A couple things got weird when they added the sixth card to each hand.

I'm curious -- how are the flush rules for six-card cribbage more complex than the rules for five-card crib?

six-card cribbage:
all four cards of the same suit in hand = 4 points
all four cards + cut card of the same suit = 5 points

five-card cribbage:
all three cards of the same suit in hand = 3 points
all three cards + cut card of the same suit = 4 points

Those seem pretty much identical to me -- 1 point for each card in the flush. The flush needs to be all the cards in your hand or hand + cut.
 
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