Cribbage rules (Gameplay instructions)

Cribbage is a popular card game for two players involving matching and combining cards to gain points and beat your opponent. These Cribbage rules explain the gameplay in detail, teaching you step-by-step how to play it and win over your friends.

Cribbage, also known simply as Crib, is in some regards very similar to classic trick-taking card games like Joker (see Joker rules for comparison). 

Its complex scoring makes playing Cribbage a unique and challenging experience even for seasoned players.

Cribbage is ideal for two players, but you can easily adjust it for a few more if needed. In Cribbage, everything is about earning points, and there are many different ways to do it. 

While it all might seem like a matter of fortune at first, as you get into the game and practice more, you should be able to develop quite an effective strategy for increasing your chances of winning.

This Cribbage game rules guide will cover the following: 

  • What is Cribbage?
  • A brief history of Cribbage
  • What you’ll need to play Cribbage 
  • Cribbage rules
  • How to play Cribbage (video tutorial)
  • FAQs
  • Other similar games to Cribbage (our guides)

Read on and find out how to play Cribbage one step at a time.

What is Cribbage?

Cribbage is one of the most popular and widespread card games on the planet. It is complex, intricate, and quite complicated if you’re entirely new to this type of card game. Nevertheless, once you know the rules, it is very easy to get hooked on the game.

Unlike many other similar card games, Cribbage can be played even if you only have one opponent. In fact, the game fits two players the best, so you can play it pretty much at any time and anywhere.

Although it is, technically speaking, suitable for all age groups, younger kids will probably find Cribbage’s scoring scheme overly complicated. It is therefore recommended mostly for adolescent and adult players.

Number of Players: 2 (or 3 – 4 players with some adjustments)

Ages: 10 +

Difficulty: Medium 

Length of Play: 20 – 60 minutes

Category: Card matching and combining game

Similar to: Cribbage Solitaire, Kings CribbageCrib Wars 

Main Objective: Score 121 or more points faster than your opponent. 

Why We Love It: Cribbage is a complicated yet gratifying card game. The more experience you gain playing it, the more fun it is, making Cribbage one of those games that will never bore you.

A brief history of Cribbage

Cribbage has developed from old English card games like Costly Colors and Noddy. Some sources claim it was invented by Sir John Suckling, a well-known English poet in the early 17th century. Iconic Victorian-era writer Charles Dickens even depicted Cribbage in his novel The Old Curiosity Shop.

Cribbage became an enormously popular pub game. Later, it was also adopted by the military, becoming one of the favorite pastimes for American marines and submariners during World War II.

People invented many alternative Cribbage rules over time (I will mention a few later). The game also served as a foundation for creating the Scrabble-like Kings Cribbage game and a one-player Cribbage-style solitaire.

What You’ll Need to Play Cribbage

To play Cribbage, you’re going to need:

  • A pegboard with two-colored pegs for keeping the score
  • A standard deck of 52 cards (you can remove Jokers)

You can buy both of these together in a dedicated Cribbage game set.

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Cribbage Rules and Gameplay

Cribbage is all about combining the cards you get and squeezing as many points as possible out of your hand and the so-called crib. 

Beginners usually need some time to adapt to the gameplay, but the rounds will get more dynamic and faster as you get more confident.

Starting the Game

Before you start playing Cribbage, you need to prepare all the materials and your gaming area:

  • First, take out the pegboard and place it in the center of the table. 
  • Place two pegs of each color into the so-called resting holes on the opposite sides of the board. 

To decide who will act as a dealer, each player cuts the deck and looks at the card at the bottom. The player with the lowest card is the dealer.

  • The dealer shuffles all the cards in the deck 
  • The second player cuts the deck once more.
  • The dealer deals six cards to each player (one at a time).
  • Place the deck face-down on the table.
  • Players can now examine their cards, hiding them from the opponent.

Each player now picks two of their cards and discards them face-down in front of them. These four cards are put together, forming the crib. Put it aside until the end of the hand.

The non-dealer cuts the deck once again. The dealer flips the upper card from the cut and puts it face-up on the top of the pile. This will be your starting card

Pegging

Placing pegs on the pegboard (pegging) is an integral part of the Cribbage game. It essentially means to score. Each player has two pegs. One represents their actual score, whereas the second one stands for their previous score

Each hole on the pegboard represents one point. To log a new score, place the peg representing your previous (or initial) score in front of the other peg, copying your actual score advancement (e.g., if you score two points, move your peg two holes in front of the other).

Commonly, the pegs are moved along the outer edge of the board first (on their respective sides), then following the opposite route in the second line of holes. When the pegs travel this circuit twice, the player should meet the points threshold for winning.

Cards value

The Cribbage game involves counting the cards’ value. For this purpose:

  • Ace is worth 1 point (the lowest value card)
  • Number cards are worth their standard face value
  • Jack, Queen, King are worth 10 points each

How to Play Cribbage

The starting card determines the first action in the game. If it is Jack (the trick is known as “His Heels”), the dealer immediately scores two points and pegs two corresponding holes. 

Then the game goes as follows:

  • The players take turns laying down single cards (face-up), each on their own pile separated from the opponent’s. 
  • One by one, you count the total value of cards (see Cards value above) played by both players together, starting with zero. Announce the running total aloud after each added card.
  • Be careful not to allow the total to exceed 31. Once a player cannot play his card without exceeding the limit, he shouts out “Go!” instead.
  • If the second player can squeeze in one more card without exceeding 31 points, he can.

When no more cards can be played, restart the counting from zero again. Turn over the cards on the table and start a new round with your remaining cards. The player who scored “Go!” goes first now.

Repeat this until the players play all their cards. If one player runs out of cards earlier than the other, the remaining player continues by himself.

Cribbage Gameplay Image

Cribbage Scoring 

As I’ve already explained earlier (see Pegging section above), the scoring in Cribbage is represented by placing pegs onto the pegboard. It is the most important part of the whole game.

Here are several ways how you can score throughout the Cribbage gameplay: 

  • Go!: If you score Go!, your opponent receives 1 point
  • Last card in a round without achieving 31: You earn 1 point
  • Reaching exactly 15 or 31 with your card: You earn 2 points
  • Pair (play an equal card as your opponent, e.g., 7 and 7): You earn 2 points
  • Pair Royal (add a third matching card to a pair): You score 6 points
  • DoublePair Royal (add a fourth matching card): You score 12 points
  • Create/continue a run of three or more cards (e.g., 2/3/4): You score points equal to the number of cards in your run (they mustn’t be in the exact consecutive order, just uninterrupted)

The Show

When all the cards are played, players earn points by combining the starting card value with their played hand, collected in their discard pile. This phase of the game is known as The Show

You can combine either the cards from your hand with each other or with the starting card. You are even allowed to score the same card as part of different combinations repeatedly. For this stage of gameplay, there is an additional scoring scheme in Cribbage:

  • Combination of two (or more) cards adding up to 15: 2 points
  • A pair: 2 points
  • Three of a kind (e.g., 3 x 5): 6 points
  • Four of a kind (e.g., 4 x 5): 12 points
  • Run: Points equaling the total number of cards involved (you can only count the largest version of the run, not smaller parts of it individually)
  • Four cards of the same suit (Flush): 4 points
  • Flush + starting card of the same suit: 5 points
  • Jack of the same suit as starting card (“One for his Nob”): 1 point

Note: Keep in mind that these combinations are only scored in the Show phase of the game. Flush or One for his Nob are not valid combinations during the game’s initial “playing” phase.

Both players reveal and score their hands in the same manner, one by one. Then the dealer reveals the four cards in the crib and scores them along with the starting card. Scoring is the same as in the Show, except for the Flush, which must consist of single suit cards.

Optional scoring rules for Cribbage

Besides the standard scoring described above, Cribbage can also be played with additional (optional) rules, including the following:

Muggins

If either of the players doesn’t claim all their points in any of the turns and the opponent notices it, he can declare “Muggins” and claim the overlooked points himself.

Skunk

If you beat your opponent by 30 or more points, you’re scoring a “Skunk.” You can also score a “Double Skunk” if you win by 60+ points. 

Corners

A corner refers to achieving any 30th peg on the board. Three corners mark the 30th, 60th, and 90th peg holes on the board.

Who Wins Cribbage?

When the round has ended and all the scores are counted, shuffle all the cards again and start a new round swapping the role of dealer.

The game continues this way until one of the players reaches 121 points. At that moment, the game ends, and the player who earned 121 (or more) points wins.

How to Play Cribbage – Video Tutorial 

Cribbage Frequently Asked Questions

Is Cribbage easy to learn?

Cribbage rules are pretty straightforward, so learning to play it is relatively easy. Nevertheless, the game involves several different scoring schemes, which might take a while to get used to. I suggest printing the scoring table out for quick references during the first couple of games.

Is Ace-King-Queen a run in Cribbage?

No. Since Cribbage considers Ace the lowest card and King the highest card, these two cards stand on the opposite sides of the scale and do not constitute a run of consecutive cards.

Can Cribbage be played with three people?

Cribbage is originally intended for two players, but it is not impossible to play it in a group of three either. 

The main difference is in the dealing: Each of the three players gets only five cards, plus there’s one face-down card for the dealer’s crib. Each player also discards only one additional card to the crib (instead of two), so the crib’s total remains four cards.

It is also recommended to get a three-track pegboard if you plan to play Cribbage in a group of three.

Other Similar Games to Cribbage (Our Guides) 

Looking for more similar games? Check out our guides and instructions for the following Cribbage alternatives: 

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Read all the articles (17) written by Lucia Fajnerova