Tabletop Game / Cribbage

A rare combination of a card game and a board game, players advance pegs on a pegboard to race to the end of a track based on rounds of card play.

Invented in the 17th century as a variant of a now largely-forgotten game called "Noddy," Cribbage has become one of the most commonly played games in the English-speaking world. Its ongoing popularity can be largely attributed to the game being easy to learn, inexpensive, and highly portable (a typical board is about half the size of a hardcover book, and the only other item needed is a standard 52-card deck). Cribbage only requires rudimentary arithmetic skills to play, so even children can learn it. The game can sound difficult to learn, though, because scoring is announced aloud by each player, and its Baroque-era origins have laden it with archaic jargon that sounds to an outsider like the players are speaking in shibboleths and incantations. note 

The most iconic item in the game, the pegboard, is nothing more than a scorekeeping device. Players use a pair of pegs to mark their scores, with the winner being the first to reach 121 points, and some boards also have spaces to mark things like total wins or tournament points. A game can be played with a notepad and pencil instead of a board, but this doesn't happen often as a practical matter. The holes are typically grouped in bunches of five to make counting easy, and scoring also happens rapidly, so it's quicker and easier to simply move the back peg of the pair X holes beyond the lead peg than it is to constantly rewrite scores on paper, and is less prone to making arithmetical errors.

That said, anyone who can add numbers up to 15, and from there to 31, has the necessary skills to learn to play.


Tropes common to Cribbage include:

  • Calling Your Attacks: Scoring is announced out loud through all phases of the game.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Called "skunking" your opponent if you beat them by 31 or more points. In Tournament Play, counts as 1.5 wins.
  • Failed a Spot Check: If you fail to announce points (usually because of oversight), you forfeit them. In particularly cutthroat games ("muggins"), your opponent claims them to boot.
  • I Know You Know I Know: During the play/pegging round, figuring out the likely cards your opponent still holds, and making plays to frustrate them, is the key to gaining a points advantage for this part of the game — especially if you can make a play that throws your opponent off the scent.
  • Insistent Terminology: Hoo boy. The game's 17th century origins carry a linguistic baggage that's baffling to newbies. You don't make straights, you make "runs." You don't have three of a kind, you have "pairs royal." You don't have four of a kind, you have "double pairs royal." The suit of a Jack in your hand is the same suit as the cut card ("starter")? Not a match, but rather "nobs." The starter was a Jack? Not a bonus for the dealer, but rather "heels."
  • Metagame: Analysis of which cards to keep, and which cards to give to the crib, can be calculated to expected values down to fractions of a point for each possible hand combination. Accurate choices are the biggest determining factor to long-term success.
  • Morton's Fork: You must give cards to the crib. Sometimes, this means you're either robbing yourself of points, or guaranteeing points to the dealer, or both, no matter which cards you choose.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Jack turns up frequently for extra points, whether as a 1-point bonus for nobs, or a 2-point bonus for heels.
  • Tournament Play: Played at local club levels, and the annual American Cribbage Congress open tournament in Reno, Nevada is the world's largest.
  • Xanatos Gambit: During the play/pegging round, playing a card that ensures any reasonable play your opponent makes gives you more points.
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