The History of Cribbage: A Game that Brings People Together

Played by people of all ages all over the world, cribbage is a game that creates connections and brings people together. For some, it is a way to teach their young children simple math; for others, it is a way to bond with a parent or grandparent. Whether you’re a cribbage tournament champion or a new player excited to learn the game, it’s good to know the history of cribbage.

Cribbage is beloved by travelers and sailors alike, as all you need to play is a simple board (or pen and paper) for keeping score and a deck of cards. In fact, the history of cribbage is very closely tied to seafarers thanks to the game’s ease of travel.

 

Where did Cribbage Originate?

 

As we dive into the history of cribbage, let’s answer two questions:

 

  • Where did cribbage come from?
  • Why has cribbage remained the same for hundreds of years?

 

1. Where did Cribbage Come From?

While the exact origin of the history of cribbage is unclear, it is widely accepted that cribbage was created in the 17th century by Sir John Suckling, an English poet and gambler. John Aubrey, the biographer, says that Suckling was one of the greatest players of cards and bowls, and that he was also a massive cheater. He is reported to have sent marked decks to his friends across England and proceeded to tour the country, ‘teaching’ them how to play cribbage and winning thousands of pounds. However, gambling is not all winning, and at the end of Suckling’s story, he lost it all.

 

2. Why has Cribbage Remained Essentially Unchanged?

The answer to this question is often attributed to none other than Charles Dickens. He depicts cribbage in his novel The Old Curiosity Shop, which was first printed as a part of a serial publication and was so popular that it was printed in book form in 1841. This important part of the history of cribbage secured the way the game was played in writing, so that it has remained the same.

 

How did Cribbage Spread?

The history of cribbage can be traced back to sailors playing cribbage while away at sea, where it spread through the British Empire and all the way to North America.

Fun history of cribbage fact: Cribbage has been the official game of American submariners since commander Dick O'Kane got a perfect hand while playing cribbage right before he sank a record number of enemy boats during his patrol. The cribbage board that he used in this game is still passed on to the oldest active submarine in the American fleet.

 

How has Cribbage Changed Over the Years?

Based on what is known about the original forms and the history of cribbage, the way we play cribbage today is essentially the same as when it was created. In terms of games that continue to exist in their original form, cribbage resides along with other notable games such as chess and backgammon. As with all games, there are some ‘house rules’ that may vary slightly. Here’s a great resource for the official rules.

 

Who Plays Cribbage?

Cribbage can be played by anyone and everyone. It is not a game that is exclusive to older people; some even use it as a great way to teach children simple math and strategy. With the history of cribbage, the game has evolved from a way to pass the time to a more serious hobby, with some players even engaging in tournaments.

 

How is Cribbage Played?

Check out this blog for detailed instructions on how to play cribbage. Or, read our quick list of what you need to know to get started:

  1. Cribbage is played with a standard 52 card deck.
  1. Playing cribbage can be done with either two or three players. This list focuses on the player version as it is the most popular.
  1. Play is to 121 points (or 61 if you are playing a half-game).
  1. A cribbage board is typically used to track points. If you don’t have a board handy, a pen and paper will work.
  1. To determine who gets first crib, each player draws a random card (that must be at least three from the top or bottom of the deck). Lowest card deals and gets first crib.
  1. Each player is dealt six cards.
  1. Two cards from each player go to the crib.
  1. Once everyone has ‘thrown’ their cards, the deck is cut, and a card is turned up. This card comes into play at the end of the round when players are counting the points in their hands. If a Jack cuts, the dealer gets two points.
  1. Play begins with the non-dealer laying a card. The dealer then follows by laying one of their own cards and adding the total. Play goes back and forth until the count reaches 31, or a card cannot be played without exceeding that.
  1. The round then restarts, and the remaining cards are played in the same fashion until all cards have been played.
  1. Either play may score points during the round from pairs, triples, runs, 15s, or 31s. What this means is that if Player A plays a nine and Player B plays a six to make 15, Player B gets two points. If Player A then plays another six, Player A would get two points for the pair.
  1. Once all the cards have been played, each player counts the points in their own hand. The non-dealer counts first.
  1. The cut card is considered part of both players’ hands and can be used when calculating points.
  1. Similar to during play, points are given for pairs, triples, runs, and 15s. 15s can be made using any number of cards available.
  1. Once each player has counted their hands, the dealer then goes to count their crib.
  1. After the hand has been counted, the cards are gathered, the other player becomes the dealer, and play continues.

 

As with many games, playing cribbage is a combination of skill, strategy, and luck. Wood map cribbage boards are a great way to make the game more personal and to commemorate a special memory or connection you have. In particular, think about your last trip, whether it was to the Great Lakes or Italy or Ireland, and how a cribbage board with a detailed map of your favorite locale can help you keep those memories near.

The history of cribbage is quite interesting. It’s exciting to play cribbage in its original form and to make and honor your own history and traditions with it. The game is nuanced and is enjoyed by travelers of all ages, bringing people together from all over the world.


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