Card Game Tweaks: Cribbage

Cribbage is a fantastic card game. Between choosing cards for the crib and pegging, it allows for a healthy dose of strategizing around the random cards that are dealt. It’s been a staple of my family gatherings my entire life. With that in mind, it’s easy to consider cribbage a finished game with no room for improvement. Of course, that didn’t stop me from tweaking it and looking for improvements!

A refresher on the crib mechanic

In the original two-player version of the game, each player is dealt six cards. Each person chooses two of those cards to put in the “crib”. The recipient of the crib alternates each turn. Whoever gets the crib on any given turn gets to count the points from that crib as if it were a second hand. Each player always knows the two cards they added to the crib and how those cards may help the crib owner that turn.


Since you’re essentially giving two cards to your opponent every other turn, I decided that this could be the makings of a sabotage mechanic. I decided to use that as the basis for my tweaks.

How did I add a sabotage mechanic?

In this version, three piles of four cards are dealt. One full hand for each person as well as one full crib hand. Each person grabs a hand.


Next, the crib is divided into two sets of two cards. Each person looks at the two crib cards available to them.


Each player must choose one card from their hand to replace with one of the crib cards they can see. After both players have swapped their card, the crib is handed over to the appropriate player.


What was I hoping for?

I wanted to shift the players’ mindset from one that has to give up cards to their opponent to one that gets to sabotage their opponent. Since the two crib cards you can see are dealt directly to the crib rather than to you, you do not feel a sense of ownership over those cards as you do in regular cribbage.

In regular cribbage, players have a tendency to give away the two cards that have the lowest impact on the score of their hand. When they are giving away statistically valuable cards, the player feels that they are giving away points.

In this version, players have the chance to take statistically valuable cards from your opponent while exchanging them with statistically less valuable cards. This essentially allows you to sabotage the value of their crib. However, while you do this, you still must consider how the exchange will affect the value of your hand.

I also wanted to add a greater sense of risk to the game, even when the crib was your own. The usual tendency remains to put cards in the crib that have the lowest impact on your primary hand. However, since you must exchange a card, the possibility exists that you will be forced to give up a card that maximizes the value of your hand.


I got exactly what I was hoping for! There was a bit of an adjustment period when dealing out the cards, but players got over that quickly enough. Players expressed an appreciation for the feeling of “taking” cards from the opponent’s crib as opposed to “giving away” two cards to their opponent.

While there were a few situations where players had to make exchanges that lowered the maximum point value of their hand, this seemed to be treated the same way as any risk that inherently comes with a game that utilizes random card drawing.

The players were already very familiar with the original game so they found this to be a refreshing variation. Additionally, no flaws were identified.

I’m happy with the results and intend to treat this as a valid variation of the game. Now, I’ve got to introduce it to someone who’s never played cribbage before!

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