When is a board game more than a board game? Well, how about when it's also a card game?
And, in this case the combination is a classic winner.
Of course what we're talking about this week is the game of cribbage, a game which was first introduced in 1630.
Of course it's no surprise this game has withstood the test of time, because it has just a ton of features which makes the game endearing.
The game was created by Sir John Suckling, a man with a definite flair for being creative. Cribbage has one of the most interested array of scoring possibilities of any game out there. In fact, at first glance it all looks rather chaotic in the way you can score points by counting 15s, 31, runs, pairs, three-of-a-kind, flushes, and even when cutting a Jack, for what is called 'nibs'. As wild as it all seems, the learning curve is easy, and the game play smooth.
It is also interesting how the dealer actually ends up scoring from essentially two hands, since players toss cards into a 'crib' which stays hidden until the hand plays out, and the dealer then gets to score points out of the crib too.
With each score you peg along the board, with the winner the first to 121 points.
It is possible to score a maximum of 29 from a hand, although you can play a lot of games and never see a perfect hand, one reason when you do it is often something local newspapers in smaller communities will run in the news.
The diverse ways to score is one of the most interesting aspects of the game because the players' choices on which cards to toss to the crib, and how to play out a hand actually do influence scoring, something many card games lack by the sheer randomness of drawing cards.
The game is also highly portable, and that is a huge asset. It should be standard gear for anyone heading to the lake, or out camping, just in case bad weather keeps you in doors. Cribbage can help the hours pass.
Interestingly too, cribbage can be played by two, three, or four players. Few card games can boost that, at least doing it as well as cribbage. The game plays as well with three, as it does with two, as an example. That makes it a great game for husband and wife, or for when two couples get together, and even if grandpa shows up and you need to go three-handed.
While cribbage seems near perfect in terms of what it offers as a card game, like most things there have been efforts to enhance and improve the game. For example in 2002 a wild deck expansion was released by TDF Artists. The deck of 32 cards sits on the table with players drawing one and following the instructions, which of course impact the game, anytime they score off a five card.
There has also been a larger board produced with various spots where players can take short cuts, or are forced longer routes depending on where their scoring takes them.
Another board design called crash cribbage was released in 1999 from designer Joe Kane, which has players pegging on a board in the shape of an '8' which means players can actually crash into each other's pegs, pushing them ahead, or back depending on the situation. If you hit your opponent's tail peg you will send it forward, if you hit your opponent's head peg you will send it backward.
The expansions, or variants, are at best a novelty, for a game that really never needed improvement.
As it is plain old cribbage offers easy portability, the smooth mechanics for two, three, or four players, interesting scoring, and enough tactical decisions for players to have an impact on the game. A total package to be enjoyed.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 27, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada