Shopping for Cribbage Boards

As you know, Sena and I have been relearning how to play cribbage, a traditional card game using a special peg board for keeping score and about a million rules. They say cribbage is a game that takes 20 minutes to learn and 20 years to master.

We’re having a lot of fun learning. We bought a set for about ten bucks. It’s a folding board, a little over 14 inches long and 3 and a half inches wide. The pegs are plastic and can be stored in a shallow slot on the back of the board—not protected by the plastic sliding cover. We found that out one day; luckily the pegs weren’t lost. You can find these in most hobby and big box stores where you live. We’re shopping for a new cribbage board.

The cribbage set came with a simplified set of rules, which you can read with a standard magnifying glass. The peg board has 121 holes and you sort of race around the board to see who gets to 121 first, pegging your progress by scoring special combinations of cards from a standard 52 card deck like cards whose pip values add up to 15; pairs; 3 and 4 card runs like 6, 7, 8: flushes and so on. Then you score your hand and your crib (an extra hand that only the dealer gets and to which both the dealer and non-dealer contribute). Because there are so many opportunities to score during the game, it’s a lot easier to peg it out on the cribbage board. You can find all the rules on the American Cribbage Congress (ACC) website. The basic game is for two players although there are 3 and 4-handed versions.

Because our board is a little on the small side, we’d like something bigger and easier to read. I’m not a shopper by any means, but I’m learning about the variety of boards out there.

As usual you can find anything on Amazon, but what we’re looking for is something large and for that we have to look in other places. It turns out there are tournament boards that the ACC recommends and uses in the many tournaments around the country. You won’t find tournament boards just anywhere. You most likely won’t find them in any local store where you live.

There are tournament boards that have two straight rows that go for 60 holes up and back (to cut down on pegging errors) and a line across the board at the 90 mark, which is the skunk line. If you don’t make it past the skunk line, you have the right to be embarrassed. It means you will never be a cribbage player worth two cents, probably lose your job, your home, end up in the gutter, be kidnapped by aliens, taken to another planet in a distant galaxy and displayed in a zoo for the rest of your natural life, living on a diet of wild hickory nuts, which the aliens think all earthlings survive on.

That means you should study cribbage closely and for that you need the right kind of board. We like to have numbers printed on the board—but it turns out the official tournament boards don’t have them. When I think about it, I guess it makes sense. There are only two peg holes worth paying attention to and that’s the one where the skunk line is and the 120th.

But it just looks nicer to have the numbers on the board. We’ve shopped around a little. There is a tournament board that is a special V-type version. There are two rows but the 2nd row slants away from your opponent, making it even easier to peg.

There’s a guy in Florida who makes a V-type with all the numbers and even images of little skunks on it. It’s a little bigger than ours, made of hickory and comes with one of three top playing surfaces to choose from: Cherry, Maple, and interestingly, something called Beetle Kill Pine which is wood from thousands of acres of pine trees that have been killed by a beetle that injects it with a dye, giving a bluish cast to the grain. He doesn’t mention whether the boards are disinfected or not. The board runs about 75 dollars if you buy the cloth carry bag (65 dollars if not and that doesn’t count shipping). The maker is very honest and tells you that he can’t promise that the pegs he makes will fit the holes. Hmmmm.

There are mom and pop outfits in places like Canada and Rhode Island which specialize in hand-crafted game items and they make gorgeous cribbage boards, one of which will set you back over 100 dollars. It’s about 29 and a half inches long and about 8 inches wide and the pegs are 2 and a half inches long. It’s called the Imperial, and well it should at the price. The same outfit also has another model which I later learned is a Century model, a vintage board with a busy top surface along with the peg holes around the edges. There are several different peg holes that allow you to score other things like skunks, “legs” (which I think are different from games and matches, but I’m not sure, unless it’s for how many of your legs the aliens hack off for every skunk you lose by), hickory nut brownie recipes, and ways to score up to about 900 points, for what I don’t know. There’s so much stuff on the board it’ll make your head swim, but it’s the least pricey of the higher end bunch we’ve been looking at. It goes for 50 bucks. Part of the description of the company says the founders “…believed that quality materials and painstaking engineering were tantamount.” I think they meant “paramount”.

The place in Canada makes pretty boards out of Canadian Hard Maple. The largest one is about 27 inches long by 8 inches wide and has a stowaway slot for the metal pegs and a deck of cards. Most storage compartments on cribbage boards have the kind of slots we have on our cheapo board, with a little cover that slides over the slot, which falls off and allows the pegs to escape to their everlasting freedom down the floor heat register. The Canadian model (called the Jumbo) has an artsy carved wooden cap which is secured by “powerful rare earth magnets.” Have fun playing if you can get the cap off. It’s priced at 65 dollars and that’s with the storage bag.

You know, our little 10 dollar folding cribbage board does get the job done. Happy holidays!

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