Crash cribbage and CribbGolf: a review

Crash cribbage
Developed by Joseph Kane. Special board with rules available here

CribbGolf: Pebble Beach Challenge
Designed by Kenneth Stephen Slaker. Boxed game with custom board and pegs, playing cards, dice, score pad, pencils and rules. Published 1999 by JK Games

When someone asks if you play cribbage, what they probably have in mind is the two-player, six-card version that's ubiquitous in tournaments and on the Web. But cribbage comes in many forms, including the original two-player, five-card version that is still played in British pubs, the five-card partnership version that's quite popular in North America (where it is called doubles), and other variants for three, four, six, eight and other numbers of players in both partnership and free-for-all formats. Then there are more offbeat alternatives, such as auction cribbage, where players bid points for the right to count the crib. I'll occasionally play cribbage with a backgammon doubling cube to add spice to money games. And let's not forget loser's cribbage (also called lowball, cribbage to lose, reverse cribbage and a host of other things), in which the game is played to lose rather than to win. Loser's cribbage is especially popular on the Internet, since it can be played online using standard cribbage software. There's even a Web site devoted to this variant.

Belonging to a special category are those variants that tinker with cribbage's most distinctive feature: the board itself. In this article I'll examine two such variants: one straightforward, the other complex.

Crash cribbage

If you've ever played a race-type game such as Sorry! or pachisi in which you can bump into and send back your opponent's tokens, then you'll feel right at home with crash cribbage, the brainchild of American journalist and cribbage enthusiast Joseph Kane. Basically, crash cribbage plays the same as regular cribbage, except that all players' pegs are moved on the same track. If in the course of pegging a score, you reach a hole occupied by an opponent's peg, that peg is crashed and relinquishes the hole to your peg. If you crash your opponent's rear peg, it is moved forward past his front peg, increasing his score. If you crash your opponent's front peg, it is moved backward behind his rear peg, decreasing his score. The amount of the increase or decrease is determined by the distance between your opponent's pegs. For example, if your opponent's pegs are ten holes apart, crashing his rear peg adds ten to his score while crashing his front peg subtracts ten from his score.

You cannot be sent back beyond the starting hole due to a crash. You can win the game if your rear peg is crashed forward. Occasionally crashing an opponent's peg can cause a chain reaction, displacing multiple pegs. Obviously this is more likely to occur if there are three or more players, in which case the game is played free-for-all, rather than in partnerships.

Crashing can have a dramatic impact on how you play your cards. If your opponent's pegs are well-spaced, and his front peg is within reach, it's worth sacrificing a few points to crash him and send him back. This could mean, for instance, taking a simple go instead of a 31-2. Conversely, if you're within a point or two of your opponent's rear peg, you may need to refuse a 15-2 or other pegging score you'd normally take to avoid crashing him forward. Here are some other typical examples.

DEALER  (blue pegs, 62*):

2-Q-?-?  (?-?)
  crib:   ?-?
cut:  10          
   4  Q  4  2  ?   
2-3-4-4  (9-Q)
PONE  (green pegs, 66):

Don't pair the 2. If you're tripled, dealer will score six points and will crash your forward peg back two holes — a double whammy. Take the run instead. This gives up a score on a lot more cards, but at least you won't get crashed as well.


PONE  (blue pegs, 63):

4-?-?-?  (?-?)

   4  ?   
  crib:   ?-?
cut:  A           
6-7-8-8  (J-K)
DEALER  (green pegs, 75*):

Play your 6. You don't fear giving up a five-point peg since this will crash your rear peg up to 81*.


PONE  (blue pegs, 36):

7-?-?-?  (?-?)

   7  ?   
  crib:   ?-?
cut:  9           
5-7-J-K  (A-3)
DEALER  (green pegs, 39*):

Usually you'll be most vulnerable to crashes after you've scored your hand as pone, since this will (hopefully) leave your pegs spaced out. This can also happen if you score an exceptionally large crib as dealer. The aftermath of this can lead to some unorthodox pegging tactics. Here you're dealer after pegging a nice hand as pone. Pair your opponent's 7 lead. Getting tripled is acceptable. Giving up a pair and a go — and getting sent back sixteen holes — is not.


PONE  (blue pegs, 92):

4-?-?-?  (?-?)

   4  ?   
  crib:   ?-?
cut:  9           
5-5-Q-K  (A-6)
DEALER  (green pegs, 94*):

Play a 5 here in normal cribbage, and you'll be laughed at. But the crash possibility means giving up a two-point peg would be disastrous, and that's a lot more likely if you drop a ten-card. Pone could have one of the outstanding Qs or Ks, or could have led from an A-4 magic five. Playing a 5 could give up a pair, but that can only happen if pone has one of two cards. You're willing to accept giving up a 15-6 or a 12-3 to avoid being sent back fourteen holes.


DEALER  (blue pegs, 18*):

8-?-?-?  (?-?)
  crib:   ?-?
cut:  6          
   4  8  ?   
A-4-K-K  (2-Q)
PONE  (green pegs, 15):

Here's the same idea from the opposite perspective. Normally it would be quite reasonable to drop the A here, but you'd love to peg three points and send your opponent fifteen points backwards. So play one of your Ks, holding out the slim hope that you can trap dealer with a lone A that can be paired for a go. (Dealer might have started with A-8-10-10 for example). Note that as soon as dealer scores a small peg, your chances for a big crash vanish.


DEALER  (blue pegs, 72*):

?-?-?-?  (?-?)
  crib:   ?-?
3-4-6-8-10-K  (toss?)
PONE  (green pegs, 79):

Occasionally, crashing can impact your choice of discards. Here's an example where your objective is to give up the first go, so that your rear peg will get crashed forward six holes. Normally you'd toss 10-K from this hand, but here it's worth keeping 3-4-8-10 instead. You'll play out your 3-4 early, hoping that dealer puts the count over 21, in which case he's more likely to get the go if you're left with 8-10 rather than 6-8.


Because of crashing, the order in which you peg a multiple score can be important. In the above example, suppose the play starts like this:

4   3  6  8   "Go"  A (30-3)

Normally dealer would just peg the three points in a single motion. But in crash cribbage you must take the go as soon as you score it, which means after dealer's first A is played, but before the second one is played. The pair would be need to be pegged as a separate action:

4   3  6  8   "Go" (29-1)  A (30-2)

And so the initial single peg for the go crashes your rear peg forward. This question of how exactly to peg a go or last card in combination with another score can be thorny. The interpretation favored by Kane is that players should peg points "immediately after the action that earned the points". So if the pegging had gone like this instead:

4   8  2  3   "Go"

Dealer would peg two points for the pair immediately, then peg one point for the go after you announce it — the exact opposite of the previous case. But if instead of a go, dealer scores last card while pairing you, he would peg the three points all at once, since there is no separate "action" of calling go. If you find this notion difficult to apply, an alternative is to give the scoring player the option of pegging her points separately or together.

Board strategy takes on a whole new meaning in crash cribbage. In fact, the crashing component introduces so much volatility that at long as there is contact between the players (i.e., your pegs are intertwined), I wouldn't worry about conventional board strategy until you approach Fourth Street. Once you're in the endgame though, you must factor crashing into your plans.

For example, here's a case where your opponent seems to be in pretty good position. But you're two holes behind her forward peg, so if you can score a pair or 15 off her opening lead — or if she's kind enough to cut you a J — you'll send her crashing back four pegs into poor position. Unless you've got very good cards, you should play this like you'd play a pegging endgame, sacrificing scoring potential to hold your best pegging hand, preferably four separate cards to maximize your chances of an immediate score. Starting with 2-6-7-9-10-K, keep 2-6-7-K, not 2-6-7-9. Since the 6 and the 9 cover the same leads, there's no need to keep both in your hand, so toss the 9 to make room for a fourth rank. Keep the 2 and 7 to cover a 2, 7 or 8 lead, and keep the K since pone is more likely to lead a K than a 10 if she has a choice.

Now suppose pone cuts a 6 and leads a 3. Normally you might play the K, expecting to retaliate if pone gets a 15-2. Can you see why that would be futile here? When you pair her 2, you'll end up crashing her rear peg forward, giving her an extra two holes. Better to play the 6 instead, hoping that she lacks both of the two remaining 6s. If she does have one, then she's probably got enough points to get into favorable position even without a 15-4. The alternative is to play the 7, but in this position pone will probably take the 15-2 if she has a 5 and will probably take the pair if she has a 7. That's too many losers for my taste.


One curious effect of crashing is that it advantages a player who is way ahead, since crashing her rear peg will only increase her lead. If you get out to an early lead and break contact, it's probably a good idea to keep playing aggressively, since your opponent will need to exercise a bit of caution if she does begin to catch up.

I must say that the idea of crash cribbage initially struck me as a gimmick — an awkward splice of a race game concept onto a card game that uses a board as an accessory to facilitate scorekeeping. But as I played the variant, I became intrigued by the endgame-like pegging complexities that crashing introduces. Crash cribbage will never replace standard cribbage in the hearts of true believers, but it's a fun lunchtime game, or one to whip out on a Saturday afternoon at weekend tournaments when the diehards are looking for a pickup game. It may also appeal to casual players, or to young children who lack the patience to focus through an entire cribbage game. Give it a try if you have three or more players who are willing to play cutthroat (each player for himself). The interaction of all those pegs can make for a real bumper car adventure.

Kane maintains the "official" rules of crash cribbage on his Web site. He will also sell you a special cribbage board with a conventional two-track "M" design on one side, and a special single-track layout designed for crash cribbage on the other side. The wood board measures 15 x 3 x inches — about average for a non-tournament board — and is pretty well constructed, though it does comes with cheap plastic pegs (sixteen total in four colors). The designs are printed in red and black ink. A minor quibble with the crash cribbage design (shown at left) is that the figure-eight shape of the single track makes it easy to accidentally peg backwards. You might want to add directional arrows with a Sharpie pen. Of course you could also play crash cribbage with a conventional board using only one track, though each player will need to have visually distinct pegs.

CribbGolf: Pebble Beach Challenge

If knocking your opponent's pegs around the board isn't your cup of tea, but you do enjoy knocking a little white ball around an outdoor obstacle course, then you might try CribbGolf: Pebble Beach Challenge, perhaps the most esoteric cribbage variant ever invented. CribbGolf is a boxed commercial game. It comes with a deck of cards, a score pad and pencils, rules, dice, four pairs of custom pegs shaped like a golf ball on a tee, and a custom cribbage board. The latter, made of thick cardboard and measuring 9 x 22 x inches, is a thing of beauty, an aerial view of the Pebble Beach Golf Links with three tracks of peg holes, each tracing a unique route through the course.

Detail of the 5th holeCribbGolf accommodates two to six players. Card play follows all the rules of standard cribbage, except that as dealer you can take His Heels by either pegging two holes yourself or by requiring another player to do so. The reason you might want to do the latter is because the board is riddled with different types of golf hazards. The 5th golf hole (shown at right) features most of them: tree hazards (marked by a T), sand traps, a rough hazard (on the red track adjacent to the tee), and an out-of-bounds (OB) hazard. Some of the other golf holes feature water hazards. The rules governing these hazards are complex. If you peg into a water hazard you are assessed one penalty stroke (more on these later) and must move back one peg hole. Out-of-bounds is similar except that you are assessed two penalty strokes and must move back to where the pegging started (i.e., you lose the current score). There are no penalty strokes for pegging into a tree hazard, but you do have to move back two peg holes. Sand traps and rough hazards require you to roll dice, then apply the result to a formula based on the hole's par to determine whether you:

  • advance one peg hole and take no penalty strokes
  • remain in the sand trap and take one penalty stroke, or
  • advance three peg holes and receive a stroke off

A final type of hazard is three-putting, which requires you to roll the dice twice to determine whether you are assessed a penalty stroke or else advance one peg hole. You're at risk of a three-putt when you land on the green in the peg hole furthest from the pin — but only if that green has three holes, and then only if the track you're on happens to use all three. Unfortunately it's not always obvious whether this is the case, since the tracks are not explicitly marked on the greens. On the 5th golf hole, for instance, the red track has a three-putting hazard (the third peg hole from the tee), but the blue and yellow tracks both bypass this hazard, and use only two of the peg holes on the green. Got that?

A different ambiguity arises if retreating or advancing from one hazard dumps you into a second hazard. Except for water hazards, this scenario is not covered explicitly in the rules. My recommendation is that you ignore the penalty for the second hazard, since you can otherwise find yourself vacillating between two adjacent hazards.

The plethora of hazards often gives rise to contrarian pegging tactics. If you're two peg holes short of a nasty hazard, you'll want to avoid taking 15s and pairs in the pegging. Your hope is to stay out of the hazard long enough to count your hand, which will presumably move you beyond it. Occasionally you and your opponent(s) will each be trying to avoid pegging scores. The game then resembles loser's cribbage, as players lead 5s, run the count to 21, and try to trap their opponents into runs.

Each of the golf holes is labeled with its par, and with numbers for each track indicating the number of peg holes contained within the golf hole. For example, the 5th hole is par three, and each of the tracks has five peg holes from tee to pin (inclusive). Most of the other golf holes are longer — up to par five with seventeen peg holes. Many of the peg "holes", specifically those that correspond to water, tree and out-of-bounds hazards, do not actually have a physical hole drilled in the board, since your peg will be moved back if you land there.

At certain points on the board (as can be seen on the 18th golf hole at left), the tracks cross. If you land in a peg hole occupied by another player's peg, the latter is bumped forward one peg hole in a manner reminiscent of crash cribbage. You can bump your opponent into a hazard this way.

As the games goes on, you peg continuously from golf hole to golf hole, staying in your selected track throughout. Since each track has 182 total peg holes, with plenty of hazards along the way, CribbGolf takes longer to play than regular cribbage — 45 minutes is about average for two players. The game ends when one player pegs out on the 18th green. That player is not necessarily the winner, however, and this brings me to the subject of scoring. You see, pegging cribbage scores is only a means to an end in CribbGolf. Your real objective is to finish the course with the lowest possible golf score.

For each golf hole, you make par by pegging all the way through it without incurring any penalty strokes. It doesn't matter how many separate scores it takes you to get from tee to pin, nor are you required to start exactly on the tee hole or land exactly in the pin hole. If you do incur penalty strokes (by falling into hazards), these are added to the golf hole's par, resulting in a bogey, double-bogey, triple-bogey or worse. Birdies and eagles are more complicated, and there are even special rules for par-five holes. But basically you score a birdie by pegging through an entire golf hole in one pegging action. You score an eagle by starting in the tee of a particular golf hole and ending exactly in the pin hole in one pegging action. Do this through two golf holes in one action, and it's a double eagle. Birdies subtract one stroke from par, eagles subtract two, and double eagles subtract three. Since golf holes are from five to seventeen peg holes in length, you can usually score birdies and eagles only through counting your hand (though an exceptionally large crib or pegging score may also do). As in normal golf, the lowest score totaled over the entire course wins. So an important tactical goal in CribbGolf is to position yourself so that your hand count can score a birdie or eagle. Usually this means trying to get lined up right at a tee hole, or just behind it, through aggressive or defensive pegging.

Finishing the course first does get you a two-stroke bonus, and adds penalties to the scores of the other players depending on how far back they are. Most of the time that will be enough to win if your opponent are far behind or if the golf scores are close. Strategy in CribbGolf consists of finding the right balance between playing to finish first, and playing to maximize your birdies and eagles and minimize your penalty strokes.

If all this isn't abstruse enough for you, it's possible to add a number of optional stakes-on-the-side that imitate the kinds of side bets that are popular with weekend golfers (pin stakes, sandies, barkies, etc.). And that's just in the basic version! There is also an advanced rules booklet with a head-spinning array of optional scoring formats and rules variations. If you're prepared to devote your life to CribbGolf, there is plenty here to keep you busy.

In the final analysis, CribbGolf is a novelty item that unapologetically appeals to those already enthusiastic about golf and cribbage. If this describes you and if you have the patience to assimilate the game's convoluted rules, or even if you simply enjoy collecting beautiful games and cribbage boards, then try to get your hands on a copy. CribbGolf was originally published in 1991, and the Pebble Beach Challenge edition was released to coincide with the 2000 US Open (though the game bears a 1999 copyright date). At present it seems to be out of print, and the contact number provided with the rules is inactive (I won my copy at a cribbage tournament). The earlier edition seems to have some value as a collectable, currently fetching $45-50 in auctions, so if you do find a copy, keep it in good condition.

The designer of CribbGolf, Kenneth Slaker, published a CribbDerby game in 1995 that combines cribbage with a horse racing simulation. I've never seen it, but if the idea intrigues you, keep an eye out for it as you hunt for CribbGolf. You might try one of the online auction sites, or a retailer specializing in board games.


It's human nature to search for a new take on an old game, hence the seemingly endless flow of cribbage variants. Most of these have a short shelf-life, and that may be true of the two reviewed here. But don't dismiss them out of hand. After all, the modern six-card game we all know and love evolved as a series of refinements to the original five-card version — imagine holding three cards and playing to 31 only once per deal! Crash cribbage is definitely worth trying out as a change of pace from conventional cribbage. If you have enough different colored or shaped pegs, then you don't even need a special board. CribbGolf: Pebble Beach Challenge is much more complex and specialized, and finding a copy of the game may be difficult. But like mud wrestling and Irish tenors, it has something to offer for the right audience.

- December 2002

Click here for a guide to cribbage notation and symbols.

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