Cribbage has been around since the 1600s. Poet Sir John Suckling of England first popularized it and described the rules of cribbage in roughly their modern form. Cribbage (originally spelt “cribbidge” – not “cribage”) is a fairly straightforward development of an earlier game called Noddy, Suckling’s main contribution being the ‘crib’ that gives the modern game its name. It was originally played with five cards rather than six, as is now the standard, but the play and strategy are almost identical and the five-card game still survives, especially in the UK.

Amusing, but quite possibly specious historical note: James Masters, author of the excellent Online Guide to Traditional Games writes:

Suckling apparently distributed large numbers of packs of marked cards to the aristocratic set and then went around the country playing them at Cribbage for money, managing to earn himself around £20,000 (about £4 million in today’s money).

The so-called cribbage board predates Cribbage by many hundreds of years and has been used for scoring many other games, especially pub games. However in the last few centuries the traditional board has been indelibly associated with Cribbage, and customized boards like the ’29’ have been developed especially for it.

Noddy and Early Cribbage

Justin du Coeur has described the rules of Noddy, based upon the seventeenth-century writer Francis Willughby’s Volume of Plaies, circa 1665.

It seems that Noddy is surprisingly similar to modern cribbage, with a couple of exceptions. There are only three cards dealt to each player, no discard, and hence no crib. The turn-up card is counted in both players’ hands. Game is 31 points.

Early Cribbage (before the nineteenth century) is 5 cards per player, discarding 2 to the dealer’s crib: the innovation which gives the game its name. The turn-up card counts as part of the crib, meaning that the dealer can score 9 cards to pone’s 4. To counter this dealer advantage, pone scores 3 before the first deal. Otherwise play is as modern cribbage.