What is Muggins, Reverse Muggins, and Multingators?

Cribbage is a great two-person game that can be played at home, a coffee shop, or a student lounge between classes.  As a matter of fact, Cribbage is my favorite two-person game and I like playing it with my friend during breakfast at Perkins.  Cribbage can be played in a variety of ways and with some more strict rules.

What is Muggins?  Muggins is an optional Cribbage rule that penalizes a player for failing to properly count their cards, or failing to peg appropriately.  It also simultaneously rewards the other player for being able to identify this error in Cribbage scoring.  Here’s how it works:

After a player shows their cards, counts their points, and pegs on the cribbage board the other player may notice an error.  Once the pegging is complete the other player can call “Muggins”.  This means that he has identified an error in the scoring.  That player will then identify the error, and if they are correct, then they are permitted to take those points for themselves.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  The player that made the error is NOT permitted to take those points.  So Muggins is actually a DOUBLE PENALTY, because not only does it allow one player to get extra points but the other player also loses an equal amount of points.

Reverse Muggins is also in Effect

What is Reverse Muggins?  Reverse Muggins is when a player calls, “Muggins” and then proceeds to identify the error.  However, oops, there is no error.  They called Muggins for an error that didn’t exist.  In this circumstance the other player is awarded those points.  If the exact number of points cannot be clearly determined than a 2 point minimum is awarded.

Reverse Muggins prevent players from arbitrarily calling Muggins on every play.

Basic Explanation of Cribbage Scoring

There are many ways to get points in cribbage.  Runs of cards are worth 1 point for each card in the run.  For example, if a player has an 8, 9, and 10 of any suit then this three card run is worth 3 points.  If the player had a 7, 8, 9, and 10 unsuited, then that four card run would be worth 4 points.

Pairs are worth 2 points.  So if you had two 3’s than those would be worth 2 points.  If you had two 3’s and two Kings then each pair would be worth 2 points for a total of 4 points.

Players are also awarded 2 points for cards that total 15 when added together.  Therefore if you have a 10 and 5 then those cards have a value of 2 cribbage points.  Likewise a 9 and 6 is also worth 2 points.  NOTE: For the purpose of adding, all face cards have a value of 10 and Aces are equal to 1.

Our Guide for How to Play Cribbage provides a more detailed explanation of Cribbage Rules.

When Muggins Most Frequently Occurs

Muggins frequently occurs when the scoring isn’t easy to observe.

Runs are straight forward, but when you make it is a double card run it can be harder to count.  For example: a 2, 2, 3, and 4 is worth a total of 8 points.

Explanation:  2, 3, and 4 is 3 points, and then the other 2 with the same 3 and 4 is another 3 points, and finally the pair of 2’s is 2 more points.

Pairs may seem simple too, but combination pairs are easily miscounted.  Consider a hand with three 4’s.  These pairs are worth a total of 6 points.

Explanation:  In this example let’s say you are holding a 4 of hearts, a 4 of diamonds, and a 4 of clubs.

The 4 of hearts and 4 of diamonds is worth 2 pointsthe 4 of hearts and 4 of clubs is worth 2 points, and the 4 of diamonds and 4 of clubs is worth 2 points.

Combinations of cards that equal 15 become increasingly harder to identify when more than two cards are involved.  A cribbage hand containing an Ace, 2, 5, and 7 equals 15 and therefore worth 2 cribbage points

Explanation:  When holding a 5 in your hand the tendency is to look for complimentary 10’s, Jacks, Queens, and Kings to equal 15 and score 2 points.  In the previous example the other three cards (Ace, 2 and 7) total 10 and can pair with the 5 to equal 15.  These points are often subject Muggins.

Prior to playing out the hands the remaining cards in the deck are cut and the top card is turned over.  This card is then available to all players for scoring, including the crib hand.  The suit of this card paired with the corresponding Jack of that same suit is worth 1 point.

Explanation:  If the top card that is flipped over is a 2 of spades.  Then a player holding the Jack of spade earns 1 cribbage point.  This point is easily overlooked.

Putting all of this together can create some complicated hands to count with points that are hard to find.  Look at this example, a cribbage hand with a 3 of clubs, a 3 of hearts, a 4 of spades, a 5 of diamonds, and a 5 of hearts flipped from the deck.  This hand is worth a total of 20 points.  Did you find all of the points?

Explanation:       3 of clubs, 4 of spades, 5 of diamonds – 3 points, 3 of clubs, 4 of spades, 5 of hearts – 3 points, 3 of hearts, 4 of spades, 5 of diamonds – 3 points, 3 of hearts, 4 of spades, 5 of hearts – 3 points, Pair of 3’s – 2 points, Pair of 5’s – 2 points, 3 of clubs, 3 of hearts, 4 of spades, and 5 of diamonds = 15 – 2 points, 3 of clubs, 3 of hearts, 4 of spades, and 5 of hearts = 15 – 2 points.

To Muggins or Not to Muggins

The great thing about cribbage is that it is just as fun to play without using Muggins.  Choosing the cards to dump into the crib, the play, and the other associated variables still allow the game to flow with strategy and competition.

Obviously, whenever you are teaching the game to a new player you should not play with Muggins.  Learning the game requires attention to other finer details and losing points with Muggins to a more advanced player will only serve to frustrate the newbie. 

As I mentioned earlier, I love to play cribbage with my friend, over a hot Perkins breakfast, while we are catching up with each other.  The game is something that we both enjoy, but it also keeps our minds occupied as we communicate with one another.  Some of our best fellowship has occurred while playing cribbage and drinking coffee.

It is during these moments when relating to friend is more important than winning cribbage.  Implementing the Muggins rule would only serve to distract us from the priority of our meeting which is encouragement, accountability, and personal growth.  So, there are many times that we play without Muggin each other.

Multingators and Muggins

What is a Multingator?  A multingator is a term that we use when referring to hands that are worth 16 points or more. 

Multingators are hands that are extremely high risk for being mugged.  This fun term multi (many) and gator (dangerous) is a high point hand that has a lot of dangerous exposure to Muggins.  A more experienced player can use this terminology to help warn beginner players to proceed with caution when counting their points.

The Cribbage mentor could say, “Wow, be careful there are a lot of points there!” or “Looks like a multingator.,” can also be stated as a friendly reminder to be careful when counting points.

Three-Person Cribbage and Muggins

During two-person cribbage each player is dealt 6 cards and both players are required to discard 2 of their cards into the crib.  The dealer then uses the crib to count additional points at the end of their turn.  The crib is alternated between each player as they take turns dealing.

In three-person cribbage all players are dealt 5 cards.  The dealer then deals one card into the crib and all players also discard one of their cards into the crib too.  The order of play continues the same as two player cribbage and the dealer still counts the crib at the end of their turn.

Muggins gets a little more complicated here because two players are competing for these points.  As a general rule “Muggins” shouldn’t be called until pegging is completed.  Due to this specific timing it is not uncommon for Muggins to be called at the same time. 

What do we do when Muggins is called simultaneously?  If Muggins is clearly called at the same time then both players should be awarded the points.  The purpose of Muggins is to reward the players calling Muggins and to place a penalty on the player that miscounted.  So if both players are awarded the points Muggins still maintains its intended consequences.

Three-person cribbage isn’t as fun as two-person cribbage and there are a number of other games that are more fun to play with three players – Settlers of Catan and King of Tokyo to name a few. 

I have found that the best time to play three-person cribbage is when you are planning a game night and you want to play a quick game with the early arrivals while waiting for other game players that tend to show up a little later.

Muggins Conclusion

If you are a highly competitive Cribbage player, who competes in cribbage tournaments, then Muggins is an extremely important part of your game.  It may actually make the difference in winning or losing the tournament.

However, if your goal is to just connect with an important friend, or to kill time between classes, cribbage can be equally enjoyable without implementing the Muggins Rule.

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