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While many other publishers seem to pad out the packaging for their games to maximise the box size, Oink Games have built a niche for often innovative games tightly packaged in a small box. Case in point, Scout: a quick but clever card game with simple rules, packed into a box with dimensions 6.5 x 11 x 3.5 cm.

Designed by Kei Kajino, Scout is a ‘ladder-climbing’ card game played with cards that show a different number on the top and bottom. The one counterintuitive aspect of the game is that players wait till all their cards are dealt before they pick up their hand and they cannot organise their hand in any way; at the start of the round tho’ you can simply decide which way up to hold the hand (ie: whether you are playing with the numbers that were at the top or those that were on the bottom of the card.

The 3-5 players each have a hand of cards from which they can play either a single card, multiples or a run, but the card(s) they play have to beat what was played by the previous player. Playing cards in this way is a ‘show’ action. If the previous card play was a singleton, then it’s beaten by a higher value card or a ‘run’ of two cards. Multiples beat runs but runs that use more cards beat multiples. The runs or multiples tho’ have to be adjacent in your hand: remember you’re not allowed to organise the cards you were dealt. When you ‘show’ (beat the previous card play), you take the cards you beat and each of those cards will score you a point at the end of the round.

On your turn, you can as an alternative take a ‘scout’ action. This lets you take into your hand one of the end cards from the previous player. You can orient the card either way (ie: use either the value on its top or bottom half) and position it anywhere in your hand. In this way, you can therefore sculpt your hand to create multiples or a run. When you ‘scout’, the player you scouted earns a token that’s worth a point. And just once per round, players can take a ‘scout & show’ action (ie: they can both ‘scout’ and ‘show’ on the same turn).

The game ends when a player has got rid of all the cards in their hand or if their turn comes around and no-one has taken those cards with a ‘show’ action. When this happens, everyone scores a point for all the cards and tokens they have collected but they lose a point for each card left in their hand. When the game ends because a player’s turn has come round with their ‘show’ still in place, that player just discards their hand (ie: they avoid the negative points). The game is played over a number of rounds equal to the number of players.

There are special rules for a two-player version of the game but even with three players you won’t see Scout at its best: this is game that really shines with four or five players. And even with a full complement of five players, and so five rounds, you can expect to complete a game in a filler-length 20 minutes.

Tho’ Scout has simple rules, there’s a subtlety to the way in which the ‘scout’ action works. Players new to the game tend only to ‘scout’ when they don’t have a ‘show’ action available to them (ie: they can’t beat the previous play) but canny players may well choose to forego a ‘show’ in order to ‘scout’ a card that can give them a run or multiple that will be hard for other players to beat. It’s perhaps only here that the game’s wafer-thin thematic veneer comes through: you can think of an unbeatable run or multiple play as a ‘showstopper’ – in keeping with the otherwise barely perceptible Circus theme.

Scout was a nominee for coveted Spiel des Jahres award in 2022. Tho’ it didn’t take this year’s prize, it’s a card game that’s likely to have a shelf life at least as long as some of the recent award winners.

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