14 August 2022
Circus entrepreneurs go for the juggler
If you’re not familiar with Oink Games’ output, they have been responsible for an instantly recognisable lineup of little-box games that fight against the constraints of their diminutive size with inventive design twists. Titles like Nine Tiles Panic and Startups combine clean, striking artwork and an offbeat style to create a distinctive house style that often – though not always – results in a memorable experience.
Scout is the latest in the range. More than in some previous titles, the theme is more sprinkled over the top than baked into the core mechanics. You have been put in charge of a circus – ‘suddenly’ as the rulebook would have it – but for some reason you have no acts. So I guess technically you’ve inherited some striped tents and lorries. Thematically, your job is to hunt for performers – perhaps poaching them from your rivals – put on shows, and rake in some deliciously fungible circus bucks.
Not that this setup offers players any guidance whatsoever in terms of what will actually transpire at the table. Instead, this is a compact little set collection slash hand management card game about picking your battles and pouncing on opportunities when they arise.
At the beginning of each round you’ll be dealt a hand of cards. There’s the merest whiff of a concession to the theme here – a microscopic piece of text that will say something like ‘Singer’ or ‘Clown’. These cards are your performers. They also have two numbers on them. And here’s the first wrinkle that Scout introduces, the first flaming chainsaw tossed to your unicyclist to juggle: one number is upside-down, and at the start of the round each player makes the decision whether to keep their hand as it is, or rotate it through 180 degrees and play the cards on the other side.
Secondly, as in the Uwe Rosenberg classic Bohnanza, once you’ve drawn your hand, you must keep the cards in that order. Your aim is to make sets – groups of the same number or ascending consecutive numbers – but you can’t just pick your best cards. Rather, you can pick cards from the latest set played to the table and place them anywhere in your hand. You can put on a show whenever you can beat the set on the table. Pairs and triples etc beat a run of the same size, otherwise higher cards beat lower ones.
You score for each card left in the show you beat, and for each card other players scout from your show to make their own. The player with the most money at the end of the last round wins.
Scout’s theme is barely present in its mechanics, nor is it evoked by the dual-coloured cards and box. The tiny black icons of trapezes or bicycles are so perfunctory it’s almost comical. But this doesn’t entirely matter. The art and design might not feel especially circusy, but they are attractive – the little cardboard money tokens feel satisfyingly chunky, and I like how a flipped card – as in Bohnanza – itself becomes a token.
After a few rounds, you get a sense for the game’s rhythm: shows appear, then collapse as one-by-one their performers are poached by other players, until at last someone can beat what’s left with a bigger set. Once per round, each player may scout a card and put on a show in the same action, allowing you to net a bunch of cards and guarantee more money as players pay you for your star performers.
It’s certainly much better at three to five players than two – the two player version lacks the dynamic feel of higher player counts, the tension of waiting to see if the card you want will make it round to you. I just came away unsure how much Scout offers – despite its gimmicks – over traditional set collection fares like Briscola and Rummy. But that’s a niggle, not a fatal flaw. Scout makes for an accessible, quick, visually-appealing experience – a solid portable gateway game to break out for a mixed age group with half an hour to spare.
PLAY IT? YES
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Bohnanza
Bohnanza is an obvious ancestor of this kind of hand management, though Scout feels less sedate. As mentioned above, Briscola – played with an Italian-suited deck – or Go-Stop – played with Korean hwatu cards – are old games that offer mechanically similar experiences of playing into a central tableau while trying to score the most over a number of rounds, so if you enjoy them, Scout is pitching its tent in broadly the same field.
Designer: Kei Kajino
Time: 20 minutes
Looking for more?
This review came from Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which is home to all of the latest and greatest tabletop goodness. Whether you're a board gamer, card gamer, wargamer, RPG player or all of the above, find your copy here.Get your magazine here
If you want to read more about one of the most hotly anticipated games of the year, check out our interview with Cole Wehrle on ARCS! A new game from the designer of Root and Oath, and we've got all you need to know.To infinity and beyond
Join us in person
We can't wait for Tabletop Gaming Live 2022! An epic weekend in Manchester full of board games, card games, roleplaying games, wargames and more, with amazing exhibitors, great games, and an opportunity to game together in person.See you there!
Have you visited our game store? We have everything from mystery boxes, to games and accessories – including the above Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid, with a great discount! Head over to find your new favourite game.Visit the Game Store
Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products