Hey hey, haven’t seen an Oink review come across my desk since Durian! Moon Adventure is very hard, granted, and Insider Black is a bit tough to play since I was still fairly locked down when I wrote this, but I’m making progress. Either way, I’ve been meaning to get to Scout in a number of forms when I got the first version of the game, and then Oink made their own version, and, suffice it to say, I ended up with both! So now I’m covering the Oink version, instead.
In Scout, players take on the role of rival circus managers, locked in a bitter struggle to make the best group of performers possible. Unfortunately, this is kind of a zero-sum game, as there aren’t that many performers who aren’t already affiliated with a circus of some kind. So what do you do? Raise wages and offer better benefits to attract workers to your circus? Of course not! You go around to other circuses and try to poach. You’ll have to coopt some clowns, take some trampoliners, and steal some singers if you want to have the ultimate performance. Will you be able to make it big under the big top?
Not a lot! Give each player a Scout & Show token:
Set the Scout tokens aside:
Set the point tokens aside:
At three players, return all 10s to the box. At four players and two players, return the 9 / 10 card to the box. Shuffle all other cards and deal them equally to each player (in a two-player game, deal 11 cards to each player, instead), but players are not allowed to organize the cards in their hand. Take them how they’re dealt.
You should be ready to start! Choose a player to kick off the round.
So, Scout is what we’d typically call a ladder-climbing game. That differs from trick-taking in that players don’t (usually) just play a single card; they play sets of cards, trying to consistently beat the last-played set. The sets are the ladder, effectively; you’re trying to continually climb. Let’s talk about what that looks like. Before we do, it’s worth noting that Scout has peculiar cards. They have two different numbers on them; one on each side of the card. At the beginning of a round, you may take your entire hand and flip it over, changing to whatever the numbers on the other side of the cards are across your entire hand. Then, turns progress beginning with the Start Player.
On your turn, you can typically perform one of three actions. You can Show, you can Scout, or you can Scout & Show.
To Show, play a set of cards from your hand. A set is one or more cards that follow these rules:
- The cards must be adjacent to each other in your hand. This means that the cards must form a contiguous block. If there are other cards in between the cards you want to play, you must play those cards first or choose a different set to play. If your hand was 2 / 3 / 5 / 3 / 6 / 6, you could play 6 / 6 or 2 / 3, but you can’t play 3 / 3.
- The cards must either be a run of cards or a set of the same number. A run, here, is a contiguous group of numbers in strictly increasing or strictly decreasing order (like 2 / 3 / 4 or 7 / 6 / 5, not 1 / 3 / 2). A set of the same number can be a single card, pair, triple, or beyond.
- The set you choose to play must be “better” than the set already in play. Better is a strange word, so let’s define it. Basically, any set is better than a run of the same size, and any set is worse than a run of that number of cards + 1. So a single card (a set of 1) can be beaten by any run of two or more cards. A run of two cards can be beaten by any set of at least three or more cards of the same number. Within a set or a run, a set is beaten by a set of a higher number (two 8s beat two 5s), and a run is beaten by a run with a higher starting value (2 / 3 is beaten by 3 / 4 or 7 / 8).
When you Show, if there’s already a set in the center, take it and play it face-down in front of you. Those will score you points at the end of the round!
If you cannot or do not want to play, you can Scout, instead. This means you may take either the leftmost or the rightmost card from the current set and add it to your hand! When you do, you can flip the card upside-down, if you want (to the other number) and then add it anywhere in your hand that you want. Inserting it to make a future set might be a good idea! Unfortunately, the player who played the set that you’re Scouting also takes a Scout token, which is worth a point later.
Scout & Show Action
Scout & Show is super-simple, but it can only be done once per player per round. To Scout & Show, you simply … Scout, and then you Show. That’s it. You just take a card from the set, add it to your hand, and then play a set of your own, following the rules for Scouting and Showing. Sometimes things are just what they’re called.
End of Round
So, a round can end in two ways:
- A set has been played and every player has Scouted, save for the player who played the set.
- A player runs out of cards in their hand.
In either case, the round ends immediately! Players gain 1 point for each Scout Token and each card in the pile of claimed sets they have face-down in front of them. Players then lose 1 point for each card remaining in their hand. If you played a set that caused everyone else to Scout (thereby ending the round), you don’t lose points for every card in your hand. It’s a freebie.
After that, shuffle the cards, redeal them, flip everyone’s Scout & Show tokens back face-up, and play another round! Play one round per player, and the player with the most points at the end of the last round wins!
For two players, Scout is still very playable! Here, you play two rounds, one with each half of the deck. The Scout & Show tokens aren’t used. Here, each player gets three Scout chips at the start of the round, and must spend one every time they want to Scout. If they can’t spend a chip, they can’t Scout. This means that the round now ends if any player cannot Scout or Show or if any player runs out of cards in their hand.
Player Count Differences
I wouldn’t say there are major differences to the gameplay of Scout with different player counts (save for the two-player variant, outlined above), but the end of round and end of game conditions are pretty different. You’re highly unlikely to stump an entire round of players in a five-player game of Scout, just because each player will likely have some ability to Scout & Show (or at least Scout), so you’d need to play a combo of at least size 6 to have a shot at it. Given that you’ve only got a nine-card hand, that seems … unlikely. At three players, it’s possible with a four-card play, if you have the right cards. Similarly, the game does take longer with more players, not for a lack of trying to address it. More players means fewer cards per hand, but more people making decisions, which usually slows the game down (especially for new players). I’d say, expect your first game to take a decently long time, but as you play more, players will get more comfortable with strategies. Just not right away. As a result, I generally tend to prefer Scout with three, though I’ve enjoyed all my games of it. They just tend to be longer. I was pleasantly impressed with the two-player version of this, though; my original copy doesn’t have that.
- Scouting isn’t an inherently bad move on your turn; just evaluate if it’s worth giving your opponent a point. Sometimes it’s the best (or only) move available. You can take a card and slowly build up your hand and get cards where you want them to be. You do give your opponent a point and make it easier for the player after you to score points, but sometimes that’s worth it if you can make a big combo that nobody else will be able to beat. Sometimes it’s not worth it. Honestly, I’ve Scouted when I could have Shown before, because it was just worth getting a high-value card that I needed for a big combo.
- Try not to keep a hold of particularly low-value cards; they’ll make clearing out your hand impossible. As with any ladder-climbing game, getting stuck with the lowest-value card can make your life hard. Thankfully, you can pivot a bit, here, and you can combine that low-value card with another card you’ve Scouted to make a combo that can actually do something. But keeping single 1s by themselves is not inherently a very good idea.
- The Scout & Show maneuver is a powerful one-time play, but it can change the tide of a round if you land it correctly. Really, the ideal move is to take the exact card you need and string it into an even bigger combo. You take the cards as points (now reducing the size of the combo you need) and you put pressure on your opponents to either Scout & Show as well or you lock them out.
- Keep an eye on when your opponents have used their Scout & Show; that’s pretty much the peak time to strike. Dropping a big combo after your opponents have burnt their Scout & Show for the round can be huge. At that point, there’s nothing that they can do to stop you, and it’s incredible. Not only do they have to give you points by Scouting, but then they can’t play anything, the round ends, and you get away with having a bunch of cards in your hand.
- Keep in mind that you can only pull the leftmost or rightmost card when you’re Scouting, but you can also flip the card over and insert it anywhere in your hand. Keep that in mind when you’re taking a card. It’s not just about the printed value, but also the other side’s value. You can slot the card wherever you want in your hand, so try to pick up and and build the ideal combo.
- Sometimes it’s worth building a showstopping combo to end the round early. Can you successfully drop a 12345678 or something? Might be worth a couple Scouts if you’re pretty close. Best case, you end the round and your opponents get wrecked for having a ton of cards in their hands. Worst case, you dump a ton of cards and are still pretty well on your way to finishing up the round.
- Figuring out how to manipulate your hand to build the combos you need is really the crux of the game. It’s not just about playing the best available combo in your hand; it’s about getting your hand managed so that you can consistently play high-value combos. If you can do that by playing a low-value card to remove it from in between two cards, forming a better combo, well, you do that. Don’t just always play what you think the “best” move is; build up a strategy and play cards towards that end.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Note: this game is a lot more fun if you treat the Scout action as literally recruiting your opponent’s performer to your circus and explain why they’ll be much happier at your circus. It’s just a good idea for lore reasons. Does it make the game take longer? Absolutely. Do you eventually run out of reasons in a five-player game? I have to assume so. Is everyone into improv challenges? No. But we think it’s delightful.
- The graphic design is super clean. I just really like the way the cards look. They’re bright and colorful and fun. I would love if the names and icons were a bit larger, though.
- The double-sided cards are super cool! I mean, not just the colors, I really like the split-color designs of the cards. It’s a really neat aesthetic that’s still pretty readable. I know exactly what my hand looks like and I know exactly what it looks like if I’m going to flip it over at the start of the round. Good graphic design happening, and I just love when cards can be more than one thing, even if they can only be one thing at a time.
- I also really like that you can do an initial flip of your hand if you don’t like it. It offers a fun bit of flexibility, which I’m into. Plus, everyone hates their starting hand of everything, so giving them a bit of a choice helps at least add some much-needed perspective from time to time.
- The Scout & Show action is neat! Does a nice job of keeping players in the game. I do love an action that is equally powerful and rare, so it’s nice to have one each round. Plus, it keeps players in a round by letting them take a big swing for a lot of points. It can be frustrating when a player drops a big combo and you can’t respond to it, so Scout & Show is pretty critical at lower player counts, especially, to keep the round moving.
- Very portable! I mean, I love all Oink Games for this, and Scout is, of course, no exception. I really would love to just do a Small Games Day where I just play Oink and Button Shy games, and I think I’d be pretty happy doing that.
- Oink added a two-player variant, which is nice. Plays pretty well, too. I was pleasantly surprised! The original copy of Scout I have doesn’t have the two-player variant, so I was pleased to see that Oink had added one. It makes pretty good sense within the game’s structure, as well, though I was sad to see Scout & Show going by the wayside.
- While I love the theme, it’s a bit … there. Like there’s absolutely no real reason this game should be circus-themed. I love that it is, but I’d also like to feel a bit more of the game’s charm come through in the gameplay. That said, the original game was completely abstract, thematically, so while I feel like the original’s graphic design was stronger, I think the new Scout has a bit more pizzazz, if that makes sense?
- The start player card could be a bit more clearly marked. The game holds over the start player card from the original version but in the rules allows you to choose a start player however you want. That’s fine, but I’d still love if the start player card (the 1/2) were more clearly marked, in case I want to go that route.
- Ironically, I slightly prefer the graphic design of the non-Oink version, which I know is tantamount to blasphemy. The previous version had a certain cleanness to it that I really liked and the colors weren’t as intense. It was a more minimal color scheme with strong lines, as opposed to the over-the-top intensity that you’d expect from a circus-themed game.
- An unceremoniously early end to a round can feel pretty unsatisfying. It’s really just if a player manages to play a set that nobody can beat. Thankfully, it’s a bit easier to avoid that if everyone’s using their Scout & Show tokens effectively. It’s not the worst thing in the world when it happens, but if it happens super early in the round, players may check out, a bit.
- The whole “play one round per player in your group” thing makes the game swell in playtime a bit; I’ve never gotten a 15 minute game of this in, so I’m assuming they mean 15 minutes per round. Maybe they just play a lot faster than I do? I’m not sure. Either way, in my experience, more players makes the game last longer, because each player is still making an independent decision on their turn, even though there are fewer cards in play. I’d love to get this down to a 20-minute game, but we’ve typically seen some pretty long games of Scout happening with four or five players. I’ll be interested to see how other folks play it, though I imagine it speeds up as players get increasingly familiar with the game.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I like Scout quite a bit! I think I might gently prefer the original version’s art style, but I do like that the Oink version comes with point tokens and a goofy circus theme. It’s just fun to be sitting around a table demanding that the trampoline man come and join your troupe because you’re more sensitive to his trampoline needs. I like having a lot of these pocket card games of different styles, and while this is still a decently-complex game on its own, I think Scout is much easier to learn than a lot of the trick-taking games that I like to break out here and there. Still a lot of fun, too! Double-sided cards are super cool, and I really like how they’re used here. It’s a step up from the Aggretsuko card game I was playing a while back, in a few ways. I think the increase in complexity does the game a few favors, and Oink’s commitment to aesthetic and package quality does the game a few more favors. I’m a fan, by any stretch, and I’m looking forward to what new challenges Oink throws my way, this year. If you’re looking for a ladder-climbing game with a fun twist (emphasis mine) or you’re just interested in every title that Oink produces (like me), I’d recommend checking Scout out! I had a lot of fun playing this one.
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