Spice It Up: SCOUT review

We’re back from Dice Tower East con, with a shelf full of new and new-to-us games to play. While we were frolicking in Mickeyland, the jury in Germany announced the winners of this year’s Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel awards. One of the games nominated for the prestigious prize was SCOUT from Oink Games.

We were lucky enough not only to find a copy but also to have played it multiple times before, during, and after Dice Tower East.

I first heard about SCOUT from my fellow Punchboard Media member, Eric Yurko from What’s Eric Playing. It’s been hard to find in the wild, but I caught a break when Jay from the UK grabbed a copy or three on his travels and sent them back to the US.

The original version courtesy of Steph

And then caught another lucky break. On one of our first nights at Dice Tower East, I ran into Steph Hodge from BGG and she just happened to have a copy of the original version of SCOUT. She was tickled pink to teach us how to play, and even more thrilled when I taught it six more times (on my Oink Games version) thereafter.

Before we talk game mechanics, let’s briefly touch on the difference between the two versions. I prefer the modern circus look of the Oink version, but as you can see by the picture above, I can see why gamers might enjoy the simpler design from the original. The only other difference that I could see is all of the cardboard tokens included in the Oink version that cover points and money and the scout-and-show token, which we will discuss more in detail later.

But what is SCOUT all about?

It’s a card game for three to five players that combines card shedding with ladder climbing. That elevator pitch checks off a bunch of boxes for me. Finding a good card game that plays well with five players is a big bonus. I cut my teeth playing games like Pit and BourrĂ© and The Great Dalmuti and so many other games. All accommodated five players well, so SCOUT starts off on a good note. played five players well. Publishing a micro box game which has that kind of feels is going to interest me right away.

Familiar feelings washed over me as I first opened up the box. I’m learning that Oink Games are not universal to every gamer’s collection. You need to know that they have made their mark with little rectangle box games with vibrant colors and simple designs that fit into your hand. They usually look amazing on the table. Oink Games are known for those little rectangle boxes with the vibrant colors and simple designs. They look amazing lined up on your table.

SCOUT easily meets that high bar. Inside, you find an instruction manual, scoring tokens, player tokens, a first player token, and the main star under the big top, a deck of cards with colorful numbers on them. The numerals are printed in such a way that you can see the value of your cards AND what it changes to when you flip the card over. Why the overkill? Put a pin in that question.

The quick synopsis of the game play is that the dealer distributes the cards to all players. Each player studies their hand, flipping it back and forth, but never shifting cards around. Then players drop singles or sets or runs, each time trying to beat the previously played hand. First player to run out of cards triggers the end of the round (or if every other player has to pass).

SCOUT’s card shedding requirement means each player is trying to rid their hand of cards as quickly as possible. The ladder part is just shorthand for the players trying to up what was played before. A pair of threes beats a single five. A run of three-four-five beats a pair of kings. Sets always beat runs in the same amount of cards. Pretty typical ladder stuff.

But there are a few twists we MUST discuss. First, you can never shuffle your cards. The only way to manipulate your hand is to forgo playing a card and SCOUTING instead — taking a card from the hand that was just played (only from the edges) and putting it into your own hand in any spot and in any orientation.

Second, the end game is very important. Ending the game by emptying your hand first is a great move because every one else takes negative points for every card left in their hand, balanced out by any cards that they bested with their own plays during the round.

But ending the round by making every other player SCOUT (i.e. pass) is even better. The person whon one could bead gets to dump the rest of their hands for free PLUS the rest of the players get lots of negative points. Tally the points including any banked points from cards you won, shuffle the cards, and deal them out again until every player has had a chance to be the first player. Then total your points for all of the rounds to declare a winner.

There is so much to like about SCOUT. It’s so portable and so teachable. It’s get hidden depth — at first you think that the game is just about playing your strongest hand every time. But it isn’t. Sure, dropping five nines is a heckava move, but if the next player can’t out play you, then the bank gives you a buck for your trouble, and the player in question then “scouts” one of your outside edge cards. They then turn it into any orientation and add it to anywhere in the deck, possibly making a much stronger player down the road that forces everyone to pass before they were ready.

That’s where the “scout and show” token comes in and is the final twist in the game. Just once per round, and at the most crucial moment, players get a chance not only to SCOUT one card, but also to turn overt the scout and show token and SHOW (i.e. play a higher card, higher set, or higher run). .

That’s how I caught up to the leader in one of the games I played at Dice Tower East. I went out early, by grabbing a card or two that allowed me to shed another card that then put four fives next to each other. Then I dumped that four spot on the table, and watched the bucks roll in as players passed. Luckily for me, none of the players had saved their scout-and-show token.

There is no better feeling in the world then watching the player next to you stare at you with a smug look on their face, only to howl in displeasure when you grab a card, scout and show and go out immediately! It’s almost as good as getting everyone to pass (cause in that instance, you get to dump the rest of your hand for free which is pretty, pretty, pretty sweet.)

Spice up your game bag. Pack SCOUT for any occasion — it’s worked with family members, it’s worked with random gamers at a convention, and I know it will work as a great card game for sitting around a campfire enjoying some peach cobbler with your card play. The breezy pace of play makes talking and playing and thinking easy to accomplish.

I wish my grandmother was still around to try out SCOUT — she taught me how to play bataille and SCOUT is simple enough where we could have whiled away some rainy nights with ease. I think she’d get a kick out of playing this game, even if she wouldn’t understand why they have a bunch of random people’s names and circus abilities on them. Yes, Mitchell, SCOUT has no theme — and it does not need one.

A great card game like this one just needs smooth play and a killer hook. SCOUT is one of the best little box card games I’ve played in a long time.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ

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