SCOUT – Oink Games

Life is a circus, as evidenced by Kei Kajino’s charming card game. Compact, easy rules, great design, quick to learn, fun to play. Just like in real life, you are a circus leader tasked with putting on a show. You have to scout talent, perhaps battle your opponents, and set off unpredictable chain reactions.

Where Should We Begin – A Game of Stories

Super-famous relationship therapist Esther Perel takes you there with this cocktail-hour game, perfect for snowy evenings that need an icebreaker and occasional jolts of humanity. Be warned, there are some decidedly tasteful-yet-adult questions, so depending on the crowd do a hard pre-game edit, or fix another cocktail.

Casual Birder for Playdate

This game comes as part of the adorable $179 Playdate console package, and the description is priceless: “Can a fledgling photographer like you make a mark in the cut-throat world of hobby bird photography? Better get ‘crankin’!” If anything, you must play this game for the bouncy, 8-bit, Earth, Wind, and Fire-tinged Max Coburn soundtrack.

Powerwash Simulator

This is the game we need in 2023, the game we deserve. Powerwash Simulator’s gameplay delivers on the name. Your job is powerwashing different objects and locations to a shiny, sparkling finish. Nozzles vary, upgrades are accessed, levels are unlocked, metal and concrete surfaces are scrubbed. That’s it, and it is glorious. 

Carte Rouge

A very different deck of cards suggestion. The Kickstarter darling is a beautifully illustrated normal deck featuring puzzles intricately woven into the design. The thought that went into this deck is next-level. Best for 1-5 players who are looking for something to solve but don’t want to commit to an escape room.


Gorgeous and inventive. The Verge’s review headline is great: “Stray improves adventure games by turning you into a cat.” Spoiler, you play a cat, and as said cat you traverse a post-apocalyptic underground city run by robots, looking to rejoin your family. But the game is way sweeter and more playful than it sounds. And empathetic too. A game with no humans can be startlingly humanistic.


After reading non-fiction book editor David Shariatmadari’s article for The Guardian, the illuminating I was asked to invent the next Wordle. How hard could it be?, we tried out the game his team created. Like its inspiration, the premise is simple and direct: you get five chances to find the longest word which includes the starter word.


Beautiful and tremendous. And yes, the early rap of its bugginess is true and a bit distracting, but whatever. A little Station Eleven, a little Matrix, a little Biosphere.


Wingspan featured in the Winter Games roundup a few years ago. It’s since taken over the world. But here’s the thing, we’re still playing it! That’s how good it is! Also, read Slate’s wonderful profile of game designer Elizabeth Hargrave that dives into the inspiration behind it (“At one point we placed a moratorium on games about castles”).


A classic for the whole family, but here’s a pro tip: the card game is more fun than the online version. It’s a classic pattern-finding endeavor (from the makers of Five Crowns) that’s deceptively simple. Fun fact: Marsha Falco was a geneticist studying whether epilepsy was inherited in German Shepherds, and the code system she used formed the basis of the game!

Subscribe to Observatory

Small Planet Links, News, and Observations