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Party Game Review: ‘Snake Oil’

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Out of the Box Publishing is well known for its line of education-oriented games that are smart and fun at the same time. They all inspire laughter, quick-thinking, and plenty of playful competition, but none goes as far as the raucous salesmanship of Snake Oil. Like the barkers of old-timey days, players create valuable wares out of mishmash and sell it to those gullible enough to get rope in.


The rules for Snake Oil are so simple they do not even come in a rulebook. Instead, they are printed efficiently on the side of the box along with a short history of actual snake oil (which, originally, was in fact made out of snakes and surprisingly rich in Omega-3 fatty acids). After less-than-ethical salesmen were found out, “snake oil” quickly became the term for wares that were sold more on hype than quality.

Snake Oil the game is no snake oil concoction, but a solid party game based on the art of the sales pitch. The mechanic is straightforward: Each player has a hand of Word Cards labeled “magnet,” “gas,” “baby,” and so on. One player draws a Customer card and takes on the perspective of everything from a Caveman to a Billionaire to a Sorority Girl. The other players must pick two of their Word Cards to combine into an imaginary product and then pitch it to the Customer. The one the Customer picks wins the card, and the player with the most cards after the round wins the game. Snake Oil is perfect for improv groups, parties, and even advertising teams where the goal is to study the audience’s desires and meet them creatively.

What makes the game great is the necessity for concocting these bizarre new items like a “Puppet Boat” aimed at the Customer, such as a Babysitter who could use the puppets to entertain the kids. With 324 different Word Cards, there are over 100,000 combinations of “Gas Magnets” (useful for those enjoying bean-based dips), “Scarf Soaps” (for keeping scarves clean), and “Soap Scarves” (for those who shower on the run). Giving the Customer a particular perspective forces the players to think critically as well as creatively about their cards, working toward the best possible product for that target audience rather than just the silliest thing that can be imagined.

Snake Oil is a game for three to 10 players, ages 10 and up. The length of the game is dependent upon the number of players as each one gets a turn as Customer. Some players may be better salesmen than others, a very advantageous skill resulting in consistent wins. This may leave some uninterested in playing, but Snake Oil ought not be taken too seriously and is an excellent way to have a good time and even practice interpersonal skills. Quick-thinkers with creative minds and good arguing abilities will want to play again and again, as well as those who just love hearing about “Fart Gardens” (presumably the quaint outdoor walking area in case the “Gas Magnet” has broken down).

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.