snakeoilAs an avid board game enthusiast and intern here at the Toy Book, I jumped at the chance to test out a new board game Snake Oil, from Out of the Box Publishing. Do not let this unusual name throw you off, as I did at first. The name Snake Oil derives from tales of the old west, where Chinese laborers on the Transcontinental Railroad utilized water snake oil, claiming that rubbing the oil onto their skin could “ail” their sore, aching muscles. The Chinese shared this ancient remedy with their American coworkers, and from there, snake oil salesmen were born.

As the popularity of water snake oil increased, so did the fabrication of potential usage (although recent studies have revealed that it contained more omega-3 fatty acids than the highest form of fish oil). In 1917, however, a sample of Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment was tested by the U.S. government and was found to contain no actual snake oil. Therefore, snake oil salesman used both charm and imagination to persuade even the most skeptical of customers into buying their typically faulty product. This same idea applies when playing Snake Oil the board game.

The concept of the game is simple. All you need is at least 3 players ages 10 and up, each of whom is given six playing cards containing one word. One player must draw a customer card, assigning them the title as customer for the round. This player assumes the role that is written on the customer card and announces it to the rest of the players, setting the tone for the round of play. For example, the customer could be anyone from a beach bum, a teacher, or a caveman, just to name a few. The other players must now use their imagination to create something inspired by two cards from their hand that they will “pitch” or “sell” to the player with the customer card, being sure to cater their pitch to whatever identity the customer has taken on. 

The customer card that was pulled from the deck during our first round of play was the “Last Person on Earth.” This meant the player who pulled that card was, for the purpose of the game, the last person on Earth. The rest of us, as saleswomen, had to choose wisely from our cards and create a sales pitch to this customer, keeping in mind their position as the last person on Earth. Examples of sales pitches for this round were  “Helmet Tent,” a helmet which doubles as a tent, a two-in-one deal that breaks the laws of physics while providing a nifty solution for the shelter and protection of the Last Person on Earth, and  “Cloud Map,” a map designed to depict all the clouds in the sky, which provides the last person on Earth with exclusive access to all the entertaining shapes clouds can create, along with a useful navigational component. The saleswoman behind the pitch of “Island Cave,” an obviously alluring sale for the Last Person on Earth, may have been dealt more appropriate cards for the round’s theme than the “Secret Glasses” saleswoman, but that’s the fun of the game. The pitch behind “Secret Glasses” won the customer’s sale by promising the true value of the secret glasses to be in their features, including night vision, thermal temperature detection, weather applications, and more in order to protect this last person on Earth while proving to be a useful tool for survival. The key to winning Snake Oil is to use your humor and wit to pitch your product in the most persuasive way possible, just like an old west snake oil salesman would. If the customer buys what you are selling, you take the customer card, and at the end of the game the person with the most customer cards, the most successful sales, wins the entire game.

Without a doubt, I found the imagination and creativity aspect of this game to be the most exciting part. Since the words on the cards are so random, putting two together that can somehow be twisted and explained to adhere to the needs of the identity of the customer is not only entertaining, but thought provoking and humorous as well. Before we began to play, I thought Snake Oil seemed very similar to the game Apples to Apples. I love that game, and I had my doubts as to how Snake Oil could possibly measure up. After the first round, however, my doubts were crushed and I began to see Snake Oil as a breeding ground for creativity, even surpassing my fondness of Apples to Apples. If you like smart, and or silly laughs sure to provide entertainment, this game is definitely worth a go!

For more commentary from Lindsay, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!