Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: Snake Oil

There’s no denying a change of season is upon us: it’s dark by 5:30 and it’s too cool to sit in the porch swing and read now.  We’re spending a lot more time inside and will be for a long time, so let’s look for ways to entertain ourselves rather than sit passively in front of the television.  Why not a family game night? Out of the Box Games specializes in games that 1) can be learned in minutes, 2) can be played in less than an hour, and 3) feature dynamic player interaction for start to finish.  I’ve found a sure winner from their product line --Snake Oil.  

If the title brings to mind images of a slick-haired, fast talking salesman pitching his “too good to be true” product to the unsuspecting masses, then you’ve already got a good idea about the game.  One player per round acts as the customer and draws an identity card (e.g. pregnant woman, pirate, or Santa). The remaining players each draw five word cards—grammatically speaking these are all nouns but they may be tangible or intangible.  Their job is two combine two of these words into a compound noun (here’s your grammar lesson for the day), a noun made up of two or more words which may be hyphenated or combined into a single word—representing the product they will be pitching to the customer. After hearing each spiel, the customer gives their identity card to the salesman with the best product of the round.  This continues until everyone has had a turn being customer, the winner is the one who’s collected the most customer cards.

As you can tell, the game requires at lease three players: one to be customer and two to vie for the sale. The rules suggest 3-10 players, but provide variations for classroom or a 24 player tournament.  There was nothing for a mom at home with her only child after a morning of homeschool….SO WE INVENTED OUR OWN RULES!  In our game we put down 12 words cards face up at a time so all were legible.  We left the customer cards in a stack and turned them over one at a time (the customer cards are two-sided, so we played the newly revealed side each time).  Then we competed against each other to find our two-word product from the available word cards.  It wasn’t enough to be the first to combine and create a sales item, you had to back it up with a sales pitch (to prove you hadn’t randomly thrown two cards together). In the example below, my son thought a hostage would benefit from a Freedom Cannon that could blast through the walls of any holding cell.

Next I took the game to our homeschool co-op and shared it with the drama/improvisation class.  The 7th grade and older kids were divided into teams of three. One was the customer, who shared his identity with his teammates (so they could come up with their sales product), BUT NOT THE AUDIENCE.  Then they improvised a scene and the audience not only voted who was the better salesman but had to guess the identity of the customer based on verbal and physical clues.  The kids loved it!  They asked to play a second round.  At the end of class, no one rated the activity less than 8 out of 10.

This isn’t an important issue as far as game-play, but I noticed how well the Snake Oil box stores and travels.  The packagers included cardboard grid pieces to hold the stacks of playing cards in place in the box--tell me you don’t hate having to organize loose cards/money/whatever before you can start playing a game?  But what I like best about Snake Oil is it’s not just a luck of the draw (or roll) game nor is it overly reliant on strategy or thinking out moves.  It IS all about exercising  that creativity muscle that seems to atrophy as kids get older.  Snake Oil has earned a place in our family’s game closet.

The suggested retail price for Snake Oil (ages 10 to adult) is $19.99.  The is also a Snake Oil—Party Potion  geared to slightly young kids available for $14.99.

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