What is Snake Oil?
If you're talking about the original "snake oil", as the Snake Oil – Party Potion Rules insert explains, you are talking about an actual product used by Chinese laborers on the Transcontinental Railroad in 1860's which was made from water and snake oil and rubbed on sore muscles.
If you were talking about "snake oil" a few decades later, you might be referring to a phrase that came about when, after becoming popular with American co-workers to the Chinese, Snake Oil was commercialized. Some changes to the original formula were made and, in 1917, a sample of Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment was tested by the U.S. government and found to contain no actual snake oil. Out of this discovery came the practice of calling falsely labeled products and products that swindlers sold "Snake Oil", Likewise, the swindlers that sold "Snake Oil" were called "Snake Oil Salesman".
Fast forward to 2014 and beyond. If you say "Snake Oil" now, you may just be referring to a game inspired by the concept of Snake Oil Salesmen -- a fun card game where players make pitches about zany products to one another in an effort to get customers to pick them.
The Snake Oil – Party Potion game has won awards from Dr. Toy, Old Schoolhouse, The Toy Man and Mensa, among others. It comes in a small box and contains:
- 112 word cards to inspire crazy products and pitches
- 14 customer cards that have one type of customer listed on each side of them, totaling 28 creative customer options
- a plastic card holder that keeps things organized during play and storage of the game
- a rules insert with traditional playing rules, a Snake Oil Live game playing variation and a brief explanation of "The True History of Snake Oil"
Plus, of course, the game comes with potential for oodles of creativity and laughter. In fact, the disclaimer on the package states in extraordinarily small fine print:
"We make no medical claims about the health benefits of the game Snake Oil, however we have observed that everyone laughs while playing the game and everyone under the sun knows that laughter is good for you, so add a little healthy magic to your life with a daily dose of Snake Oil!"
I cannot say that we added Snake Oil to our lives daily, but I can attest that when we did, we experienced laughter as wonderful medicine indeed!
How do you play Snake Oil?
Since a picture, or video in this particular case, is worth 1,000 words, here's one that explains how to play:
After learning who the customer is (Olympic athlete, doctor, mad scientist, dog, etc.), the salespeople choose two of their cards and use their creativity and wit to pitch a product that the customer can’t live without. After hearing each salesperson's pitch, the customer chooses one product and the customer who pitched it wins the round.
A new customer is picked and another round ensues!
Who is the the game for?
Official game literature says Snake Oil – Party Potion is designed for 3-6 players who are eight years old and older, that it takes five minutes to learn; and that game play lasts 20-30 minutes. In my experience, with adaptations and accommodations, two to countless players,with children as young as four, can enjoy playing Snake Oil – Party Potion, for a few minutes or to an hour.
Played traditionally, Snake Oil – Party Potion brings families together with imagination and laughter. The game can also be fabulous in schools, drama classes, speech clubs, camps and the like as a fun way to practice skills.
Teachers will find several educational variations and Common Core connections for the game on the Out of the Box website. Among these variations is one called "Step Right Up", which I can picture being a hit at one of my future drama classes and wish I'd had on hand when I used to coach a speech club and do ice breakers at a camp.
With no Snake Oil Salesmanship in play, I can definitely see how different variations of Snake Oil – Party Potion can encourage:
- public speaking skills
- empathetic persuasion skills
- oral presentation skills
- comparing, contrasting and evaluating skills
- improvisation skills
- social skills
- problem solving
- listening skills
- vocabulary building
It is truly an enjoyable, adaptable game!
When Snake Oil – Party Potion arrived, my children were eager to play it. So, my two oldest and I broke the game out of the box, read the directions and began playing quite quickly, with me helping my daughter to read her cards.
Hearing our laughter, our youngest wanted to join in. I helped him read his cards. He chose which ones to make products to pitch with, and with great fun the game continued.
Daddy, too, heard the laughter and came over to take some snapshots of the kids and me playing. Then, despite the fact that Daddy is not typically a game lover, the children asked him to join us. He obliged and became quite the comical salesman!
Our children enjoyed playing Snake Oil – Party Potion with Mom and Dad so much that between showers, before bed, they asked to play it more. Then, they begged to take the game to Grammy and Grampy's the following day. Of course, we did, and we've been enjoying playing the game on occasion ever since - laughing each time we play!
Is there anything not to like about Snake Oil?
Snake Oil – Party Potion is a game that goes from box to laughter-inducing play in minutes. It encourages a wide array of academic and life skills. It can be played in a variety of ways with a wide range of ranges. Plus, it is just plain fun. So, at first glance there is absolutely nothing at all not to like about the game.
However, as I played with my children, I did find two Snake Oil cards that I chose to remove from the deck, because I felt they were unnecessary (Snot, and Butt). Plus, I was surprised to see that a Mensa Select game included a card with a spelling error on it. (Satellite was spelled "Satelite".) Along the same lines, I wondered why Out of the Box Games chose to include a card with the word "Ax" on it spelled as "Axe". For, while "ax" can be spelled correctly as "ax" or "axe", there are so many other words that would work in Snake Oil – Party Potion that would not bring spelling/reading confusion to children, as this word did to mine. (We used that confusion as an opening for explaining how correct spellings for certain words can vary, which is a worthwhile learning point, but not one I expected to pause a game to make.)
My easy fix for these small issues was simply to take four of the 112 word cards out of the deck which did not affect play at all. In fact, every time we played Snake Oil – Party Potion we laughed heartily at one another's sales pitches while also painlessly practicing both academic and life skills. That makes Snake Oil – Party Potion a keeper for me!
I can use the game at home, while tutoring, with drama students and at homeschool co-ops. If I ever go back to teaching in a traditional classroom or working at a camp, I can take it there, too!
- See how 100 Schoolhouse Crew members enjoyed Snake Oil – Party Potion (for ages 8 and up) and its counterpart Snake Oil (for ages 10 and up).