The Closet Report: Snake Oil

Snake Oil

Ever wondered where those crazy infomercials got their bright ideas?

I am Jonathan Albin, the Game Market Guru, and this is the first installment of "The Closet Report," my in-depth and detailed analysis of tabletop games of every stripe. The Closet Report captures and outlines the merits, values, and details about these games in terms that a casual player or a die-hard veteran will appreciate, providing not only the "straight skinny" on the product in terms of the big 3 (Class, Character, and Creativity) but also in terms of Materials, Marketing, and Mechanics, as well as identifying areas of imagination, innovation, and ingenuity.

This first report features Snake Oil, a brand new product from Out of the Box Publishing (Al Weller, president). Let me say first that though their past blockbuster, Apples to Apples, is now being published by Mattel, this new product doesn’t fall far from the tree. Utilizing a similar mechanic to match each player’s offering against the others in a battle of relative and subjective comparison, there is a clear and present difference between the two products that is at once refreshing and surprisingly elegant in its simplicity.

Overview

A party game designed for between 4 and 8 players, by heritage if not clearly by design, this card-based matching game combines the players’ clever minds with oddly ambiguous word cards, to create an exciting and fun wordsmith and sales-pitch combination. Each turn, one player becomes the "Customer" (defined by a character card reflecting some particular role, drawn at random from a small deck), that will be targeted as a potential customer by the other players. Each other player then presents a 30-second "sales pitch" on behalf of a product he dreams up based on two words (as described by two word cards from the player‘s hand of 5 cards). The fun begins with each of the players pitches their product, and comes to fruition when the customer chooses which fanciful product they will "buy." The player/team that made the successful sales pitch wins that round, and play continues until some pre-determined number of products have been "sold" by the same player.

Game play requires little setup, and even with a true novice going through the process to teach us, it took very little time to go over the basics of the game. One thing to note (this may be a bit of a spoiler, but I believe it is one of the hallmarks – and a possibly a basis for adverse reaction): the rules for the game are actually printed on the outside edge of the box bottom. Now, it makes perfect sense for a company called "Out of the Box," but we in the U.S. are trained by hundreds of titles – in almost Pavlovian fashion – to look for the instructions INSIDE the box.

Snake Oil retails at $19.99, in the sweet spot of gift-buying, and the packaging has that appealing heft one would expect for that price, with a wide array of cards in the initial set (clearly, the game can be added to with subsequent card sets meted out over time, as I anticipate the publishers already have planned). The game is readily available through most hobby retail stores, particularly those that carry Out of the Box titles.

Below are the somewhat wonky, somewhat useful characteristics the Closet Report reveals about the product, and of its game play. As this is the first of many such Closet Reports, they will be useful in comparing products to products sensibly.

Statistics

  • Total Time to Play – TTP: 42:45
    Total time including OBT, PT, and BiB.
  • Out of the Box Time – OBT: 1:00, +15 seconds to find the rules
    Time from closet to playtime, including setup.
  • Play Time – PT: 40:00, would be more with a higher score threshold
    Time from beginning of game to resolution, i.e., winner, draw, or quit.
  • Back in Box Time – BIB: 1:00
    Time required to put game back in the box configuration and return to the closet.
  • Time Per Turn – T/T: 30 seconds, pre-defined by rules
  • Turns per Game – TPG: 4-8, +1 per player in the game
    Number of turns in an average game
  • Turns to Engagement – TTE: Immediate
    Number of turns until one player’s action can negatively affect another player.
  • Fun Per Turn – FPT: 100%
    Percentage of the turn that feels like fun.
  • Work per Turn WPT: 0%
    Percentage of the turn that feels like work.
  • Turns Before Fun – TBF: n/a
    Number of turns that must elapse before engagement with the other players occurs
  • Self-teaching time STT: 3:00, +15 seconds to find the rules
    Time required to learn the game by only reading the rules – no demo.
  • Closet Time – CT: 2 weeks+, or until desire returns to be a salesman again
    Average length of time between plays.

Play Ratings

Numerical ratings from 1 to 10 on various aspects of the game. See each for a scalar definition.

  • Aggression (categorizes the rules by oppositional dynamics)
    Scale from cooperative (1) to stridently adversarial (10) – Score: 4
  • Beauty (categorizes the rules by sheer aesthetics; is it “pretty”?)
    Scale from functional (1) to art gallery quality (10) – Score: 3
  • Complexity (categorizes the rules by how easy or difficult to comprehend)
    Scale from expected (1) to intricate beyond comprehension (10) Score: 3
  • Depth (categorizes the rules in terms of subtlety)
    Scale from shallow (1) to unbelievably nuanced (10) – Score: 2
  • Engagement (categorizes the rules in terms of player interaction)
    Scale from parallel play (1) to strong need for teamwork (10) Score: 2
  • Fun (categorizes the rules in terms sheer derived pleasure)
    Scale from mildly amusing (1) to fall on the floor laughing (10) – Score: 7
  • Innovations Quotient (IQ) (identifies any characteristics that make the game unique)
    Numeric rating, and each “point” is defined that make this product memorable – Score: 1
    The innovation in this case was printing the rules "out of the box." If this were a common occurrence, it would not be an innovation, but it detracted a little from the product appeal to be uncomfortable when they could not be found at first. Consider leader insert that would point out where to look, to reduce the negative experience looking for them.

Miscellaneous

Breakout Events are the times and circumstances where this game may shorten its Closet Time, or otherwise help it "break out" of the closet.

  • Snake Oil is perfect for those days you might otherwise spend watching too many TV Infomercials. It would also be perfect for celebrating Ron Popeil's Birthday (May 3, by the way). But wait….there’s more…Snake Oil also cures lumbago, the dropsies, and toenail fungus!

House Rules are the Game Market Guru’s optional or "unofficially recommended" ways to amplify, alter, or otherwise provide possibilities to enjoy the game beyond those provided in the rules. They are not intended to supplant or overshadow the rules as intended by the designer, and are only offered as game-loving additions.

  • House Rule 1: While there is no need for a "game director" to play this game, we made it more humorous by having an "announcer" set up each sales pitch.
  • House Rule 2: While the game is limited by design for up to 8 players, we found it could be played by up to that many teams of two, or even four players each, and that the sales pitch could be rather extravagant when a team did the pitches, rather than just one person. Points for creativity!

Shelf Rating is the overall game shelf rating, when compared with every other game in the closet. Scores will vary as new games come into being, and based on other characteristics such as marketing and promotions of similar games. Might stay in the closet longer if it doesn't sell other games on moving out of its way, but odds are good it will prevent that from happening.

  • By all means, Snake Oil earns its place near the front left of the second shelf of the main game closet rack. Ability to play at the drop of a hat, ease of play, and somewhat arbitrary scoring means this is a lot of laughs without a lot of prep time, psychosocial setup, or play area. By far one of the best icebreaker games I’ve seen, as the game play opens up conversation, interaction, and engagement from the first syllable. In other words, "I’m sold!"