Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why Snake Oil Kills Cards Against Humanity

Posted By on Sat, Feb 21, 2015 at 7:33 AM

It is with some trepidation that I trash a game that so many people enjoy. Cards Against Humanity has been a breakout hit in the party game niche. I’ve played it before and liked it well enough. But if you’ve played this NC-17 version of Mad Libs a few times and are done amazing yourselves with paint-by-numbers exercises in transgressive humor, you can throw it away now, my fine friend.

Step right up and experience the hilarity that true improvisational creativity brings with a bottle of magnificent Snake Oil!

click to enlarge NATE WARREN
  • Nate Warren

Snake Oil is extremely simple to play. Each round somebody plays the part of a customer, drawing from a stack of two-sided cards with a customer type on each side and choosing one. Every one else is a salesperson, holding six cards in their hands with random words printed on them. Once the identity of the customer is known, it’s the other players’ job to take two of their cards, combine them to form some kind of product, and pitch it to the customer in about 30 seconds. After all the pitches are over, the customer chooses the best pitch and the winner is awarded the customer card.

Your customer may be a caveman, a cheerleader or a cowboy — there are 56 potential customers in all. Something wonderful happens after the salespeople gin up some products and the inner pitchman awakens. Eyes lock with messianic conviction as a salesperson explains why the customer must have “underwear radar” right now. Laughter erupts around the table as solutions are unveiled to the customer — some vile, some hilarious and some so obtuse that it takes a great pitch to outdo more practical offerings from competitors.

Sometimes the cards set up a slam-dunk pitch. Other times your cards are crap and you’ve got to get creative. Adopting my best approximation of a Central American accent, I once managed to sell “jacket wax” to a dictator. Our friend Jay got a big sale by offering a “family trap” to a zombie. (“How many brains do you want to eat today? One brain? Two brains? How about a whole family’s worth of brains?”) And we were left in tears when my stepdaughter tried to explain why something called a “death tent” would be appealing to, of all people, a pregnant woman. Even mangled pitches are entertaining, giving Snake Oil more off-the-shelf intergenerational appeal than a game like Dixit.

Because points are awarded by players and not by a built-in point-taking mechanism, we don’t even bother recording who wins. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the electricity that shoots around the table as all eyes turn to you and you ramp up into a high-pressure sell for your ridiculous product.

It’s twice as much fun as Cards Against Humanity and twice as creative, replacing shopworn fill-in-the-blank naughtiness with room for your ingenuity and waves of laughter every time — half the point of sitting down for board games in the first place.

After just a few plays, Cards Against Humanity shows you everything it has to offer. After the same amount of plays, Snake Oil is just getting warmed up. Ladies and gentlemen, the only party game you might ever need is here.

Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.

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