The term “party game” carries with it a host of associations and expectations. Easy to understand rules, a quick play time and lots of player interaction tend to be the major hallmarks of all successful party games–looking at time-honored titles like Pictionary and Charades is proof of this. Since its release, Cards Against Humanity has come to embody much of what makes party games so approachable. The gameplay is lightning quick, and the added layer of adult humor appeals to a great deal of people. The problem with CAH, however, is that it is nothing more than surface-level shock value that wears out after a few plays.
I’m not trying to discourage anyone from enjoying the game here, but beyond the dick jokes, racism and insensitive Holocaust references, there’s not a whole lot to it. You can only laugh at “Rush Limbaugh’s Soft, Shitty Body” so many times before it becomes trite. My biggest complaint with CAH is that it doesn’t require the least bit of creativity. As long as you have a grossly offensive card in your hand, chances are that you’ll do well. Compare that with party classic Pictionary where victory relies completely on the players’ ability to convey information in unique ways.
Luckily, there exists a game that takes the gameplay from CAH (whose gameplay was taken from the all-ages Apples to Apples) and stirs in a healthy dose of player creativity. Snake Oil is, for my money, the best version of the Apples to Apples formula.
Snake Oil turns work like this: one player plays the role of a customer with characteristics drawn randomly from the customer deck. There are many different potential customers, like cheerleader, caveman, athlete, dictator, actor and dozens more. Once the customer role has been established, every other player must sell them an item that is made up of two cards chosen from their hand. Every card is an object, like a bicycle, ladder, meat, egg, glove and so on. Then players take turns attempting to sell their item to the customer as though they (the customer) were the chosen character. How might an alien use a “guilt hammer,” or a nanny an “alcohol bracelet”? Then he customer will choose whoever they feel did the best job with their sales pitch, and reward them one point.
The standout feature of Snake Oil is its reliance on player creativity. It’s easy to randomly mash up two cards from your hand, but because you’re going to be forced to pitch that item, some thought must go into your decision. The different customer cards do a great job of giving you an angle for your pitch as well. It’s also a game that can be as clean or as dirty as the players will allow, unlike Cards Against Humanity which has only one setting. Watching someone pitch a “meat hammock” to a priest is something you’ll be discussing with your group for years. Adversely, a player selling a “souvenir tie” to a tourist is so perfectly and randomly appropriate that it’s impossible not to laugh at.
The pantheon of party games holds esteemed company, and Snake Oil assuredly belongs the upper echelons among Scattergories, Pictionary and Charades. It’s become my go-to game when at a party, and just might be the most played game I own. I cannot recommend it enough.