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This AMIGO edition is the latest in a line of versions of SNAKE OIL and it is not the first time I personally have encountered the game, originally picking up a copy in the USA at GenCon when it was in the cube-box format. This is a 20-30 minute game for 3-8 players (possibly more if you don't use the card holders) aged 10+ . It is by Jeff Ochs & Patricia Hayes Kaufman and features the amusing art of John Kovalic.

SNAKE OIL is a game designed specifically for fun. The rules say there will be a winner or winners but this isn't really a game that you play to win, especially as there is nothing you can do to ensure a victory. It isn't a strategy game or a resource collecting/using game, it is  all about selecting two words each round that appeal to you and hoping they appeal to the other players, specifically the player whose turn it is at choosing. There are no right or wrong words only personal choices. SNAKE OIL can also be added to the ever-growing list of selection mechanic games such as APPLES to APPLES, CRAP or SLAP or CHOOSE ONE with a little storytelling introduced if the players want it - it adds to the fun element and prevents the game being flat and uninteresting. The main difference between SNAKE OIL and the other selection games is that the player choosing knows whose Word Cards they are choosing which adds a little bit of King Maker to the game; ie your decisions determine the game winner.

AMIGO have taken the basic card game and re-presented it in a more visual manner, by adding player card holders and Word cards that are Bottle shaped and which slide into the card holders - the idea being to give the appearance of the olde wild west Snake Oil bottles sold by the traveling salesmen of the day. Each player has a hand of six Word cards, the Customer cards (which are double-sided - 2 different colours) are shuffled and placed face down as a draw pile, a single colour side up; they are the cards that count towards scoring.

All players begin each round with six Bottles (Word cards) in their Wagon (card holder). In turn, each player becomes the Customer. They turn over the top card of the Customer deck and announce the profession - Doctor, Bus Driver, Artist, Alien, Protester, etc - and then the other players select two cards from their Wagon that they can put together to make a new saleable product associated with the Customer or that they think would best suit the customer. These 2 cards are removed from the card holder and placed face down in front until all players have made their selection. Then all cards are turned over at the same time.

The idea of the game is to try to put yourself in the mindset of the old travelling salesman from the Wild and wooly West - seen in countless western films - who sold bottles of cure-alls ?  Example the BUNNY and THERAPY words could meld to become BUNNY THERAPY which might be something you would see a DOCTOR about.  All players except the Customer can simply read off their two words aloud, they can read them aloud and give a covering story about why this particular product should be bought or they can simply leave the cards on the tabel for the Customer to read and then decide which they like best. Ultimately it comes down to the latter - the Customer's choice. One of the problems this causes is that if one player is ahead on points (you collect Customer cards as points) it might help you make your decision against them even if you really think their New Product is the best of the bunch. When the game ends the player with the most Customer cards is the winner. 

You can play to win, which is rather boring, or you can play King Maker, which is also rather boring and not so good for you, or you can get a few like-minded friends and play just for FUN, which I really believe is the best way to enjoy it.

I am rather surprised that AMIGO have chosen to produce a game that has already been marketed quite successfully at least twice before. The differences between this version and others include it being a multi language version - the Bottle (word) cards are separated into five sections with the word in a descending list of German, French, Dutch, Italian and English so that when all 6 cards are in the card holder you can read your preferred language straight along in a line - the card holder, the double-sided Customer card deck and the bottle shaped word cards, all visually effective but without any mechanic changing or game play altering, it is the generally same game.  I also don't see this as a game that a group of 10 year olds would play, nor is it really a family game per se; it is for all intent and purpose a classic Beer & Pretzels game.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015