Critical Play: Comparative Analysis

For this week’s Critical Play, I played Snake Oil. Snake Oil is an Apples-to-Apples mod with the theme of pitching a (silly) product using object/idea cards to a randomly selected customer. It was designed by Jeff Ochs and is mainly a card-based tabletop game, although notably has a free online version made available during the COVID era, which I opted to use instead of buying the full version. Snake Oil is marketed as a family game with age suggestion 10+, but with specified expansion packs for older and younger audiences. The online version that I used had inclusions from “Joke Juice,” the younger expansion pack.


Both games Posh Pooch and Snake Oil are, at their core, Apples-to-Apples mods with similar card setups and storybuilding aspects that lead to judging the best ‘product’ or ‘dog.’ However, due to the mechanical differences in judging and complexity of the cards, I argue that Snake Oil is markedly different due to its functionality as a simpler, more juvenile-targeted game. 



The judging mechanism in Snake Oil allowed for greater player-player interaction in comparison to Posh Pooch. In Snake Oil, there is one Judge and 2+ Businessmen. The one Judge chooses their Customer identity and shares it with the rest of the players, then judging the products offered by the Businessmen based on how well they appeal to the Customer. In my gameplay, Businessmen were able to defend their product and argue for its validity when the judges expressed their opinions on the products.

 For example: In round1, the customer was a Treasure Hunter and the two products were Tree Balloon and Revenge Pants. Emily argued that her Tree Balloon was an essential mode of transportation capable of flight and stationary rooting on any island. Kevin argued that the Revenge Pants were able to exact revenge upon any of your enemies or rival treasurehunters. Because the two were loyal to their own products and wanted to win, they were able to have a discussion that included pointing out flaws and potential incidents that could render their products useless (cacti… a washing machine…). This was very important in gameplay as aside from the judging portion of the game, there was very little discussion or interaction between players. The judging mechanic, in which there is one judge player and each Businessman is advocating for their own product, creates a competitive and interactive dynamic between Businessmen that fosters fellowship as players learn more about one another through arguing. Posh Pooch, in its preliminary gameplays, has lacked this level of discussion during the judging portion of the game due to the lack of a single judge. In Posh Pooch, the entire group must have aconsensus on who’s dog best fit the prompt. This mechanic, specifically the inability to choose one’s own dog, inhibits the player’s emotions of loyalty and investment into their dog. When players must choose another’s dog, they lack motivation to argue with, discuss with, attack, or defend from other players. This motivational dynamic is essential in creating fellowship amongst players. Thus, Snake Oil’s judging mechanic is more effective at creating fellowship than Posh Pooch’s.


Complexity of Cards

Because of the target audience of Snake Oil being 10+ / family, the level of complexity in the cards in limited in multiple ways. Vocabulary, for one, was limited to that of a ten year old. Items were very common and easy to understand, like tree, balloon, pants, revenge, ice, goggles, etc. Posh Pooch has a similar vocabulary level, with accessories such as, top hat, bow tie, flipflop, apple watch, necklace. However, the difference in vocabulary really lies in the prompt cards of Posh Pooch and the customer cards of Snake Oil. Snake Oil’s customer cards had very simplistic ideas such as treasure hunter, Santa, trick-or-treater, dog. Posh Pooch, on the other hand, has more complex (and slightly unhinged) prompt cards such as “Worst at running the country,” “Most likely to steal a car and drive to McDonald’s,” and “Most entrepreneurial.” The level of understanding increases in Posh Pooch from a simple understanding of an object and its function, to a linkage with personality, proper place, and humorous inappropriateness (being in the wrong place/doing the wrong thing). The vocabulary and understanding is more fitting of a teenager than a ten-year-old, and the humor is more appealing to those of older ages. The simplicity in the vocabulary and customers in Snake Oil emphasizes the juvenile target audience as older players do not derive much enjoyment from the game, as the silliness is not funny to them. In our gameplay, we really struggled to create realistic products with the limited vocabulary offered. We also, as a result of vocabulary, failed to find real humor in the products. A Tree Balloon is only as funny as you can make it, and it’s absurdity as a transportation device makes itmore confusing than funny. This might be a flaw of the game if the player group is a mixture of older and younger players rather than solely for younger players. I recall Apples-to-Apples having a similar issue, as when I played the party pack with my parents we struggled to find cards we could all enjoy. I would suggest funnier objects, perhaps very specific objects, such as a “balloon dog” rather than a “balloon,” or “prank goggles” rather than “goggles” in order to add more humor to the game and take off some of the creative pressures on the gameplayers. Overall, the mechanic of vocabulary can hinder the dynamic of humor experienced by the players if too simplistic (for adults) or too complex (for children) and ruin the ability to develop fellowship.

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