Snake Oil Rules

Setting Up

1. Place the Word Cards (rounded corners) and Customer
Cards within reach of all players.

2. Each player draws a hand of six Word Cards.

3. Select one player to be the Customer for the first round.

Playing the Game

1. The Customer takes a Customer Card, picks either side, reads it out loud, and takes on that role for the round.
2. The other players combine two Word Cards from their hands to create an item for the Customer.
3. As soon as any player is ready, that player “pitches” the item to the Customer. When one player is finished anyone else can jump in and make the next pitch. The Customer may cut off a pitch that goes over 30 seconds.
4. After each player has made a pitch, the Customer picks the best item and awards the Customer Card to the player who created and pitched the item.
5. The Word Cards played in that round are discarded.
Players draw Word Cards from either Word Card deck to bring their hands back up to six.
6. The player to the left of the current Customer becomes the new Customer, and play continues following steps
1-6 until each player has been the Customer once.

Winning the Game

After each player has been the Customer once, the player with the most Customer Cards wins!

Tie Breaker:
If two or more players are tied with the most Customer Cards, play one additional round with a new Customer Card. Only the tied players pitch an item. All other players vote to determine the winner. If all players are tied with one Customer Card, continue playing until each player has been the Customer a second time to determine the winner.

© 2019 Snake Oil, LLC. All rights reserved.
Jeff Ochs and Patricia Hayes Kaufman
Graphic Design / Illustration:
Patricia Hayes Kaufman and John Kovalic

Snake Oil Variations

The More the Merrier
To give players more options in creating items for the Customer, decide as a group to hold eight or even ten cards per hand instead of the standard six.

Snake Oil Live!

With this variation you can entertain a large group for hours as Snake Oil contestants pitch to an audience to see who is the best Snake Oil salesperson! To run Snake Oil Live, you need a host, contestants, and an audience.

1. Select one person to be the first host.
2. Select three players to be the first contestants. Each contestant draws six Word Cards and the host reveals a Customer Card. The audience acts as the customer.
3. The contestants each create a two-card item and then take turns pitching to the audience.
4. After all of the contestants have made their pitch, the show host asks the audience to cheer or raise their hands for the item they liked the best and whoever gets the most response wins that round.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 with new contestants for each round.
6. Play one final round with only the players who won in the earlier rounds. The winner of the final round is the best Snake Oil salesperson!

Snake Oil Tournament Play (12-24 players)
These rules will help you host a fun and simple tournament using just one box of Snake Oil.
1. Divide the players into three groups of 4, 5, or 6 players.
It’s ok if some groups have more players than others.
2. Divide the Word and Customer Cards so that each
group has approximately the same amount.
3. Each group plays one game, with each player being the customer once, determining the winner for that group.
4. Play one final game with the winners from each group.
The winner of the final game is the grand champion!

Snake Oil Classroom

Teachers love using Snake Oil in their classrooms.
For ideas and examples, visit

The True History of Snake Oil

Real snake oil actually did exist!
It was first introduced to the United States in the 1860s by Chinese laborers working on the Transcontinental Ralroad. After hard physical labor, they would
rub sore muscles with an ointment made from water snake oil, and they shared this ancient Chinese remedy with their American co- workers. Products containing water snake oil are still used today by some herbalists, and a recent study found it contains more omega-3 fatty acids than the best forms of
fish oil!

As the years went by snake oil was commercialized. In 1917, a sample of Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment was tested by the U.S. government and found to contain no actual snake oil. As a result of swindlers making false claims
and using misleading labels, the phrase “Snake Oil Salesman” was
born! Today, the term usually refers to used-car salesmen, politicians, or anyone who likes to stretch the truth just a little bit!