A humorous and educational look at speech pathology.

Hmm. It looks like I haven’t posted in a while. I blame this. Since I’m spending so much time focusing on hobby gaming rather than speech therapy while blogging, today I’m going to dip a little deeper into my “hobby gaming” games – Snake Oil, the latest release from Out of the Box Games.

Variants/Expansions: None.

General Overview: Snake Oil is a word-based party game (and the 2012 Mensa Select Winner) for four to nine players of ages 13 and up (although reviewers are saying children as young as six have had success with the game). Much like in Apples to Apples, players take turns acting as the judge, or “customer”. Each round, the customer draws a customer card, which describes a person looking to purchase a product. These customers are usually generic descriptors like “Cheerleader” or “Bodybuilder”. The other players, the “inventors”, pick two cards out of their hand of six to create a product they are selling to that customer; each card contains a one-word noun like “rumor” or “mirror”, which would be combined to make the product “Rumor Mirror” or “Mirror Rumor”. After making their pitch, the customer chooses the best product and pitch, and that product’s inventor gets a point. The inventors then draw two cards to replace the cards they played, and the player to the customer’s left acts as the new customer for the next round. Once every player has been the customer once, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

Skill Support:

  • Theory of Mind – This game is, hands down, the best Theory of Mind therapy game I have ever seen. Both the Customer and Inventors need to place themselves in the shoes of another person and consider what that person would want or need instead of what they themselves would want and need.
  • Literacy – This game features a significant amount of reading at the word level.
  • Verbal Reasoning – Since the game includes both the cards played and the pitch, players are encouraged to use verbal reasoning skills in addition to simply determining what cards to play.

Strengths:

  • The game is simple: This game requires very little explanation, and modeling play is easy.
  • The game is fast: The game, in its basic form, has as many turns as there are players. This allows each Inventor to spend a little more time than usual to create and say their pitch, removing the pressure of a fast answer from a student with processing delays or fluency deficits.
  • Wide player range: This game can be used with as few as two or as many as six players with ease, and it can be applied to a variety of ages with some modifications.
  • THEORY OF MIND! Again, this is the only game I’ve seen to fully integrate Theory of Mind to this degree. This game is awesome for high-language autistic students who still have difficulty with pragmatics.

Challenges:

  • Too brief: A game that lasts only 4-9 rounds may not fill a full session without modification.
  • Absent of visual reference: Visual references are not built into this game.
  • Unfortunate card interactions: Do you really want to hear a middle school or high school student (especially a boy) try to pitch a “Love Window” to a cheerleader? Me neither.
  • Literacy-dependent: Cards with words are hard for kids who can’t read.

Accommodations/Modifications:

  • Extended time: Modifying the game’s duration to fit your needs isn’t difficult.
  • Visual references: You can add visual references to this game and reduce literacy dependence by replacing the word cards with a set of picture cards (like the ones from this game). It reduces the invention options somewhat, but it’s functional for low-literacy or high-visual students.

Alternate Uses:

  • This game can be used without a group as well as with a group. In an individual session, the student can be placed in either the role of Inventor or Customer. A student Inventor could be asked to explain what elements of a product they might pitch to a particular Customer (including differences in pitching the same product to different Customers). A student Customer might be required to generate questions about a product for an Inventor.
  • The product combinations themselves can be used as a problem-solving task. What challenges would exist in making a “Rumor Mirror”? What would a “Leash Broom” even look like? Students could ask and/or answer questions about products.
  • Using the products in this game as prompts in Telestrations may or may not be useful in therapy, but it’s definitely something I want to try at our next board game night.

The second I heard about this game, I thought about its use for pragmatic language. As I looked more into the game, its uses for expressive language also became clear. It may be that the true value in this game is its use in integrating students with pragmatic language difficulties into sessions, targeting their deficits in a “fun” context where they can be part of a more mainstreamed group – something that’s regularly difficult for students with pragmatic deficits.

Has anyone else had experience using this game in therapy? How useful has it been? What other uses and modifications have you found?

-John

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