I am the mongoose of truth. Because I have been designated the mongoose of truth, I will never lie to you. Problem is, I don’t always know the truth. I just speak it. Which means I might be wrong. Full of good intentions, but wrong. And then there are snakes. They know the truth, though it’s rare to hear them speak it. This is because they will do everything in their power to lead you astray. Even telling the truth, sometimes. They are full of bad intentions, and those bad intentions are made worse because they know the difference between truth and lies.
That’s Phil Walker-Harding’s Snakesss in a nutshell. It also happens to be an alethiological pretzel.
Snakesss is sort of a social deduction game.
Hang on. It isn’t properly a social deduction game, and therein lies its charm. Played over six lightning-fast rounds, everybody is dealt a new role at the beginning of each new round. There are only three. Ordinary Humans, who hope to pick the right answer to a silly multiple-choice question. Snakes, who get to see the answer in secret, but earn points by getting the Ordinary Humans to guess the wrong answer. And the Mongoose of Truth, visible to everybody and determined to always speak truly — except they also haven’t seen the answer to the question. So, um. Sometimes your mongoose is a bit useless.
It goes like this. Everybody draws a role. The mongoose announces themself. A question appears. It’s always silly. For example, it might be something like, What is a “truel”? (A) A duel between three people. (B) A lie that is mostly true. (C) A type of farming tool. Everybody closes their eyes. The snakes peek at the answer in secret. After two minutes of debate, everybody picks an answer and points are tallied. Snakes earn points for everybody who guessed the wrong answer. The mongoose and the humans earn points for guessing the right answer.
Simple. Silly. Not exactly revolutionary. A nice inoffensive way to spend half an hour.
It also happens to produce minor insights into how good intentions can run awry, while bad intentions are free to leverage a wide range of tools to mess with your head.
Like I mentioned, the mongoose doesn’t actually know the answer. That’s the crucial detail. The mongoose is every bit as lost as the humans, striving to solve goofball questions with screwy answers. Likewise, there’s nothing preventing two snakes from running down the timer by debating possible solutions. There’s a subtlety to playing a snake, much the way there’s a subtlety to playing any number of baddies in other social deduction games. Sometimes it pays to self-incriminate. Especially if you’ve already championed the correct answer. There’s no penalty for being outed as a snake, after all.
The result isn’t exactly deep — I did call it a minor insight — but it’s an interesting reflection of how charlatans, mountebanks, cons, fraudsters, and phoneys operate. Unlike in agriculture, a little bit of truth can go a long way toward making fertilizer smell like roses.
If anything, Snakesss could be described as timely. Over the past year, I’ve spent a great deal of time in amazement over the credulity of certain friends and family members. I’m sure some of them would say the same about me. Something similar happens when playing Snakesss. When a new question appears, somebody will make up their mind. Any argument that confirms their answer is now conclusive. Anything else is dismissed. The difference is that the snakes are freer to jostle within that null-space, to break down any appeal to fact or fiction. “Maybe you’re right,” one snake confirms. “But maybe this is the answer instead,” another says, sowing discord. To a snake, there is no such thing as right and wrong. Only success and failure. A rubric of its own, and a poisonous one at that. Maybe that’s why they’re called snakes.
Look, Snakesss isn’t a serious game. It’s fluffy and silly and the questions are rarely too obvious. But it’s also a little bit scary. That makes me like it better than I would have otherwise.
Snakesss is a Target exclusive.
A complimentary copy was provided.