Chutes and Ladders

Chutes and Ladders

Parents tend to spend countless hours striving to impart ethics and morality upon their children. But lecturing isn’t always effective and, hey, you can only make them watch so much Davey and Goliath. Thankfully, Milton Bradley introduced a board game that offered a little assistance in this department, yet was still fun for kids to play. They took an ancient Indian board game, made it a little less scary sounding, and the result was Chutes and Ladders, one of the most popular board games ever devised for the younger set.

Chutes and Ladders began in ancient India, where it was used to teach Hindu children about right and wrong. The bases of the ladders stood on squares that symbolized different types of good, and then there were slippery snakes (that’s right-it was snakes back then, not chutes) that snuck out from squares representing various types of evil. The good vs. bad theme caught Victorian England’s fancy, and in the late nineteenth century, it began to be played throughout the U.K. It was called Snakes and Ladders, and very Victorian virtues like penitence, thrift and industry were what shot a player up the ladders and towards victory.

The Chutes and Ladders we know today (sans snakes) was copyrighted in 1870, and came to the U.S. shortly thereafter. Milton Bradley introduced the official version of the game in 1943. In this modern take, a player’s progress up and through the tiers was determined by his or her turn at the plastic “spinner.” The spinner was flicked or tapped into motion, and a player moved accordingly, arriving at squares that contained examples of good or bad deeds. Save a cat from a tree, climb a ladder. Eat too much candy or engage in scary bicycle antics, get ready to plummet. When the most severe chute was a disastrous 63-space plunge, you knew this game was no pushover. First player to the finish line won.

There was no discernible strategy here, no way to cheat, no way to outsmart opponents with slippery head games or a convincing poker face – which was all as it should be, since psychological warfare and morality-teaching don’t usually mix. Because the results of the spinning arrow were completely random, progress through the tiers was luck-based, evening the odds for everyone involved. The only safe thing to bet on was that the lessons would keep coming and coming.

The two-to-four-player game is still alive and well today, and though the box says it’s marketed toward ages four and up, players don’t even technically have to be able to read, as long as someone at the board can read out the squares for them. As such, Chutes and Ladders offers a head start of sorts, helping the little ones learn right from wrong at an age when they are most impressionable, while being fun enough for them to never realize that they are being guided in such matters. And that’s why Chutes and Ladders remains ever popular to this day.

Do you remember playing a few rounds of Chutes and Ladders as a kid? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this iconic board game in our comments section below.

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