The Hisstory of Snakes and Ladders

Chutes and Ladders (C&L) is a classic children’s game, where players try to get to the end of the board by moving a number of spaces as indicated by a spinner. C&L is arguably barely a game at all, whereas it’s predecessor, Snakes and Ladders is much more complex and nuanced.

800px-Snakes_and_LaddersImage Credit: Jain Miniature

Snakes and Ladders is an ancient game; dating back to 45BC (Before Cats) It’s box was often ornately designed and doubled as the board. Seeing as it needed to hold all if the numerous components of the game, the box was often large and cumbersome. Households would often use the box as a communal table when not playing the game.

Image Credit: bidorbuy

The board depicted Ladders crossed by snakes and decorated with imagery of nature, with humans and snakes at odds at the bottom of the board. Using specially designed dice, players would roll to see how many snakes would be let out of the box and how many Ladders would be allowed for the current game.

Often the tallest player was chosen to go first, relegating the responsibility of finding suitable ladders to them. Wealthier families would keep a set of Ladders nearby for the game, but poorer families would borrow ladders from their neighbors; using the occasion as an excuse to visit and return previously borrowed items. Thus Snakes and Ladders became a game about community and the occasional step stool theft.


Image credit: Shutterstock

The snakes came as part of the game in egg form. It would be some weeks after purchase before the game could be played as owners would first have to wait for their components to hatch. Rumor says that impatient players would sometimes employ a chicken to sit on the snake eggs in a hope to speed up the process. This is doubtful however as chickens are notoriously bad at games and it would be impossible to make them understand their important role.

Once Ladders were procured, the box of snakes would be opened and players would begin frantically rolling to see which Ladders they would be allowed to climb and how high they could ascend. If a player rolled a golden skull, they would need to jump down off their ladder and begin rolling again.

A 3,000 year old Snakes and Ladder die carved from petrified dinosaur fat.

The snakes would roll their human dice to determine if they could bite the player. If the snakes rolled the golden skull, they would switch places with the humans on the floor, and the biting order would reverse.

In a particularly notorious and ill-advised game of Snakes and Ladders between Alexander Mikhailovich Nikolsky and Jacques Vladimir von Bedriaga, poisonous snakes were used to increase the difficulty level if the game. Nikolsky egged von Bedriaga into pushing his luck on the last rung and the resounding thump echoed throughout history, forever tainting the beloved game.

Snakes and Ladders was re-popularized by the famous scene in Indiana Jones, where Professor Jones rolls the fated golden skull.


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It is my opinion that Snakes and Ladders is a much more dynamic game that its Milton Bradley counterpart.

Fun Fact: The Snakes and Ladders Megagame was once thought to be a Photoshop hoax.

Having gone to the Metropolitan Museum of Games in NYC, I have seen firstpaw, the elegant beauty that the original games were embued. Modern day Snakes and Ladders comes with variable snake species and vials of matching anti-toxin for players, but I would suggest trying to find a copy pre-1950’s at your local thrift shop. You will get a more authentic experience. Just don’t forget to replace the snakes. The older games smell quite bad if you don’t clean them out first. I give Snakes and Ladders 3 paws up.

Featured Image credit: JOURNAL EDGE

Professor Peanut

Professor Peanut has a Doctorate in Felis Domestic Affairs. She studied at the Fancy Feast Royal Academy at Tashirojima, Japan. She teaches Home Hackonimics at Tumblr University. In her spare time she enjoys playing with board games and begging for treats.

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