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Wednesday, September 21, 2011


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Saint Gyandev
13th century AD

The Government of India site credits the invention of the game to the 13th century saint, Gyandev.  The game, they say, was originally called Mokshpat; with the ladders representing virtues and the snakes representing vices. Through its several modifications over the decades, however, the meaning of the game has remained the same -- that good deeds will take people to heaven while evil deeds will lead to a cycle of rebirths.

Game of Snakes & Ladders, India,
19th century, Gouache on cloth
Pic by wiki user Mike hayes
Snakes and Ladders (or Chutes and Ladders) is an ancient Indian board game regarded today as a worldwide classic. It is played between two or more players on a game board having numbered, gridded squares. A number of "ladders" and "snakes" (or "chutes") are pictured on the board, each connecting two specific board squares. The object of the game is to navigate one's game piece from the start (bottom square) to the finish (top square), helped or hindered by ladders and snakes, respectively. The historic version had root in morality lessons, where a player's progression up the board represented a life journey complicated by virtues (ladders) and vices (snakes).
The size of the grid (most commonly 8×8, 10×10, or 12×12) varies from board to board, as does the exact arrangement of the snakes and ladders, with both factors affecting the duration of play.

Snakes and Ladders originated in India as part of a family of dice board games, including pachisi (modern day Ludo). It was known as moksha pAtam or vaikunthapaali or paramapada sopaanam (the ladder to salvation). The game made its way to England and was sold as Snakes and Ladders, then the basic concept was introduced in the United States as Chutes and Ladders (an "improved new version of England's famous indoor sport") by game pioneer Milton Bradley in 1943.
The game as popularly played in ancient India was known as Moksha Patam, and emphasized the role of fate or karma. A Jain version, Gyanbazi, dates to the 16th century. The game was called Leela and reflected the Hinduism consciousness surrounding everyday life. Impressed by the underlying ideals of the game, a newer version was introduced in Victorian England in 1892, possibly by John Jaques of Jaques of London.

Moksha Patam was associated with traditional Hindu philosophy contrasting karma and kama, or destiny and desire. It emphasized destiny, as opposed to games such as pachisi, which focused on life as a mixture of skill (free will) and luck. The game has also been interpreted and used as a tool for teaching the effects of good deeds versus bad. The ladders represented virtues such as generosity, faith, and humility, while the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, and theft. The morality lesson of the game was that a person can attain salvation (Moksha) through doing good, whereas by doing evil one will inherit rebirth to lower forms of life. The number of ladders was less than the number of snakes as a reminder that a path of good is much more difficult to tread than a path of sins. Presumably the number "100" represented Moksha (salvation). In Andhra Pradesh, snakes and ladders is played in the name of Vaikuntapali.

The game is entirely determined by a random factor, either a spinner or the roll of a die; players make no decisions at all.  The game is played between two and six players. Although it is marketed for children, it can be played and enjoyed by all ages.

Specific Editions
The most widely known edition of Snakes and Ladders in the United States is Chutes and Ladders from Milton Bradley (which was purchased by the game's current distributor Hasbro). It is played on a 10×10 board, and players advance their pieces according to a spinner rather than a die. The theme of the board design is playground equipment—children climb ladders to go down chutes. The artwork on the board teaches a morality lesson, the squares on the bottom of the ladders show a child doing a good or sensible deed and at the top of the ladder there is an image of the child enjoying the reward. At the top of the chutes, there are pictures of children engaging in mischievous or foolish behaviour and the images on the bottom show the child suffering the consequences. There have also been many pop culture versions of the game produced in recent years, with graphics featuring such characters as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants.

In Canada the game has been traditionally sold as Snakes and Ladders, and produced by the Canada Games Company. Several Canadian specific versions have been produced over the years, including version substituting Toboggan runs for the snakes. With the demise of the Canada Games Company, Chutes and Ladders produced by Milton Bradley/Hasbro has been gaining in popularity.

The most common in the United Kingdom is Spear's Games' edition of Snakes and Ladders, played on a 10x10 board where a single die is used.

During the early 1990s in South Africa, Chutes and Ladders games made from cardboard were distributed on the back of egg boxes as part of a promotion

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