Chutes and Ladders
Synopsis of Toy
Board games, at least during game time, can be absolutely transformative. They can turn a gentle soul into a stop-at-nothing competitor. They can drive an ethical person to cheat, make someone quiet cry out in unfettered glee or rage—depending on how the cards fall or the dice are thrown. The person who always has a kind word handy can turn smug and sarcastic, or your curmudgeonly aunt can turn into a giggling, fun-to-be-around, general kick in the pants.
Though the effects of games are usually temporary, it’d be nice if every once in a while, they lasted longer than just an hour or two—the curmudgeonly aunt would giggle the rest of the night through, or the little morality instructions that a Chutes and Ladders player learns would actually rub off. Think of it: arrange the kids around the Chutes and Ladders board and let the game do the rest. Parents can free themselves up from the tricky, time-consuming stuff like imparting morality and integrity, and go straight to the fun stuff—like soccer games and birthday parties at the skate rink! Thank you, Milton Bradley.
Chutes and Ladders began, believe it or not, 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 literalness 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.
The Chutes and Ladders we know today was copyrighted in 1870, and came to the U.S. thereafter. 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 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. 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 technically have to be able read—as long as someone at the board can read out the squares for them. So set the little one down to play…heck, play it while the little one’s still in the womb and get a real head start on his good vs. bad acumen!
Release History of Toy1870 - Snakes and Ladders copyrighted in U.K.
1943 - Chutes and Ladders imported to the U.S.
Sub Categories of Toysgames