Snakes & ladders – (or Chutes and Ladders) is a great children’s board game which has its roots in ancient India (aka Moksha Patam). The game was first introduced in the US by game pioneer Milton Bradley in 1943.
The historic version contained morality lessons, where a player’s progression up the board represented life’s journey which is often complicated by virtues (ladders) and vices (snakes). The virtue ladders represented generosity, faith, and humility, while the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, and theft. In case you hadn’t noticed, 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.
For all you mathematicians, the Snakes and Ladders game can be represented in an Markov chain, since from any square the odds of moving to any other square are fixed and independent of any previous game history. If you’re really interested in this, have a look at the book Winning Ways which illustrates this as an impartial game in combinatorial game theory even though it is very far from a natural fit to this category. For other interesting items see my ‘Collectibles’ page.
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I hadn’t realized there was such a history to the game, in particular that there was a tie to morality lessons, although the typical pattern of older games should have suggested there would be.