The game of Snakes and Ladders actually began as a game called Moksha-Patamu in ancient India, where it was used to teach Hindu children about right and wrong.
The bases of the ladders stood on squares that symbolised different types of good (faith, reliability, generosity, knowledge and asceticism) and allowed a player to ascend to a higher life.
Slippery snakes snuck out from squares representing various types of evil, including disobedience, vanity, vulgarity, theft, lying, drunkenness, debt, rage, pride, murder and lust.
The literal good vs. bad theme caught the fancy of Victorian England, and in the late nineteenth century, the game began to be played throughout the UK. The game we know today was copyrighted in Britain in 1870.
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 many sweets or engage in scary bicycle antics, get ready to plummet. First player to the finish line won.
There was no strategy here, no way to cheat, no way to outsmart opponents with head games or a convincing poker face. Because the results of the spinning arrow were completely random, progress through the tiers was luck-based, evening the odds for everyone.
The game found its way to America in 1943, where it was (and is) known as ‘Chutes’ and Ladders.