Snakes and Ladders originated in India as part of a family of dice board games, that included Gyan chauper andpachisi (present-day Ludo and Parcheesi). 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.
Known as Moksha Patam, the game was popular in ancient India and emphasized the role of fate or karma. A Jain version, Gyanbazi or Gyan chauper, dates to the 16th century. The game was called Leela and reflected the Hinduism consciousness surrounding everyday life. The underlying ideals of the game inspired a version introduced in Victorian England in 1892.
Each player starts with a token on the starting square (usually the “1” grid square in the bottom left corner, or simply, the imaginary space beside the “1” grid square) and takes turns to roll a single die to move the token by the number of squares indicated by the die roll. Tokens follow a fixed route marked on the gameboard which usually follows a boustrophedon (ox-plow) track from the bottom to the top of the playing area, passing once through every square. If, on completion of a move, a player’s token lands on the lower-numbered end of a “ladder”, the player moves the token up to the ladder’s higher-numbered square. If the player lands on the higher-numbered square of a “snake” (or chute), the token is moved down to the snake’s lower-numbered square.
If a player rolls a 6, the player may, after moving, immediately take another turn; otherwise play passes to the next player in turn. If a player rolls three consecutive 6s, the player must return to the starting square (grid “1”) and may not move again until rolling another 6. The player who is first to bring their token to the last square of the track is the winner.
A variation exists where a player must roll the exact number to reach the final square (hence winning). Depending on the particular variation, if the roll of the die is too large the token either remains in place or “bounces” off the Final Square and back again. For example, if a person requiring a three to win rolls a five, they would move forward three spaces and then back two again. In certain circumstances (such as a person requiring a one to win rolling a six), a player can end up further from the final square after this move than before it.