The history of snakes and ladders

Updated April 17, 2017

Snakes and Ladders is a children’s game that is played by two or more on a square board with 100 numbered squares that ascend in rows and often contain pictures. On some squares, there are ladders that connect a square on a higher row on the board; other squares contain snakes that similarly connect squares on different rows. It is a game that requires few skills other than the ability to count, making it an ideal game for very young children.


Snakes and Ladders originated in 2nd century B.C. India as Paramapada Sopanam–“the ladder to salvation.” It was invented by Hindu spiritual leaders to teach children about the rewards of good deeds and the negative consequences of bad ones. The snakes represent vices and poor decisions, and the ladders represent virtues and sound morality. The game first made its way to England in 1892, and was commercially sold in the United States in 1943 by Milton Bradley under the name Chutes and Ladders. It often has been assumed that Square 100 represents the Hindu idea of nirvana, however, there is no hard evidence to bear that out.

Game Play

All players begin the game in Square 1, and roll a single die. After moving the appropriate number of squares, one more space is moved, either up or down, depending on whether the initial roll placed you on a ladder or a snake. A ladder, or good deed, benefits you by allowing you to move to the top of the ladder. A snake, or bad deed, penalises you by forcing you slide back down to the tail of the snake. If a six is rolled, a free roll is given to that player immediately. The first player to reach Square 100 wins the game.


There are numerous variations of Snakes and Ladders, though the basic concept remains the same for all of them. The current U.S. version, Chutes and Ladders, is played with a spinner instead of a die, and the pictures on the board are generally a little lighter in nature. An example of this includes a child mowing a lawn as a good deed, and being rewarded with candy. In recent years, editions of the games have been released with cartoon graphics from popular children's television shows such as "SpongeBob Square Pants" and "Dora The Explorer."

Alternate Names

Snakes and Ladders is known by many different names around the world. Some of these include: Ups and Downs (Canada), Jungle Run (U.S.), Walt Disney’s Steps ‘n’ Chutes (U.K.), and Up and Down! The New Ladder Game (U.S.). Since the original concept dates to ancient India, many different companies are able to market the game because of an absence of any copyrights or patents.

Online and Printable Versions

As the Internet and computer industries continue to grow, more and more games are available to play online, and Snakes and Ladders is no exception. Printable versions are available as well, allowing players to download and print purchased or free versions of the game board.

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About the Author

Christopher Godwin is a freelance writer from Los Angeles. He spent his formative years as a chef and bartender crafting signature dishes and cocktails as the head of an upscale catering firm. He has since ventured into sharing original creations and expertise with the public. Godwin has published poetry, fiction and nonfiction in publications like "Spork Magazine," "Cold Mountain Review" and "From Abalone To Zest."