What You Don’t Know About Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and ladders is one of the most common indulged in board games of the world. It can be safely said that when one can’t make up their mind on which game to play, they reach for snakes and ladders.

The contemporary version of the game vastly differs from the old version. The game of snakes and ladders has followed a circuitous route to get to where it is today.

While there are many anecdotes about when it was originally invented, the most popular one is that it was by the 13th-century poet Saint Gyandev. 

Here are Some Facts about the Game’s Journey You May Be Unaware of

1. It Has Its Origins in Mokshapath or Path to Salvation

While snake and ladders, in its contemporary version, portrays itself as all sunshine and rainbows, it wasn’t always that way. When it was invented, it was played with shells and dice and went by the name Mokshapatam.

The final spot on the board symbolized the attainment of Moksha or salvation, thus freeing the soul from the cycle of death and rebirth. There were more snakes and fewer ladders in the 13th-century version of the game, with the ladders signifying virtues and the snakes – sins.

This imbalance in the number of snakes and ladders was to imply that the struggle between innate good and evil is real, and it is harder to walk on the path of righteousness. 

The other aim was to explain that good deeds will take the individual closer to salvation, and excess evil deeds will result in rebirth but in a lower life form. The 13th-century version imparted life’s lessons of the importance of being virtuous.

Ancient Origins even refers to Jain, Buddhist and Muslim versions of snakes and ladders, in addition to the game’s Hindu version.  

The Muslim version subscribed to the Sufi school of thought and went by the name “Shatranj al-‘urafa.”  

2. Next Stop, England

During Britain’s colonization of India, the game found its way to Victorian England. There the game was tweaked to reflect Victorian and western sensibilities. It was patented in England by Frederick Henry Ayres, a toymaker from London.

The Indian names on the original snakes and ladders board were in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, and other subcontinental languages. These words for the qualities that yielded rewards and punishment, respectively, were replaced in the English version.

The classical English virtues such as pity, obedience, and self-denial allowed one to ascend up the ladders. In contrast, the time-honored vices such as wickedness and cruelty made one slip rapidly down the body of a snake.

3. Trans-Atlantic Journey

When the game reached the United States in due course, the snakes and ladders game was further simplified by the Milton Bradley toy company and rechristened as Chutes and Ladders in 1943. This change was deemed appropriate to spare young children from the frightening depiction of snakes.

Thus both the moral values of the original Indian and the altered British versions preaching the importance of attaining salvation and practicing its equivalent Victorian virtues were diluted in the interest of making the game more appealing to a larger audience.   

The successful commercialization of the game made it a popular choice among the young and old alike and ensured that people couldn’t get enough of it.

Transformation of Snakes & Ladders in the Digital Era

As time marches on, change is the only thing constant. This old adage proves true in the case of snakes and ladders too. From the 13th-century version to its adaptation to suit the sensibilities of Victorian England, and finally, to the board game, as we know it today, it has come a long way.

The rise of the smartphone required the game to adapt yet again, a necessary step for the game to remain relevant.

With the forever burgeoning smartphone users and more and more people reaching for it for their daily dose of entertainment, developers of board games have successfully bridged the digital gap and now have made digital avatars available.

As commuting times increase and people hurry from point A to point B, board games such as snakes and ladders revel in the new-found attention digital natives have bestowed upon them. 

Snakes and ladders games in their digital versions come with welcome tweaks such as 3D interfaces, leaderboards, in-game rewards, and more. Shifting online means interesting new modes and innovations that have kept childhood favorites such as snakes and ladders firmly in the public eye. They are unlikely to fade away anytime soon.


As a design, the snakes and ladders game model is robust enough to last for centuries precisely because of its simplicity and ability to adapt. Its progress and acceptance in the digital era are proof of that.

While popular video games of today are unlikely to survive even a century or two, let alone as long as snakes and ladders have is testimony to the game’s popular appeal no matter what form it takes on, now or in the future.

The underlying concept in games like snakes and ladders is flexible enough to make any message relevant to the game’s central idea. Such is the versatility of the game. Snakes and ladders continues to hold its own as an educational tool in promoting linear and sequential thinking in everyday life.

Games like snakes and ladders are much more than about winning. In fact, they aren’t designed with the sole objective of winning but to teach and communicate through life’s experiences.

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