Here's a motivational article using Snakes and Ladders as a basis: Snakes & Ladders – The Game Of Life.
Images of an English board and its box lid have been added below and the owner has questions.
Snakes and Ladders online and through history

I've always thought Snakes and Ladders was a beautiful game, and it comes in lots of versions. Many Americans haven't even heard of it, and think it's a "wrong" name for Chutes and Ladders. The art.com website below even refers to two games they have from the late 19th century as "chutes and ladders spinoffs." Yikes, no! The game itself is very old, and "Chutes and Ladders" is a(nother) American claim to copyright something traditional. I've never owned a Chutes and Ladders game, but does someone who owns one want to write and say whether they credit it as traditional? (I'm guessing they don't.)

SOME UNUSUAL GAMEBOARDS:



Sleds and Toboggans (c.1895) [once for sale (expensive) as a poster at art.com]. They must've scored a French printshop warehouse from 100 years ago, because they have several game boards being sold as posters—the printed paper, not mounted on board. read note I received in 2011!

They also have had one from the turn of the century (not THIS century, 19th to 20th) with cats, which I own as a piece of wrapping paper I had laminated. If anyone sees the sleds and toboggans as wrapping paper, please e-mail me!


History and Origins: Moksha-Patamu (Snakes and Ladders)
There's more, but this is interesting:

The game is Hindu and was used to teach children about the religion in that the good squares allow a player to ascend higher in the league of life whereas evil will reduce a player back through reincarnation to lower tiers of life. Presumably the last square, 100, represents Nirvana.

The morality of the game must have appealed to the Victorians, who took to the game when it was published in 1892 in England. Called Snakes and Ladders, the game play was pretty much the same but some of the vices and virtues were renamed according to Victorian ideals.

The virtues (Hindu) are named there, and some of the English substitutions.

Board Game Geek has a page on this game, and just about every other boardgame you could think of.

Here's a comment on the back and forth direction:

Because books were mainly read out loud, the letters that composed them did not need to be separated into phonetic unities, but were strung together in continuous sentences. The direction in which the eyes were supposed to follow these reels of letters varied from place to place and from age to age; the way we read a text today in the Western world-from left to right and from top to bottom-is by no means universal. Some scripts were read from right to left (Hebrew and Arabic), others in columns, from top to bottom (Chinese and Japanese); a few were read in pairs of vertical columns (Mayan); some had alternate lines read in opposite directions, back and forth-a method called boustrophedon, "as an ox turns to plough", in ancient Greek.Yet others meandered across the page like a game of Snakes and Ladders, the direction being signalled by lines or dots (Aztec).

Alberto Manguel, Chapter 2 of A History of Reading (New York; Viking, 1996). The Silent Readers

Though their comment was to be that Snakes and Ladders goes up, down and all around, the way the numbers are set on the board, that's "boustrophedon"—as an ox turns to plough—to the right, then to the left, then to the right... (sample of boustrophedon writing)


Hampshire County museum's Board Games page
in their Toys and Games collection. Beautiful history site—typical of museums in the U.K to provide great photos, info and links.

Museum of Childhood, a division of the Victoria & Albert museum, has a good page on Snakes and Ladders as well.

Victoria and Albert Museum has a page up for the year of the snake:

A mom named Susan wrote:

I was recently looking up the history of one of my beloved games Snakes & Ladders when I came across your website.

I am sending you a photo of a snakes and ladders game that I own. From the type of materials used to make the board I don't think it is older than around 1970 but I do love the graphics because they are probably a reproduction of an original board which to me looks likes a style from the 1920's or 1930's. On the back it looks like the game parcheesi but there are no marks or writing to indicate who made the board or when.

Its especially nice because it carries the Victorian idea that you mention about vices and virtues. You'll notice some of the photos-16 for example where the two boys are wrestling and the snake takes you to 6 which show them both with injuries. I also love 62-the boy is smoking and the snake takes you to 19 and shows him sick. My daughter and I have played this game since she was around 4 years old (she is now 15) and we love it!


click for larger image

"this board had belonged to my great-grand-mother..." e-mail from France:

Hi Sandra,

Thanks for your web page! I found it by chance as my husband and I were trying to find an on-line snake and ladder game. It was a great surprise for me as I recognised the snake and ladder board I used to play with twenty years ago when I was a child: the sleds and toboggans. Actually, this board had belonged to my great-grand-mother, and had been kept since then by my grand-mother. As a 10-year-old child, I marvelled at the thought I was playing with a game my great-grand mother used to play with at the beginning of the century!

I suppose the board must be still at my grand mother's house. I am definitely going to check this. Anyway, finding your page was a nice Proust's madelaine, so thank you.

regards
Armelle Grévellec (January 2011)


Can you help with any info, date history of this board? The only print on there is BETAL GAMES, Designed and printed in England. Copyright. The silhouette picture on the front would appear to show the outline of Windsor Castle?? Many many thanks Baz
PS I also have the equivalent in Ludo.


Here's one from India without overt morality or etiquette lessons:

This one is in The Museum of Childhood, in London. It's English and the art portrays India:

click to enlarge; it was in a glass case and I was fighting glare; sorry


Photo by Pushpa Ramachandran: "The Tactile Snakes and Ladder- it is accompanied by tactile dice as well.. — at University Road, Pune."

A game to show children how they might be elected to the Scottish parliament:


(printable, free; click to get to the very large version)

(Contains Scottish Parliament information licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licencev1.0)

If you come across good snakes and ladders pages or artwork,
or if you have any further information on boards shown above,
please e-mail me at Sandra@SandraDodd.com


Games links

Unschooling and Games

History
(with a toys and games section near the end)