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Chute To Thrill: A Brief History of Vaikuntapali
Head in the Clouds
Updated: Monday, Jan 1, 2018
Hello, I’m Chaz Marler from Pair Of Dice Paradise, welcoming you to another installment of Board Games Throughout History, where we take a look at games that either had a significant impact on changing the course of human history, or are just really, really old.Today, we’re digging in to the history of the game Vaikuntapali.

Today’s game originated in sixteenth century India, where it was a game designed as a tool for teaching morality and spirituality, known as Vaikuntapali. The game’s board featured ladders which players would climb as they learned the value of good deeds in their search for enlightenment, and snakes, which demonstrated how various vices would cause the player to fall backwards in their journey towards peace and virtue. The game differed from other games from the region at the time, such as pachisi, by demonstrating aspects of karma, destiny and desire, instead of relying on a combination of skill, strategy, and luck.

Several centuries later, in the late 1800’s, the British discovered the game and brought it over to England under the name Snakes And Ladders. However, in their European version, the underlying concept of achieving divine spiritual ascension was replaced with achieving generic “success”. In this version, ladders lead to virtues like thrift, penitence and industry - while the snakes’ slippery slopes lead to disgraces such as illness and poverty. Additionally, while the snakes outnumbered the ladders in the original Indian version of the game, equal numbers of the two became the norm in the English version.

Several decades later, the game caught the eye of the American company Milton Bradley - reportedly Suzanne Sheldon’s favorite board game publisher. Milton Bradley published the first commercially produced edition of the game in 1943 under the simplified name of Chutes And Ladders. And the name of the game isn’t the only thing that Milton Bradley simplified. In this modern day version, the game’s original deeds of virtue and sin have been replaced by life lessons such as earning a snack for taking out the garbage or eating a plate full of cookies leading to… having fewer cookies left to eat? Yeah, that’s a valuable life lesson.

So that’s a brief history of Vaikunthapali - while the original Indian game was conceived to teach lessons of spiritual morality, the primary lesson I take away from the modern American version is that any idea can be monetized if you approach it from the right angle. Which version of Chutes And Ladders resonates with you? And what soul-changing life lessons have you learned from board games? Let me know in the comments below.
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