Chutes and Ladders Game Review

The Basics:

  • Ages 3 & up
  • Players 2 – 6
  • 30 – 45 minutes

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • None

Endorsements:

  • Father Geek rejected!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

This classic children’s game has players move their cardboard game piece up a 10×10 grid of ascending numbers in order to reach the winner square at 100.  This game has had many incarnations, but originally thought to have been based on a game from India to teach children the pitfalls of morally bad choices.  It was known as Snakes and Ladders in England before Milton Bradley picked it up in the US with the branding we know as Chutes and Ladders.

Game concept is simple. Players take turns spinning to see how many spaces to move between 1 and 6.  If you land on a space with a picture, then you may either get to follow a ladder up to a greater number, or possibly forced to take a slide backwards.  Ladders represent the rewards of positive behavior, like walking the dog or helping a sibling.  Slides represent the consequences of negative behavior, like stealing from the cookie jar. Eventually somebody gets to 100 and wins the game.

Final Word

My kids love this game, I think, primarily because it has a spinner. I do not.

My first criticism is some of the game’s mixed messages. For a game that is supposed to be teaching consequences and rewards for positive and negative behavior through images, it can be difficult to decipher some of the messages on the game board. For example, the player takes a slide down because they land on an image of a child reading what looks to be a history book, except if you look closely, you can see he has a comic book hidden inside. Come on!! For the age range of kids playing this game, how does this apply even in the slightest? If a 3-4 year old is pulling this off, he should be rewarded, not punished.

My second criticism is the wide variability of game play. A single game session can cycle mercilessly sometimes. It is theoretically possible to never end the game by hitting the 3 slides on the top row over and over again until you nail the big slide down to the bottom. This prompted me to do a small bit of research about the math behind the game.

The game can be entirely represented mathematically as a Markov chain, and therefore one can very easily run the numbers. Here they are, for anyone geeky enough out there to care about the math:

  • Minimum game length: 7
  • Expected game length: 39.5984
  • Maximum game length: Unbounded
  • 50th percentile (median): 32
  • 95th percentile: 89
  • 25th percentile: 21
  • 75th percentile: 49

My last criticism is the game piece movement on the board. Due to the wraparound nature of the row advancement,  my sons frequently forget which way they are moving on the game board. In everything else, we teach them to read top to bottom, and left to right, but this game board breaks those rules.

The only redeeming quality of the game is that it does teach counting, numbers, and rudimentary addition. It is helping my kids with numbers up to 100 and so for that I cannot give the game a complete fail.

About Brian

Euro Board Game Aficionado, and Father of Two, Brian played many family board games while growing up, but launched a foray into real geek gaming in 4th grade with his exposure to Risk, and then many sessions of Axis & Allies. Gaming in all forms has always been woven into his life with different phases including: video games starting with the Atari 2600, role playing Marvel Super Heroes, launching massive Battletech scenarios, blowing his small amount of bank on Magic: The Gathering, and then finally strategy board games. Settlers of Catan (1997) was his first introduction to the Euro-style game, and he has since been forever hooked. He embarked on a new stage of life in late 2006 with the birth of his first of two boys, and now cherishes the opportunity to learn the game of parenting. His desire is to raise two respectable men who still want to play a game with daddy even when they are father geeks themselves. Brian goes by the handle Vree on Board Game Geek.
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2 Responses to Chutes and Ladders Game Review

  1. Master Luke says:

    Sounds like you need to hire a graphic designer and create your own skin for this to improve on the imagery and routing. 😉 Perhaps Lifts & Runs where the interminable lines & ride at the ski resort aren’t nearly as fun as the Zoom Zoom (as Nissan so aptly puts it).

  2. Jen says:

    Completely agree with you Brian! This game is frustrating to play with my 5 and 6 yr old niece and nephew. The wrap around numbering is a nightmare! And those huge game pieces make things get so congested if another player is near you. I agree that it can help with counting though…but only if you have the time and patience!

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