Friday, June 5, 2020

Virtue Board Games

by Anita Mae Draper

The New Game of Virtue Rewarded and Vice Punished, London, 1818. Courtesy of SLSA B1715487

A common theme for early 19th century board games was the virtue or morality game where a player set out to prove himself of good moral character while avoiding temptations placed along his path. In 1818 London, William Darton published the above image for The New Game of Virtue Rewarded and Vice Punished. The game started on the space, the House of Correction, and the winner was the first one to travel the spiral and reach the last space, Virtue. 

Another one of these good vs evil games was the Mansion of Happiness, published in the United States in 1843. As you progress through the game, virtues are rewarded and vices punished with the winner receiving happiness as his/her reward for being virtuous.  

The game of Snakes and Ladders is probably the most well known virtue game and can be traced back to ancient India. In this game, virtue is pictured as ladders and offer a quick way to bypass squares and rise to the top, while snakes punish you and send you back to the start. I've heard that the term, back to square one, refers to this game as there is always one snake that sends you back to the start if you happen to land on its head.

Jain version Game of Snakes & Ladders India, 19th century. Courtesy Wikipedia

Kismet, meaning fate or destiny, is the name of a British version of this game. Designed in England and manufactured in Bavaria, the makers of Kismet wanted to show children that life would be rewarding if you were good and obedient, but if you were bad, you would be punished. The illustrations on this board depict a variety of wrong-doings as well as numerous snakes and ladders.

Kismet Board Game, ca. 1895. Courtesy VAM Misc 423-1981

Although the snakes in the game of Snakes and Ladders represents the serpent who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, the image of a snake can be disturbing to some children and adults. That could explain why another version of this common game was produced under the name of Chutes and Ladders. Nowadays, we refer to a chute as a slide like you find in play areas. 

Milton Bradley Chutes and Ladders game board c.1952. Courtesy Wikipedia

Other versions of this popular game used a winter theme, such Canada Games versions Sleds and Toboggans and The Great Game of Ups and Downs.

Game of Ups and Downs, Canada Games Company, 1920s-1930s. 

In 1900, McLoughlin Bros of New York published The Game of Tobogganing at Christmas which showed children playing in the snow. With this theme, the challenge was to climb up the stairs and avoid the squares that would send the player back down again. 


Games, like everything else, evolve over time and the way I see it, versions that show the penalty as a ride down a chute or toboggan run cannot be classified as a penalty. How can the exercise of climbing stairs beat the temptation to fly down at a fast clip?

There are a myriad of versions that are based on virtue games. Have you played any, and if so, what version are you familiar with? 

If you enjoy board games, you might like to check out my previous post Geographical Board Games.


Anita Mae Draper lives on the Canadian prairies where she uses her experience and love of history to enhance her stories of yesteryear's romance with realism and faith. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking Anita's Pinterest boards. All links are available on her website at


  1. I played Snakes and Ladders with my grandies a lot, so it was fun to find out the origins of the game. Thanks for that!

    1. You're welcome, Connie. We played it a lot too, without realizing the significance of the game.

      Thanks for stopping by. :)