Snakes and Ladders originated in India as a game based on morality called Vaikuntapaali or Paramapada Sopanam (the ladder to salvation). This game made its way to England, and was eventually introduced in the United States of America by game pioneer Milton Bradley in 1943.
The game was played widely in ancient India by the name of Moksha Patamu, the earliest known Jain version Gyanbazi dating back to 16th century. The game was called Leela and reflected the Hinduism consciousness around everyday life. Impressed by the ideals behind the game, a newer version was introduced in Victorian England in 1892, possibly by John Jacques of Jacques of London.
Moksha Patamu was perhaps invented by Hindu spiritual teachers to teach children about the effects of good deeds as opposed to bad deeds. The ladders represented virtues such as generosity, faith, humility, etc., and the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, theft, etc. The moral of the game was that a person can attain salvation (Moksha) through performing good deeds whereas by doing evil one takes rebirth in lower forms of life (Patamu). The number of ladders was less than the number of snakes as a reminder that treading the path of good is very difficult compared to committing sins. Presumably the number “100” represented Moksha (Salvation). In Andhra Pradesh, snakes and ladders is played in the name of Vaikuntapali.
The squares of virtue on the original game are Faith (12), Reliability (51), Generosity (57), Knowledge (76), Asceticism (78); the squares of evil are Disobedience (41), Vanity (44), Vulgarity (49), Theft (52), Lying (58), Drunkenness (62), Debt (69), Rage (84), Greed (92), Pride (95), Murder (73) and Lust (99)