Fixing Snakes and Ladders

New Year, new lockdown. Like many other parents around the UK, I’m trying to help my child do schoolwork at home. It’s not easy, especially as my two children are four (reception class) and two (obviously not in school yet). The bigger one can’t really do anything by herself yet, and the smaller one can’t be left alone.

It does mean that I’ve been looking for games we can all play together. Dobble is good, because once they know the names of all the objects they can play just as well as adults — possibly better, as their eyesight is so good! Hungry Hungry Hippos has also been a big hit in our household.

I’m also revisiting some of the older games. We have been playing Snakes & Ladders, which, while not a good game, is fun for the four-year-old. It’s not a “good” game because it’s pure chance — the player has no control over the moves. So, I’ve taken it on myself to fix it, and I’m quite pleased with the results.

The main change is simple: add jellybeans. Some of the squares have between one and three jellybeans on them, and if you land on such a square then you can collect that number of jellybeans from a central pile. There are generally more jellybeans at the bottom of snakes, which encourages people to slide down the snakes. At the end of the game you get to eat your jellybeans. We’ve also played it with coins and beads, and frankly any counters would work, but jellybeans are my personal favourite.

In addition to the jellybeans there are also two dice instead of one. You roll both, and choose which one you want to use. You can use both dice, but only if you pay one jellybean (ie, put one from your pile back into the central bank). You can also pay one jellybean to add or subtract one to the number rolled. So if you rolled a three and a four, you could pay one jellybean to move seven, or you could pay one jellybean to move two or five.

It works quite well for the four-year-old. I remind her to do the counting, because she always assumes that the bigger number is better. I can see her doing the calculation as to whether she should race ahead or go for more coins….particularly when it involves sliding down a snake. And it teaches turn taking just as well as the original version. Plus she really enjoyed colouring in the snakes.

Here’s a printable PDF of Snakes & Ladders & Jellybeans.

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