Exploring Chutes and Ladders: The VCR Board Game

Folks, I’ve gone and done it! I located a board game I knew existed, mentioned, but could not find proof of…until a few days ago. Prepare thyself, we’re tackling the longest chutes and highest ladders of Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game!

Previously, on Retroist…

Like everything else nostalgic that I cram into the deepest recesses of my brain, I never forgot the video and its animation. So imagine my surprise when, after thirty years, I found a short clip on YouTube after mentioning this game briefly in a past Retroist article. Alas, I didn’t find the full video until recently.

Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game!

Milton Bradley released the Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game in 1986. It wasn’t their first VCR-adapted board game, and it wouldn’t be their last. The VCR-based games (at least, this one and its Candy Land counterpart) were unique in that no reading was necessary, children didn’t have to push buttons on the VCR, and the video gave all the instructions one needed. Plus, it had the added bonus of turning gameplay into a fun story.

Chutes and Ladders contained four games/stories (two that relied on sounds, and two more that relied on numbers), each increasing in skill level. I actually played the Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game, as it was the version I owned. I believe it was a birthday present for my fourth birthday. I’m not sure how long we kept it, but like any good nostalgic toy that wasn’t deemed such, it disappeared sometime during my childhood. I’m convinced it either met the trash can or a yard sale.

Either scenario is depressing, friends.

Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game: The Details

Meet Reggie and Bobby.

Everything is a competition in their world, and they turn this allegedly healthy competition into the basis of the first of four different “story games.”

What are those games, you ask (including theirs?)

Thrills and Chills

A game of numbers. Players put the number cards on the board, number side up. When players hear the audio prompt (a whimsical chime), they are to remove a number card from the game board.

In this story, Bobby and Reggie compete at everything (scariest ride, how much junk food they can eat), as their female friends Joanie and Sally Ann watch on.

The Golden Cuckoo

A game of sounds. Players put the picture cards on the board, picture side up. Upon hearing a sound effect prompt, they are to remove the corresponding card from the game board.

Bobby and his sister, Pam (who looks suspiciously like the one girl from the previous story), are baby-sitting their brother, Baby Todd. They discover stairs beyond their front door, and explore the amazing, psychedelic world beyond that door. It’s a world chock full of strangeness – a rooster, balloons, a horse, and a train.

Ricky and Nikki vs. The Space Dragons

Another game of numbers. This one involves Bobby and Reggie’s friends, siblings Ricky and Nikki.

On a snowy day, Ricky and Nikki draw pictures with their crayons. Amidst all this, a spaceship lands in their yard (where’s the snow??), and  takes them to the stars, to a planet where they will help the aliens.

The Case of the Lost Choo-Choo

Another sound game. Sherwood and Dottie (two more of Reggie and Bobby’s friends), as “Sherwood Holmes” and “Dottie Watson” (wink wink, nudge nudge) are on the case of a lost choo-choo, but encounter many other sounds along the way.

Sherwood sounds like he’s channeling his inner Inspector Gadget/Maxwell Smart voice (one in the same, since Don Adams played both characters). They explore a farm, a carnival, store, street, car, and railroad crossing in search of the train. Will they find it? How many sounds can possibly heard at one time?

Since the purpose of this game was not giving kids an opportunity to operate the VCR other than start (and obviously stop) the video, Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game gave players ample time to setup the board via transition segments.

These segments involved eating ice cream cones the fastest, a cuckoo clock that will signal the start of the next game once the bird pops out, and a spinning robot.

This was the clip that helped me rediscover the game in the first place!

So now that you know the game exists, and understand its gameplay, how about we actually watch it in action?

Let’s Play the Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game!

Well, not really play, but we can watch the video…can’t we?

Work with me, folks. I don’t own the game anymore!

Upload via VCR Board Games

And If You Liked Chutes and Ladders…

You’ll love Candy Land: The VCR Game!

No lie, the conclusion of this video is an advertisement. They literally pad out the thirty-minute run time with a quick ad for Milton Bradley’s other classic childhood game given the 1980s upgrade!

Oh, and did anyone else notice during the first game that Reggie’s skin color changed, like the artists couldn’t agree on his ethnicity?


Chutes and Ladders VCR Board Game came onto the market in 1986 (the original version had been around since 1943), but very little information exists on this version of the game. I’d say it was available at least through the mid-late 1980s. As I said, I received it in 1986 as a birthday present. I’m not sure how much play-ability we got out of it, but with four different segments, one could easily fill forty-five minutes between setting up, actual game play/resetting the board, and cleanup. Not a bad distraction for the kids, right?

The cool aspect of this game is not needing to read instructions, and only needing to hit play. However, after watching the video, I’m not entirely convinced that kids wouldn’t need to hit pause while resetting the game board. That’s the only part of this that bothers me. I’m thirty-five years old and of reasonable intelligence. And I don’t think the transition scenes give enough time to put all the cards back on the board. Another thing about the board – the chutes and ladders side.  Does that seem superfluous to you? This isn’t traditional Chutes and Ladders, you’re removing cards based on numbers and sounds. Why do you need a “Chutes and Ladders” side…unless this is two versions in one? Because based on what I’ve gathered from the video, this version of Chutes and Ladders is nothing like the original game.

Nevertheless, the video is thoroughly entertaining. If someone handed this version to me and told me to have fun (again, I’m thirty-five years old), I would enjoy it. I don’t recall having the original version, just this one. And I’m glad I only had this one, I’m betting I had a blast with it!

But Wait, There’s More!

Chutes and Ladders wasn’t the only Milton Bradley game to get the traditional board game to 1980s VCR Game treatment. Candy Land also got the distinction. And guess what? I found that video too!

Didn’t think you were getting off that easy, did you?

Until next time, farewell from the land of tallest ladders and twisting, turning slides…until our next adventure!

Pitfall II

Pitfall II – Lost Caverns Treasure Hunt Edition

In 1984, the Activision fan club held a contest tie-in with Pitfall II – Lost Caverns. They created ten special Treasure Hunt cartridges and put them out into circulation. These ten cartridges didn’t have a game, but instead had a very special message.

Any gamer who found them, could contact the Fun Club to claim their prize. The first person to find a cartridge would get £1,000 and the other nine £100 each.

I have been looking online to try to find anyone who won this contest, but I can find no evidence of a winner. It could just be that a person never surfaced or that the contest winners were never publicized.

This contest came out after the Video Game Crash of 1983. Which led me to think that these copies of the game were never sold. So perhaps it became remaindered and returned by store?

I have my doubts about this. While the Atari 2600 was in decline by 1984, Pitfall II was still a game people talked about and is largely considered one of the best Atari 2600 games of all time. It seems unlikely that not one of these cartridges was ever picked up.

Although, I guess stranger things have happened. Maybe all ten of them is sitting, still sealed in a box on some collectors shelf. They look at it every day, proud of their pristine copy of the game. Little do they know that they have something even more special on their shelf then they realized.

My takeaway from this? If you own a sealed copy, run home and tear it open. Throw caution to the wind and see what treasure you might have sealed up on your shelf.

Here is the ad that the Activision fan club ran for the contest. I love the photo of the two people depositing the carts for finding while a mustachioed Pitfall Harry skulks behind them in the foliage. Those two people are Anneka Rice from ITV’s Treasure Hunt and Geoff Heath, who I think is the Marketing, Membership or Media Director for fan club?

Pitfall II – Lost Caverns Treasure Hunt Edition Contest Ad

Pitfall II - Lost Caverns Treasure Hunt Edition Contest Ad

This is a great little nugget from Atari’s history. If anyone knows anymore details about the contest, I would love to hear from you.

Captain America, Spider-Man and Doctor Doom at CES 1989

Captain America, Spider-Man and Doctor Doom at CES 1989

In 1989, Summer CES took place in Chicago. Marvel was sent three of their biggest characters, Captain America, Spider-Man and Doctor Doom to promote some of the games in which their characters would appear.

As we moved into 1990, we reached a turning point with Marvel Games. Sure the Questprobe games and Spider-Man for the Atari 2600 were great, but Atari had released less than 10 games before 1990. Before the end of the nineties, they would triple that number.

While some of those games would make appearances on computers, in this new decade, they were the minority. Instead, these games would make it to the big show. Appearing on next generation consoles, portables and full-sized arcade games.

So what were they there to promote that year? Well, Marvel released a raft of games in 1990 and 1991 including:

  • X-Men II: The Fall of the Mutants
  • The Amazing Spider-Man
  • Silver Surfer
  • The Amazing Spider-Man
  • The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin
  • The Punisher
  • The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback!
  • Wolverine
  • Captain America and The Avengers
  • Spider-Man: The Video Game

An impressive lineup, and for many people who did not grow up in the eighties, their introduction to Marvel’s characters in gaming.

I was a big fan of Marvel comics. So I greedily bought, borrowed or rented any game featuring their characters. So for me the timing was great.

Here is a news segment that talks about the video games at the show that year. They do not mention Marvel, but it is great background and demonstrates just how much video games were evolving.

News Segment about Summer CES 1989

Nowadays we take it for granted that anything Marvel does will make a lot of money. For most of Marvel’s history though, this was not the case. This photo offers a glimpse into a turning point in Marvel gaming. A small victory for them, but one that would be writ on a much larger scale in our local movie theaters during the new millennium.