I’m paraphrasing a half-remembered article I read a long time ago, but the cultural shifts in emphasis of luck and skill in games is an interesting one.
IIRC, the idea was that if an ancient game were skill-based, it was probably more of a test of the quality of your education than skill, and therefore helped maintain the status quo, rather than being an egalitarian equaliser. If an ancient game were luck-based, it was probably seen as a test of who was favoured by god/gods, so the “right” person would win. I just looked up snakes and ladders and was interested to learn it was an Indian game, rooted in Indian morality lessons emphasising destiny, vices, and virtues, and used to have more snakes than ladders (the path of good is the harder one). Victorian England changed the vices and virtues emphasised, and made the number of snakes equal to the number of ladders (for every sin there is a chance at redemption), before it became the morality-free kids game we know today.
So anyway, even simple Victorian games usually explicitly presented morality lessons (arguments), and were framed in the context of the favoured player being the one who deserved to win because they were the most moral!
While we have largely moved away from such framing these days - luck is just luck, and skill is just skill - the move away from games as “destiny”, whether from godly favour or social hierarchy, towards games as “competition” seems to be a relatively recent trend. Incidentally, and I’m typing as I realise this so the idea is not fully developed yet, I can see the rise of cooperative games as an even more recent push back towards games as fate-driven systems that deliver outcomes, linking back to the reasons people used to play snakes-and-ladders… Anyway, even now, there is still a component of inequality in most games. The players who have had the time and money to gain expertise in a variety of games are usually positioned to win against players who haven’t. Still, this didn’t stop me getting trounced at chess by off-duty tuk-tuk drivers at 3 am in the Philippines!*
* It did, however, help me beat a Vietnamese man at Xiangqi, a game I had only recently learned, which turned out to be really awkward since I was staying the night in the concrete cubicle he shared with 2 other guys, who appeared to be teasing him mercilessly (they had both beaten me before he wanted a turn).
I’ve lost the plot now. Travel anecdotes are not where this post was supposed to go. Anyway, thanks for reading!