This article was also a featured post on gamasutra.com.
According to a recent article in Ed Week, research at Carnegie Mellon University and University of Maryland showed that preschoolers who played Chutes and Ladders showed significant improvement in math skills. Another experimental group in the study played a different board game, and a third group did non-game math activities. The children who had played Chutes and Ladders demonstrated greater understanding of numbers and numerical magnitude. The Ed Week article also says this group did best in the post-test of "learning to learn" new arithmetic tasks. The study was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. I have not read it myself yet, but I look forward to doing so the next time I'm at my alma mater's library. I'm very curious to learn more about this measure of "learning to learn" new arithmetic tasks.
The article also mentions that previous research by the same team, Robert S. Siegler and Geetha B. Ramani, showed no such improvements among children who played Candy Land. How interesting!
I confess that although I did play both of these games as a child, I had to search for images on Flickr to jog my memory. The Chutes and Ladders board is a grid of 100 squares, which is a great visual representation of counting 10s, 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. You move by rolling a die, so the game play is accessible to any child who can count to six, and yet players are still exposed to the idea of higher numbers as they progress on the track.
Candy Land, on the other hand, has no numbers in it at all. The path on the board is made of different colored spaces. You do not roll a die to play. Instead, there is a deck of cards with different colors on them. On your turn, you draw a card and proceed to the next space on the path that matches the color you drew. The game does not encourage you to count at all, even as you move your piece from one spot to the next!
This is an excellent demonstration of how a simple design change can greatly influence the experience a player has.