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Why Board Games Are Not Toys

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I was walking through Target the other day looking for their board games and I noticed that they keep them with their toys. I went to Walmart and looked for their board games and they too keep them with their toys. This got me thinking, do board games classify as a toy? 

From a retail perspective, I can see why they would need to categorize board games as a toy. I can even see why some might consider a board game a toy, but I myself wouldn’t categorize board games as a toy. I wouldn’t call board games toys for the same reason that I wouldn’t call Chess or Poker toys. These are games with rules and win conditions while a toy like a Barbie doll has neither of these things.

It’s an interesting topic and I can see why some would still consider board games a toy, but I think there are a few important distinctions between the two.

What Are the Differences Between Board Games and Toys

When I say board games, I am referring to pretty much every tabletop game including card games. It’s easier to explain why board games aren’t toys when you look at the definitions.

What Is a Board Game?

According to Oxford’s dictionary, a board game is defined as:

A game that involves the movement of counters or other objects round a board.

What’s funny is that this definition would not include card games as they do not use a board. I would still argue that card games are board games. I plan on writing an article in more detail on this topic later, so be sure to check back for that.

In short, I feel that card games should be classified as a type of board game since the table essentially becomes the board. With the rules in most card games specifying where on the table to place cards. So for argument’s sake, I am still grouping these two together.

Now that we know what I’m calling a board game, let’s take a look at what classifies as a toy.

What Is a Toy?

According to Oxford’s dictionary, a toy is defined as:

1 An object for a child to play with, typically a model or miniature replica of something.

as modifier ‘a toy car’

1.1 An object, especially a gadget or machine, regarded as providing amusement for an adult. ‘in 1914 the car was still a rich man’s toy’

What is funny about this definition is that toys are primarily defined as an object for a child to play with. But diving deeper into the definition you can find a passage that defines a toy as an object that provides amusement for adults.

The problem I have with this definition is that it is far too vague as to what a toy is defined as. By this definition, anything can be defined as a toy or at least a subcategory of a toy. For example, your phone that you are likely reading this article on is a gadget that fits this definition so does that make your phone a toy?

How Are Board Games Different Than Toys

By looking at the definition of these two terms, I don’t think classifying board games as a toy is as cut and dry as some may think it is. There are a few factors that separate board games from toys.

Board games have rules and win conditions where toys do not. The moment that you apply rules to toys makes it a Game.

For example, when you apply rules to a basketball it becomes a game or even a sport. But until you apply rules to the ball, that ball is just a toy. 

Board games also require a certain amount of skill in order to play them and even more so to master them. Toys are meant to be played with in a manner which requires very minimal if any skill at all.

All of these factors give board games a lot more in common with sports then toys. I go more in-depth on the topic of board games as a sport in another article which I definitely recommend checking out.

How Are Board Games Similar To Toys

Of course, there are some similarities between toys and board games. But these similarities are mostly surface-level details. These are the parallels that can be drawn between the two:

Tactile Experiences

Both of these are tactile experiences. How you use them and in the way that they are presented to you, however, are completely different. Toys are typically simple in nature where they are presented “as is” and require no further thought to use. Board games, on the other hand, require a fair amount of research to get started.

For example, if someone puts an action figure in front of the average person and says play with this toy then they would instinctively know what to do. But if someone were to place a board game like Villainous In front of them, it would require far more effort to get started.

Played For Amusement

While both Board games and toys can be played with for amusement, I would argue that competition can elevate board games much in the same way competition does for sports. The combination of skill and competition puts board games in a different category than toys.

Played With Others Or Solo

One of the few parallels that could be drawn between toys and board games that can’t be disputed is the fact that they can be played by yourself or with others.

Does The General Public View Board Games As Toys?

After talking to a few people who aren’t familiar with the hobby, I have come to the conclusion that most people do in fact consider board games a toy. Here are the questions that I asked:

“What board games are you familiar with or have you played?”

When I asked for examples of what board games they have played, they would bring up family board games like Life or Monopoly.

“What do you think is the typical age range of people that play board games?”

Pretty much everyone thought that board games were for kids. The typical age range given was 5-11 years old.

“Do you consider board games toys?”

Once again, they all agreed that board games were considered toys.

In conclusion, the general public view board games as being toys for younger children.

I believe the way the general public views board games comes from the way that they are presented to them by retailers.

Do Stores View Board Games As Toys?

After visiting my local big box stores and looking at how online sites categorize board games I noticed that each one views them a bit differently.

Big Box Stores (Target, Walmart, Etc..)

Big box stores like Target and Walmart keep their board games near their toys. At the very least this shows us that these stores see board games as having a similar audience to toys.

Book Stores (Barnes & Noble, BAM, Etc..)

These stores don’t really have a toy section so they keep their board games in their own section, usually near the “geekier” items like the Funkos. These stores do have a children’s book section and the fact that board games aren’t placed near this area shows that they don’t feel board games are necessarily for children.

FLGS

Your friendly local game store probably does not have a toy section. They may sell collectible items, but nothing in the conventional sense of a children’s toy, like dolls and playsets.

Online Retailers (Amazon, Big Box Sites, Etc…)

Most of the big online retail sites like Amazon categorize board games as a subcategory of toy. They group all of the board games for all ages here and not just games for enthusiasts.

It’s clear that most stores see board games as being very closely related to the toy category. This makes sense since the general public views board games as mostly being for children. But what do board game enthusiasts think?

Do Board Gamer Enthusiasts Think Board Games Are Toys?

Looking at online forums, people seem to be split on whether or not board games should be considered toys. I asked you on Twitter what you thought and here are a few of your responses:

“Traditional” games like Clue or Monopoly were often associated with toys, sharing, etc. when I was young. I would say “modern” entries would be classified more as hobbies, due to the more intricate nature and, in some cases, options for embellishment.

@JustinWEger

A board game is its own category (“boardgames”), at least according to local Revenue Service laws in Mexico (and it work quite well that way if you think about it)

@MochilasChasm

If you think about a toy like a ball being used in a game, e.g. baseball, then maybe any component of a game is a toy. They don’t have to be used as toys, of course – baseball bats have other uses, and wargames can be used to figure out how to best kill opponents. Not sure the game as a whole is a toy. The game is an activity, and the board is somewhat like an athletic field.

@fitzscott

After looking at multiple forums, asking a few of my buddies on what they thought, and asking some of you on Twitter I have come to this conclusion. Call board games a toy, call them a game, it doesn’t really matter as long as you have fun playing.

What Do Board Game Publishers Think?

When you look at the back of a board game box you will find text warning those that this isn’t a children’s toy and to keep it out of reach from young children.

For example, on the back of the box for CMON’s Gizmos board game, it specifically notes this board game as a hobby gaming product and not a toy.

The warning label on the back of board games could be chalked up to legal reasons as most products need some sort of label to warn of the potential danger it could have on children. But this doesn’t change the fact they specify their games as a hobby gaming product instead of a toy.

How Should We Categorize Board Games?

If board games aren’t toys then what are they? I usually look at video games and how they have evolved over time in the public’s eye. They have grown beyond the category of toys and every store that carries video games have their own section.

I think board games should be categorized as “hobby games”. This way people will be able to understand that the board games in this category are a bit more in-depth than your average board game.

Board Games Should Not Be Classified As Toys

I think that there are enough differences between board games and toys that board games deserve their own category.

Regardless if you agree with me or not, as long as you are having fun playing board games then that is all that matters. Thank you and happy gaming!