Board games are usually found in the toys and games sections of stores, but are board games considered toys?
I looked at what the dictionary, stores, the general public and board gamers think about the question.
If you want the short answer – are board games considered toys? Board games are considered a category of toys. A toy is just a game without rules. As soon as you give a toy a goal and rules, it becomes a game.
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Read on for the different perspectives!
Before we look at how a board game is classified by different parts of society, it probably makes sense to look at what a board game is in the first place!
What is a board game?
According to Oxford Dictionaries, a board game is:
“A game that involves the movement of counters or other objects round a board.”Oxford Dictionaries
According to that definition, any games which don’t include a board are not considered board games. But, I disagree. What about card games?
Are card games board games?
I look at this question in more depth in another article – Are card games board games? But in short, my answer is yes, card games are board games.
The table often takes the place of the board in card games. Even card game instructions tell you where your draw pile, discard pile, play area etc should be on that table. Technically, you could make boards or player mats for these showing these defined play areas.
So for the purposes of thinking about whether board games are toys, I’m including card games too.
We’re talking about all board and card games from mainstreams like Uno, to hobbyist board games like Gloomhaven.
Now that we know what I’m calling a board game, onto the next question…
What is the dictionary definition of a toy?
Looking at a dictionary definition, Oxford Dictionaries defines a toy 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 toyOxford Dictionaries
It’s interesting that the leading definition associates toys with children and looking at the secondary definition, speaking as an adult, board games definitely provide amusement!
So the dictionary definitions of ‘toy’ seem to apply to board games.
What are the differences between board games and toys?
Taking a more abstract look at board games and toys, what are the similarities and differences between the two?
How are board games similar to toys?
- Played for fun
- Tactile experiences
- Can be played on their own or with other people
- Often sold in the same stores
How are board games different to toys?
Toys don’t have a goal or rules, but as soon as you apply rules and goals to a toy, it can become a game.
Without rules, a ball is just a ball. Give it rules and it becomes tennis, soccer, basketball etc.
Board games always have rules and a win condition. Some have a lot of rules!
Do shops classify board games as toys?
Think about the kind of places you’d go looking for board games. Toy stores, booksellers, friendly local game stores and huge retailers like Target and Amazon.
What’s interesting about these stores is that they each treat board games a little differently.
- Huge retailers like Target usually put the board games next to the toys.
- Booksellers often keep them near the gifts section of the store, or near the children’s books area.
- Toy stores have a dedicated board games section but more often than not, the games found in this section will be board games aimed at children or families like Monopoly or Candy Land.
- Friendly local games stores specialize in hobby games and don’t have ‘toys’ in the conventional sense of playsets, dolls, cars, and merchandise from kids TV. Though you may find the odd sci-fi and comic book collectable in there.
- Amazon has Board Games as a sub-category of Toys and Games where you’ll find kids games like Hungry Hungry Hippos listed alongside hobbyist games like Catan.
So overall, retailers see board games as a super closely related to toys but just from seeing them on a shelf, we don’t know how they define them.
Does the general public think board games are toys?
I asked my family and friends who don’t know a huge amount about board games (or even my interest in them!) if they think board games are toys.
They all said yes!
They also associated board games with children. Buying them for children, playing them as family games, and after their children have grown up, only playing board games at Christmas.
So from my informal sample of friends and family, board games are definitely toys and they are solidly associated with children.
Do board gamers think board games are toys?
The question led to some heated discussions among my board gamer friends!
I’ll save you the debate and summarize what they said.
“If you see the simple definition of a toy as being something that you play with for amusement, then sure board games are toys. Just because you’re older, you’re still playing a game for fun.”
“Monopoly is a vastly different game to Twilight Imperium, but chances are your average person on the street has never heard of Twilight Imperium. But when you say board games, what are they most likely to picture? A mass-market game they played as children, or with children, at family gatherings.”
“It’s not that board games aren’t toys, it’s just that the associations most people have with board games and toys is that they are childish and something that you grow out of.”
So my friends didn’t really take issue with board games being considered toys, their issue is more with the belittling, childish connotations the public have with board games.
That perspective doesn’t do anything to convey the depth and breadth of the board game hobby to the public.
But if we don’t want to call them simply ‘board games’ what else can we call them?
What can we call board games to separate them from mainstream games?
If we call board games ‘adult’ board games, that gives out a completely different message!
I tend to use ‘hobbyist’ board games, which at least makes people ask what I mean by ‘hobbyist’. It prepares them when I come out with game titles they’ve never heard of before.
Do board game publishers think board games are toys?
Well, the packaging would suggest that no, they don’t.
“Not a children’s toy.” Is printed on the Z-Man Carcassonne box.
Although, that is probably more to do with how toys are classified legally. Manufacturers are required to take care of the safety of children. So anything that’s not a toy needs to be clearly labelled as such.
Interestingly, it also says that Carcassonne is a ‘hobby gaming product’.
What about in other languages?
In English, the words we use for toys and games are different.
But in Germany, home to the largest board game convention in the world, Spiel in Essen, the words for toy and game are not so different. “Spiel” is a game and “Spielzeug” literally meaning playthings can be taken to mean toy.
So in German, ‘game’ is literally part of the word for ‘toy’, so it’s hard to see them as anything but toys.
Conclusion – Board games are toys
A board game is a type of toy. It’s something played with for fun.
While some people may not like the childish association that board games have with the general public, I really don’t mind. I like that I still enjoy playing games as an adult. I’m proud to have that sense of fun as part of my identity.
I also enjoy stacking my meeples while I wait for my turn! Which I now know, makes the meeples toys until they are placed on a tile when they become part of the game! Well, I’ve learnt something today.
The other question I asked myself recently was, “Are card games considered board games?” Take a look at the different perspectives in my article.