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You Should Know: Don't Trust the 'Recommended Age' on the Box

Drew Davidson
United States
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I didn’t know this until this week. It’s fairly big news, even though it’s not new. It’s flown under our radar because it impacts game publishers more than it impacts game buyers. Still, you should know this, even if there’s nothing we can do about it….

The government is [fouling] things up again. Well, that’s not the news. That’s old news. But in this case, a government oversight agency has found a unique way to screw around with tabletop gamers.

I’ll let Board Game Geek user Daniel Corban (dcorban) lay it out for you…

I just noticed that the current and recent printings of Carcassonne are marked for ages 13+. This is due to the required testing and (relatively high) financial tithe which must be made to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission for any "toy" marketed toward children under 13 years of age. The game, prior to this regulation, was marked for ages 8+.
-- Another victim of the CSPC, July 25, 2014

Corban also points out that Ticket to Ride: 10th Anniversary is made in China and is listed for ages 8+.

Commenting on Corban’s thread, BGG member Pas L gave a humorous example of the effect these rules have…

So this is why my copy of Skull says 8+ in French and 13+ in English. I thought it was just a subtle commentary on the competence of English speaking children!
While this has been public policy since 2012, most bloggers & podcasters aren’t on to it. And, until this week, I wasn’t aware of it, either.

Reviewers online are pointing out that a game’s age recommendation says age 13+, without realizing that the publisher is merely taking the easy road.

Even the reviewers at the Dice Tower Network are befuddled as to why family games are marketed to 13+ when they’re perfect for younger children. If Tom & Eric haven’t caught on yet to the effects of this ruling, then we should talk…

Welcome to the heretofore uncontroversial topic of Age Recommendations.

This minor controvery is based on guidelines issued by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, specifically the recently revised publication ASTM F 963-11, which applies to “Children’s toys manufactured after June 12, 2012….”

(A basic FAQ is here:

First, a tabletop game is considered a “toy”... You’re not going to get around that. And the reason you’re not is... Meeples. Hundreds of tiny little game pieces that can be easily swallowed by toddlers who aren’t invited to the game table. Rugrats are small, but they’re quick; they can easily dart under the table just as soon as a careless player drops a sheaf of ‘wheat’ on the floor.

Primarily because of that,

“If you are a manufacturer or importer of toys, you must test your children's toys for compliance with the toy safety standard…. Toys intended … for children 12 years of age and younger must be subjected to third party testing and certification at CPSC-accepted laboratories.”
In a nutshell, that’s why you’re seeing 13+ on more and more games.

The government’s guidelines, however, apply precisely to games for children under *14*… This is where the government's habit of splitting hairs can be more annoying than amusing…

If the toy is intended … for children 13 years of age, then the toy is still subject to the requirements in ASTM F963-11, but you are not required to have the toy tested by a third party laboratory. ...

Yeah, you read right. The rules “technically” (CPSC’s word) apply to toys intended for children under *14*, but they’re going to ease up on the rules if the user is *exactly* 13 years old…

However… games intended for children 13 and under must still be tested in-house … as long as it’s certified.

Although certain sections of the toy safety standard are exempted from third party testing, toys must be certified as being fully compliant.... Manufacturers are expected to test each product or ensure that the product has been subjected to a reasonable testing program.
So, how does a publisher tell what needs to be tested…?

Because different toys have different characteristics, materials, and functions, every toy needs to be reviewed individually to determine what sections of the toy safety standard are applicable.... You should review the standard carefully and feel free to contact us if you have any questions. It also may be helpful to consult with a testing laboratory on which sections of the standard apply to your children's product or toy. [emphasis mine]
The CPSC makes it sound so harmless. But you can see why a lot of American publishers are getting around this scrutiny by labeling their games for 13+, even when the designer originally had a younger age range in mind.

And here’s why game publishers will get away with it: they’re smart enough to know that game buyers are smart enough to use Board Game Geek, a website smart enough to poll members for a game’s appropriate age range.

This is where BGG shows its primacy. As bloated as the site is, you can easily look up a game (on the web or with an app) and scroll down to user-recommended ages. In fact, this crowd-sourced information has always been more reliable than the manufacturers’ age suggestions.

If you want to know what the government (and a lot of reasonably concerned parents) are watching out for, look at the Checklist in government document ASTM F 963-11.

BTW, don’t think that Hasbro is too concerned about this. They have extensive testing processes in place, and I’m sure they have frequent contact with nearby third-party testers. I mean, if you’re a third-part tester and you want to keep your company busy, you’re going to move your base of operations as close to Hasbro’s HQ as possible. It’s win-win.

Thanks again to Daniel Corban for pointing this out!
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