Safety Tests: United States
In the United States, there’s the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). They are responsible for making sure products in the market are safe for use.
For toys, the CPSC follows the standards of American Society for Testing and Material (ASTM). They specifically follow ASTM’s Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety (ASTM F963). Many other countries follow this set of standards as well.
To pass these safety standards, your children’s toy must be tested by a third-party CPSC-accepted laboratory. I know this already sounds miserable, but first let’s see what the CPSC actually considers a children’s toy. This is from their website:
The law defines a “children’s product” as a consumer product designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger. In determining whether a consumer product is primarily intended for a child 12 years of age or younger, the following factors will be considered:
- A statement by the manufacturer about the intended use of the product, including a label on the product, if such statement is reasonable.
- Whether the product is represented in its packaging, display, promotion, or advertising as appropriate for use by children 12 years of age or younger.
- Whether the product is commonly recognized by consumers as being intended for use by a child 12 years of age or younger.
- The Age Determination Guidelines issued by the Commission staff in September 2002, and any successor to such guidelines.
If a consumer older than 12 years of age is as likely, or more likely, to interact with a product than a child 12 years of age or younger, then the product would probably be considered a general use product, depending upon how the product is viewed, using all of the four factors above. Products used by children 12 years of age or younger that have a declining appeal for teenagers are likely to be considered children’s products.
In the CPSC's Age Determination Guidelines, there is a section that is specifically titled: Card, Floor, Board, & Table Games. They literally spell out what type of board games are meant for each age bracket:
Two-year-olds have developed rudimentary problem-solving skills, such as simple matching or differentiation, but they do not have the cognitive skills or attention span required to participate in true game play that involves rules or requires turn taking. Instead, these children will often use games of this sort as learning or educational toys (see Educational & Academic Play: Learning Toys and Smart Toys & Educational Software). Simple matching or lotto-type games, in which the matching is based on pictures, shapes, or colors rather than more abstract letters or numbers, may be enjoyed by children in the latter half of this age group. Dominoes -- especially giant ones -- also may be enjoyed by these children. They can manage fishing-type games as long as the connections use magnets rather than hooks, and can use simple action games that involve pressing a lever or flipping a marker into a hole. Play with these games may involve one other child or adult, but children of this age will often choose to play with the game alone in exploratory ways
Games for 3-year-olds must be very simple, with no more than five or six pieces involved, and involve few rules. Three-year-olds can take turns and understand simple rules. They can follow a plan of action by moving a piece from start to finish. Although 3-year-olds can concentrate on a game, games for 3-year-olds should move quickly and not require too much time between turns. In general, 3-year-olds cannot count to more than 10. They can recognize simple ABCs and 123s in games, but cannot use reading for any part of the game. For this age group, using cards or spinners is preferred to using dice as a method of moving, though a single die may be used. Since 3-year-olds have little or no understanding of game strategies, suitable games are based on chance. Most appropriate for 3-year-olds are activity games that do not have a final winner or loser and are not goal directed. These children are unable to consider both an opponent’s pieces and their own, so games should not require “blocking” an opponent. Games for 3-year-olds best incorporate some sort of physical participation rather than cognitive strategies. Games for this age group include simple lotto games, matching games, dominoes, and simple board games using cards or spinners to indicate movement. Children also enjoy active movement games and cooperative games. Appropriate card games require only simple matching and do not require children to hold cards in their hands.
Children 4 through 5 years old have a greater interest in games, but they still lack the ability to understand complex rules and strategies. Although most 4- and 5-year-olds are developing their reading abilities, they generally cannot use written directions. Words and numbers can be used as part of the game if they are not needed for complex actions. Children of this age group are interested in number and letter recognition games, and activity games with a physical component are still very popular. Four-and five-year-olds do not have the fine-motor skill to hold more than a few cards at a time. These children are developing the fine-motor skills to make pick-up-sticks, games that require balancing pieces on one another, and similar games appealing. Cognitively, they can remember a few rules and one or two strategies. They are egocentric so they are not very good at anticipating another player’s actions, and like games based on random factors. Therefore, as with 3-year-olds, games should not require “blocking” an opponent. Children of this age group like dominoes, card matching and lotto type games. Parents often buy traditional or nostalgic games, such as Old Maid and similar games that have been around for about 20 years or more, for this age group. Parents are also very attracted to games that offer some sort of educational benefit, like letter and number recognition.
Children 6 through 8 years of age are very interested in all types of games. They enjoy playing traditional card games, board, and floor and table games. They have the cognitive ability to understand game technique and strategy, especially as they approach the latter end of this age range. They have a great desire to play games because games are social. Some children are very competitive and enjoy competing with others. They can anticipate moves and focus on more than one rule at the same time. They can remember a number of moves and can use reading as part of the activity. They can use traditional cards and dominos, and they can use reading and language as part of the game; however, they do not have the ability to read and interpret the directions to the game without help. Parents often buy nostalgic or traditional games — that is, games that have been around for about 20 years or more — for children in this age group. Children enjoy games based on popular licensed television characters or cartoons. They are beginning to have an interest in simple fantasy adventure-type games that do not require extensive memory of detail. They also have the gross-motor skills required to participate in balancing and body movement activity games.
Nine- through twelve-year-olds are very interested in all types of games, especially those that can be played with peers. They can use abstract concepts and content area knowledge in playing games. Complex games of strategy are popular with this age group, and they have an extended attention span so they can play games that do not end in a single sitting. They have developed sufficient fine-motor coordination for labyrinth or maze games that require maneuvering a marble along a pathway, and for games that require the careful shooting or aiming of markers. They are interested in educational topics and games like trivia games. Children 9 through 12 years old are very interested in collecting, especially cards based on popular cartoons or other licensed characters, music and fashion figures from popular culture. Games that combine this age group’s interest in collecting and gaming are very popular. These children also become interested in themes, so fantasy and adventure games are appealing. They are also beginning to show more interest in adult topics like war, fashion, popular music, and movies.
I actually think it’s easier to explain what’s not a children’s toy. If you’re not a children’s toy, you would be a “general use” product. Here’s what their website has to say about general use products:
General use products are consumer products that are not designed or intended primarily for use by children 12 years of age or younger.
Some products may be designed or intended for use by consumers of all ages, including children 12 years old or younger. Such products would be considered “general use products.”
This is much clearer, especially when pertaining to board gaming. Designer and hobbyist board games most likely fall under general use products. So no child safety tests needed. Halleluiah! Although:
There is a common misconception in the independent board game design world, and I see it everywhere on the forums. It goes something like “if you put an Age 13+ label on your game box you can avoid child safety tests.” There are a few things I’d like to say about this:
First off, no. You can still get sued by a toddler. The government can call bullshit on your age determination and award the toddler all your money.
Secondly, if your game is actually intended for all age groups, you don’t even need to do child safety testing. So you’re not actually avoiding anything. You might as well lower your age limit to attract more customers.
And thirdly, just because you don’t have to be held to the standards of a children’s toy doesn’t mean you don’t have to be held to any standards. You still have to comply with the standards of general use products.
When it comes to testing general use products, the good news is you don’t have to use a third-party CPSC-accepted laboratory, you can conduct the test in-house. There are some stipulations though.
The CPSC does have some specific testing requirements towards certain products. You can find a list of these specific products on their website under: Regulations, Mandatory Standards, and Bans.
A board game isn’t specifically regulated (unless it’s a true children's toy or has some weird-ass, atypical component in the game). If there are no specific standards provided by the CPSC then you must conduct a “reasonable testing program.” But the CPSC provides absolutely no guidelines for what that is. They basically say use your best judgment. Sweet.
General Certificate of Conformity
Once you’ve completed and passed any tests, you must certify that your general use product complies with all applicable consumer product safety rules. You do this by creating a General Certificate of Conformity (GCC). Elements required in a GCC taken from their website:
1) Identification of the product covered by this certificate:
- Describe the product(s) covered by this certification in enough detail to match the certificate to each product it covers and no others.
2) Citation to each consumer product safety regulation to which this product is being certified:
- The certificate must identify separately each consumer product safety rule administered by the Commission that is applicable to the product.
3) Identification of the importer or domestic manufacturer certifying compliance of the product:
- Provide the name, full mailing address, and telephone number of the importer or U.S. domestic manufacturer certifying the product.
4) Contact information for the individual maintaining records of test results:
- Provide the name, full mailing address, e-mail address, and telephone number of the person maintaining test records in support of the certification.
5) Date and place where this product was manufactured:
- For the date(s) when the product was manufactured, provide at least the month and year. For the place of manufacture provide at least the city (or administrative region) and country where the product was manufactured or finally assembled. If the same manufacturer operates more than one location in the same city, provide the street address of the factory.
6) Provide the date(s) and place when the product was tested for compliance with the consumer product safety rule(s) cited above:
- Provide the location(s) of the testing and the date(s) of the test(s) or test report(s) on which certification is being based.
You do not need to file your General Certificate of Conformity with the government, just have it available should they ever ask to see it. But you do technically need the certificate to accompany the product when being imported or shipped to your distributor/retailers. Thankfully they allow electronic certificates, meaning if you host the certificate on your website you’re all good. Here is the specifics from the CPSC website:
A GCC must "accompany" the applicable product or shipment of products covered by the certificate. If you are a manufacturer or importer, you must "furnish" the GCC to your distributors or retailers.
The "accompany" and "furnish" requirements are satisfied if the manufacturer or importer provides its distributors or retailers a reasonable means to access the certificate. You can provide an actual hard copy of the certificate to your distributors or retailers, or you can provide the GCC electronically, such as through a dedicated website URL that is provided on your invoice.
Additionally, federal law requires you to provide a copy of the GCC to the CPSC and to the Commissioner of Customs, upon request. You may find it helpful to ensure that the website URL for your GCC, if provided electronically, is clearly accessible on your import paperwork to facilitate a speedier entry through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities. If you are not furnishing your GCC electronically, then you may also choose to print out a hard copy of your GCC and include it in all of your imported shipments to facilitate a speedier entry through CBP facilities.