The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act–And Why All Gamers Should Fear Toxic Games

The CPSIA was the federal response to the parade of toxic toys arriving from overseas. As with most knee-jerk legislation, it had unforeseen consequences.

Beware of Toxic Games!
Beware of Toxic Games!

You can click the link above for a more detail explanation, but essentially the CPSIA forces manufacturers of any product (ie books, games, toys, etc) used by children under the age of 12 to test their products (practically every board game, miniature or role-playing product on the market) for several toxic chemicals/metals, lead being the most notable.

I have no real objection to removing lead from toys and games, but the fine print on this is truly scary. Using a hypothetical board producer “BG Inc.” as an example, join me in exploring the true horror of this law. BG Inc. buys only the finest components from reputable suppliers for its games. Every dice set, piece of cardboard and plastic token face a battery of tests and they all pass with flying colors. BG then assembles the parts in to a boxed board game…and sends that to testing also! Yes, you have to test the finished product. It does not matter that all the components passed muster, you also have to test the final product. This is bad, but it gets worse for BG Inc.

Testing is required on each “flavor” of product produced. Suppose BG Inc produces two nearly-identical board games. One version uses round plastic tokens and the other uses square tokens. The government says that these are “different” and both must be tested for toxic chemicals.

Ok, BG jumped through all the hoops and got its new product to market after extensive and expensive testing. Now all they have to do is test their entire existing inventory. Yes, this law is retroactive! You have to get all of your current products up to the new standard or it is literally a crime to sell it.

All of this means that every die, board game, box of cards or game book (yes, it applies to books too) must pass the new testing regimen. All of which is sure to add to the price. How much is a matter of some debate. Clearly, gaming juggernauts like Hasbro will have no issue with getting all of their products tested. Economies of scale reduce their costs significantly. Imagine the impact on the small game company that assembles its game by hand. Remember, even if every component is “clean,” the final product must pass the test requirements.  So mom and pop game publishers, already working with razor-thin profit margins need some extra lab work done on their board game. Some companies will cease publishing and the survivors will work harder for less money on each sale. From my perspective, the only real winners from this law are testing labs. Their business is sure to flourish.

This is but the barest hint of the CPSIA’s impact. I have not covered the havoc this is wreaking on crafters that make and sell their own products. Etsy is a good starting point for that discussion if you are interested. Oh, I nearly forgot. The CPSIA also covers used goods as well. No one is quite sure how used book dealers and libraries will comply. Some suggestions include destroying all the older “dangerous” books and buying new, tested versions.

If you would like more information about the CPSIA, I suggest  checking out the excellent Overlawyered’s take on the CPSIA at For a more gamer-centric view, GAMA (organizers of the Origins Game Fair and a trade organization) has a short notice on their site in the “write your congressman to stop this horror” vein.

This is not a theoretical threat. This law passed and the deadline to ship untested product is February 10, 2009. After that date, there are fines of up to $100,000.00 for shipping untested product. Congress, in a fit a wrath, also added a caveat that you cannot even give “contaminated” product away for free. The potential waste from this law is truly epic.

Considering the lobbying power of the toy companies, I suspect there is an amendment in the offing for this nightmare.  That said, congress is a slothful beast. I am afraid we have to live with the CPSIA for the foreseeable future.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

8 thoughts on “The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act–And Why All Gamers Should Fear Toxic Games

  • January 27, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Yes, this law is completely retarded. It’s like fixing a leak in the bathroom by shooting a tank round at it. I can only hope we don’t have to suffer through it much until it’s revoked.

  • January 27, 2009 at 10:03 am

    One important clarification from the CPSC: the law will only require that new children’s products be tested before sale. Previously manufactured items are not required to be tested. In either case, it will still be illegal to sell any products that don’t meet the new requirements; you aren’t required to test it, but you can still be held liable if you sell it. What’s the difference?

    Check out for details.

    Another thing to consider is that the act specifically address items manufactured for children ages 12 and under. Doesn’t this leave out most of the hobby game market, making this largely a non-issue?

    There’s a decent outline on the CPSC site about the requirements here:

  • January 27, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    The “it does not apply to hobby games because they are for older people” probably will not fly. I cannot imagine the government will let industry decide what game is for over 12 year old players. If they did that even “Chutes and Ladders” will become “for 12 and older” to save on the testing. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but you get the idea. No, I think the books and games that are playable by early teens will probably get scooped up in this definition as well. Sadly, that covers most hobby games.

    Trask, The Last Tyromancer

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  • February 5, 2009 at 10:45 am

    While it may not be of any use to board game type companies, I think this is just going to cause the tabletop RPG stuff, like D&D and Gurps and the rest, to move to a very DRM entrenched electronic format. You’ll buy their reader which will be the only program that can read their PDFs or whatever format, then you’ll require a key, much like a CD key for video games, which will be sent to you with each purchase to unlock the PDF. However it’s done, in most cases you have to figure any potential loss of sales due to the system being cracked and tossed around on torrent sites will be less expensive than all this pointless testing would cost.

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