We all have heard of knock-off copies of designer bags or clothing, illegal copying of DVDs and CDs, as well as cheap versions of toys that are basically replicas of products sold by big brands. After all, there is good money to be had by the makers of these fakes, as well as a good chunk of money to be saved by people who buy the copies instead of the much more expensive originals. However, what is probably less well known is that modern board games have also become a target of unscrupulous people who want to make a quick buck. So, let me give you a couple of examples of games which were counterfeit in the last couple of years and the lessons we should take away.

In an article in February 2018, Gameosity wrote about how “counterfeit copies of Codenames have become an issue on reseller websites”. The Gameosity article and the official press release by CGE show how you can identify if you have a fake copy of the game or the original. I contacted CGE about the issue and Jana Mikulová kindly replied to say that “although it is obvious that this is a fake copy of Codenames, there is nothing we can do but ask the Chinese partner to try to control the market where fake copies occur most.” She goes on to say that “we [CGE] are most sorry for deceived customers who get a poor-quality product for their money without any support in case of missing pieces etc.”

Jana also says that CGE does all it can to warn everyone “about the risks of buying via portals such as eBay, Alibaba, and other similar huge [platforms].” The CGE press release says very much the same thing and also explains that “the majority of cases of counterfeit copies are from eBay sales.” CGE recommends that you “buy your games from a local or online game store.”

These sentiments are mirrored by Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games in episode 131 of the Board Games Insider podcast (at 23:41), where he says: “Buy games from reputable retailers. Do not buy games, for instance, from eBay ever.” It is no surprise that Stephen feels so strongly about this, given that Terraforming Mars was also subject to being copied illegally, as illustrated in a Board Game Geek thread.

However, it isn’t just platforms like eBay, where you might expect individuals trying to sell you fake items, but even trusted sites like Amazon have had issues. In an article in their January 2018 issue, Tabletop Gaming magazine reports that “the majority of publishers we spoke to pointed the finger at Amazons third-party Marketplace and ‘Fulfilled by Amazon‘ programme – where third-party stock is stored and sent out of Amazon warehouses – for allowing online stores to freely offer illegitimate copies of games, which are often misunderstood by buyers to be vouched for by the retail giant.”

There are other examples of counterfeit games of course. Pandemic by Z-Man Games was mentioned in Board Game Geek thread, but there are many, many more. A lot of different publishers are affected by the issue and do what they can to warn potential customers and reduce the damage fakes can cause. After all, counterfeit copies are usually of poor quality and therefore they affect the game experience and tarnish the view that people have of a publisher or the hobby as a whole. Designers clearly also lose out on royalties for sold copies, and of course publishers lose revenue. Distributors suffer similarly.

The extent of the issue shows that our hobby has become mainstream enough to make it worthwhile for unscrupulous people to create counterfeit copies of popular games in order to profit from unsuspecting customers.
So the message is clear: if you buy from a large, trusted website, make sure who the actual seller is and if they can be trusted. However, you’re much better off supporting your friendly local games store, whose stock will have come from a reputable distributor or directly from the publisher. Alternatively buy from dedicated online board game stores – see my Useful Links page for those that I trust. We can all do our bit to help with this issue.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)
Music: Hopeful by AShamaluevMusic (https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com/sad-music)



  1. An option you didn’t mention, and admittedly a small option, is to buy directly from the publisher. Apart from our games only being at one FLGS, the main way is via our website. And how would one know if that’s legit?
    Firstly, we’re a secure site (HTTPS) and we offer two ways to order our games—directly from our online store on the site (powered by Shopify) or our Shopify store. Not many fakers will want to spend a monthly subscription cost for Shopify. Secondly, we’ve spent years developing our social media profiles, which link back to our site.
    Many “big” publishers do have online sales too.
    I’m glad to see you mention Amazon. We were on Amazon for about a year and they take a large chunk (a bit more that 25%). You can create and stock a basic store for no monthly cost and all you need is an email address. The basic account is pretty dumpy as you’re not allowed to directly contact the customer (for things like address clarification) and you can’t place any links in your stuff (so no links to your site, even if it’s for rules, etc).
    We shut down our Amazon store after getting a letter from the NY DA’s office saying we could pay a $2000 fine or defend ourselves in court for illegally promoting guns (the mention of pistols in Mint Tin Pirates triggered their bot). It was a “legit” thing that NY did and they even went after Lego’s!).
    By the way, Amazon’s had a history of knock off beauty products being sold with some leading to real health issues.
    Great post as always!

    1. Thank you for your comment, David. Buying directly from the publisher is definitely a great option, if the publisher sells directly. It’s really worth highlighting, because for smaller publishers it’s the best way to support them. They will get your money directly, without anyone in the middle getting a cut. So thank you for your comment. It’s always great to hear the publisher’s point of view on these sort of issues.

  2. Great point regarding distribution. A small shop like ours can’t make in the quantity and won’t offshore production to get the costs as cheap as possible to make it viable to go via normal distribution.
    James Mathe did a really good rundown on the mark up along that way and a good designer might get 5% of the MSRP of their game (book authors get about 9-10% and maybe a few stellar designers make 6-8%) but some get as low as 2.5%.
    Typically, a game has to be marked up about 500% by the time the player buys it at the FLGS.
    Interestingly, his 1% for shipping damage is far higher than ours, which is exactly 0.027% to date!

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