Five Myths of Counterfeit Board Games (& How To Avoid Them In The First Place)

Almost everyone would be sceptical with deep discounts on a Rolex watch, a Tiffany necklace or a Louis Vuitton handbag. Luxury items worth thousands of pounds are surely lucrative targets for counterfeiters..

Yet many would be surprised to learn that all of the above items are widely counterfeited. In fact, at the time of this research, many of the above counterfeit items are from the first results eBay provide when you search their platform for that item.

Here we try look at 5 myths about counterfeit products (with an understandable board game focus!)

Myth 1: “Inexpensive items are not worth counterfeiting. It’s not going to be fake.”

The fuse above is worth about 20 pence at retail, the Casio watch retails for £9.99. A LOL Surprise ball was around £10, 7 Wonders Duel retails for about £20.

All of those above are fake. Yes, even 20 pence household fuses are faked. Counterfeiters avoid the costs of product development, research, testing, licensing, and marketing. They ‘piggy back’ off of others success. A counterfeit Casio watch as shown can be bought in bulk for as low as $1.50 each from AliBaba, and then sell for £4.99. For a product to be attractive to counterfeiters, there only needs to be demand. (hence why niche board games, where the genuine articles might end up discontinued and discounted by the publishers are rarely counterfeited).

Myth 2: “I bought it from Amazon/a trusted eBay seller/a proper website so I know it’s real!”

Amazon fulfils orders from thousands of sellers. You need to be sure you’re buying something “Dispatched from and sold by Amazon.” (Some reports state that Amazon mix their own stock with the stock they store for their marketplace sellers, causing counterfeits to get mixed in with genuine Amazon stock however, we have not found any evidence of this happening in the UK) sellers of counterfeits use eBay, Amazon, OnBuy and others to sell their products.

eBay sellers of counterfeit items sell a wide variety of items, mainly sourced from sites such as AliExpress and DHGate. They either do not know they are selling counterfeits, or they do not care. In either case, the eBay sellers found selling the above items all had well over 100 feedback (some in the thousands), and all had a percentage of between 97.1% and 100% positive feedback. Most customers would never even think of these items being counterfeited in the first place – let alone know to check.

We are even aware of sellers with legitimate looking independent websites, who are registered as UK limited companies, selling counterfeit board games. Sadly, despite our efforts they are still operating and defrauding the public.

Myth 3: “Fakes are always priced too good to be true, if you pay a bit more you’ll avoid them.”

Sadly, even this isn’t even always true. Firstly, it’s important to know that the sellers of counterfeit products are trying to balance selling their products quickly, with getting the maximum profit. They only need to beat the lowest priced legitimate seller by a small percentage to find customers. In turn, legitimate retailers try to compete with counterfeit sellers, pushing the price down further (sometimes using automated pricing algorithms, that won’t know they are price matching counterfeits). You can now buy a genuine copy of one of the most heavily counterfeited games, Ticket To Ride: Europe, for less than £20 now on Amazon. That’s less than half the original RRP.

For now, we have avoided stocking the most commonly counterfeited games for this reason (Catan, Ticket To Ride Europe, 7 Wonders, 7 Wonders Duel, Terraforming Mars, Pandemic, Carcassonne, Azul, Uno, etc).

Myth 4: “I would never get caught out. I can always spot a fake. There’s always a tell!”

Wrong. Firstly, the picture online may look genuine, but that doesn’t mean that’s what you will receive. Even when it arrives, some counterfeits are as near identical to the genuine, that you could only tell them apart if you had both side by side. Even then, you wouldn’t necessarily know which was genuine and which was counterfeit – only that there are different. Add to manufacturing differences from different print runs, and sometimes even different publishers, and you can’t even be sure that one is counterfeit. There are sometimes tells, which if they don’t confirm a counterfeit outright, will add to suspicion, but generally counterfeits are often complete, and of fair quality, and this leaves us to our last myth…

Myth 5: “The fake is perfectly good anyway, it’s playable and it doesn’t matter that it isn’t genuine, it was a bargain!!”

Perhaps it doesn’t matter to you. Consider though:

1) You are in now way supporting the original creator of the game. The board game industry, as any other, is a competitive place, by buying counterfeit products you are denying income to legitimate businesses and creators and who may even be designing games as a second job (even the renowned Stefan Feld is a School Director! He stated in 2020 “I love my job as a school director very much and I don’t plan to leave it anytime soon. If I were to become a full time game designer, then my livelihood would rely on game design, and I think that would add pressure, and take away a lot of the fun in designing games.”

2) Your purchase may be funding other illegal activities. Evidence suggests that criminal networks use similar routes and modus operandi to move counterfeit goods as they do to smuggle drugs, firearms and people (Source, PDF) . We’ve even found evidence that links one prolific UK seller of counterfeit board games with the unlicensed trade of exotic animals, and even the theft of penguins…

3) You will either have to accept it has no resale value, or break the law yourself if you sell it on in future. It also may not be compatible with future expansions due to printing differences.

But how can I avoid buying counterfeit items?

The best way to avoid counterfeits, is to avoid the sellers of counterfeits.

Buy from established sellers, with a good reputation, and ideally those that specialise in that type of product. Even previously respected Zavvi were caught out in 2020 and had to contact their customers with refunds, after they had found board games they had sold were counterfeit (see this BGG thread). A dedicated board game retailer, buying directly from the suppliers, such as Asmodee would never have been caught out this way.

Check reviews and feedback for potential warning signs. Many sellers of counterfeit board games have almost 100% ratings on eBay, as buyers do not realise they are buying a counterfeit product. However, there can be warning signs, look out for very low amount of feedback, customer feedback that mentions defects or that it arrived via international post (some sellers will appear to be UK based, but dispatch directly from China). Also look to see if the feedback they have is for relevant products.

Look for their business information on their website/profile. To comply with UK legislation, a limited company must display “the company’s registered number, and its registered office address”. You can check this information on companies house. Not every business is a registered company, but even those that are not should comply with distance selling regulations, and display an address. If they do not display this, or they are using a PO Box – that can be another red flag. If it’s not displayed because they are a ‘private seller’, and they are selling new and sealed products in quantity, why aren’t they registered as a business? They are either a private individual, who would not be able to buy from legitimate suppliers, or they are a business hiding their information, and avoiding distance selling regulations – depriving you of your consumer rights. On eBay, every business seller will have their business address listed on their profile and at the foot of listings. If this says a PO box, China, or other unexpected international address, be suspicious!

Are there any disclaimers on condition/authenticity? Some sellers sell their goods as “seconds” or say they are sealed but “defective”. Publishers generally do not let their ‘seconds’ out on to the market. How likely is it that these sellers have obtained thousands of genuine but ‘defective’ product? These sellers are labelling them as seconds/defective so that the customer will be more forgiving of quality issues, and less likely to realise they are in fact counterfeit. Additionally, look out for brand information when shopping on eBay, if it says ‘unbranded’ it’s another point towards it being a counterfeit.

Don’t rely on the product looking genuine in photos, counterfeit sellers routinely use file photos of genuine products, it doesn’t mean that’s what they will send!

I have a game I’m unsure of, are there any signs to look out for?

Again, it’s hard to distinguish between genuine games with quality issues and a fake. If it’s a Days Of Wonder product with a serial number, try registering it on their website to see if it a genuine product.

As we’ve talked about above, it is in no way as simple as looking for a ‘tell’ to confirm an item’s authenticity. Every new print run, the counterfeiters fix mistakes and improve their product. Similarly, with every print run (whether deliberately or not) publishers introduce more variance in their genuine product. Many (though not all) Days Of Wonder games have a registration number on the back of the booklet to register the game with them, if it missing, or has already been registered, that’s a sign of a counterfeit.

If you can, compare it to one that is known to be genuine, it needs to be one of the same edition, otherwise any differences are as likely to be indicative of updates rather than indicative of a counterfeit. This Imgur album show’s a good comparison of a genuine Splendor versus a counterfeit for example. You can also e-mail the publisher with pictures.

And ultimately, if you’re concerned, contact the seller. Their response can be very telling!