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Playing board games online through various tool is a huge part of modern gaming culture. Some of those tools are first-party implementations of the game by the original creators or a license-holder. A lot of them, however, are third-party works.

It's tricky territory and there are a lot of myths circulating around — which is the perfect kind of thing to tackle with a Stack Exchange question.

I think we need some kind of canonical question to cover:

  • Is what I'm doing legal, illegal, or a grey area?
  • How do I find more information about a specific situation?
  • What kind of trouble could I get into (as an end user, at least) if I knowingly or unknowingly use an illegal service?

They key thing is, this is a question for board-game hobbyists about their hobby. I think it's pretty much inevitable that you'll run into this issue if you seriously participate in online play.

It's quite possible that this is a question we need additional expertise to answer in full, but finding a canonical question and answer here — even if it's a redirect to Legal SE or requires extensive quotation of another source — adds value to the site. Because this is the first place I'd look for such an answer, especially if I was looking for one that correctly applied legal principles to nuanced landscape of the board-game world rather than serving up a one-size-fits-all answer.


To be clear, I think this question needs an answer regardless of whether legal questions are on- or off- topic as a whole, because it is an issue that applies to playing games in addition to developing them, and a great answer is likely to involve an experienced hobbyist's understanding of the online-play ecosystem and creator-consumer relationships in the hobby, just as much as an understanding the law. That's... maybe not the most intuitive reasoning, I realize.

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  • Rainbolt posted a similar question at about the same time as yours here do you guys want to try and merge or do you think they are different enough? – Malco Jan 19 '18 at 20:03
  • Problem with this is that legal questions are considered off topic in general for BGSE, it's even one of our close reasons. – Andrew Jan 19 '18 at 20:21
  • @Malco My point is I think this question needs an answer even if legal questions in general are deemed "off-topic" as a broader class. – Alex P Jan 19 '18 at 21:31
  • @AlexP wait me or Andrew? I was just giving an FYI since it was two similar questions being posted within a min or two of each other. – Malco Jan 19 '18 at 21:40
  • I'm afraid your reasoning about having a canonical on an off-topic question doesn't make sense to me. It seems to boil down to "people are interested in this sort of thing" and "the questions are partially about board games still", which are the kinds of thing that comes up sometimes when we're discussing whether something should be on topic, but it's not really a justification for making an exception to site scope. – Cascabel Jan 19 '18 at 23:51
  • @Andrew What close reason mentions anything about legal questions? I don't see it. – Rainbolt Jan 21 '18 at 1:01
  • @Rainbolt I swear it was there yesterday under off topic when I used it to vote to close boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/39900/… – Andrew Jan 21 '18 at 1:05
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    Oh, if someone else uses a custom reason, then when you go to close the question, the reason they provided will be there. At least I think that's what happened anyway. – Rainbolt Jan 21 '18 at 2:16
  • @Rainbolt i did not know that about the workings of stack exchange. – Andrew Jan 21 '18 at 5:35
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We should not make a canonical answer for the simple reason is that the answer to the question of a third party online implementation being legal depends on the game and third party in question.

There are games out there where the designer has worked with a third party source to make the game. It could also be the case where the games license allows third parties to make online implementations which could depend on what rules they follow. It could also just be plain copyright violation and not legal at all.

In my opinion what this answer would boil down to is it depends on the game and how the third party site implemented it.

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  • This is all moot on our site if the question's off-topic to begin with, but I do agree, and these are things that are worth considering if someone wants to head over to law.stackexchange.com with this kind of thing. Specific instances of this question (with specific jurisdictions) might well be on-topic there, and would be much more likely to attract the necessary expertise to yield legally accurate answers. – Cascabel Jan 19 '18 at 23:54
  • Demonstrating how the question itself is a category error is an excellent answer. Thanks, Joe! – Alex P Jan 21 '18 at 1:14

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