Tonka or Meccano?
Both companies are known for their metal mechanical toys. They are both still in business today, and cumulate together nearly two centuries of existence.
When comparing two toy crane trucks, a Tonka crane truck and a Meccano crane truck, we immediately see how different the experiences they propose are.
Right out of the box, Tonka will grab your attention, with its robust, attractive and quite realistic looking crane truck, ready to be used by your imagination. On the Meccano side all you’ll have is a set of metal parts of various sizes and shapes, screws, gears, belts and wheels—and an instruction booklet.
Even once the Meccano truck is built, they still differ greatly, and Tonka still has an edge over Meccano. Because in comparison with its robust molded steel truck, streamlined yet realistic, as well as dirt and water proof, Meccano offers a rather coarse, rough-looking truck, with holes and screws all over, with its mechanisms exposed, that does not have anything like the Tonka finish, and looks more like wireframe, like a prototype.
So if Meccano is still around, after more than a century—since almost twice as long as Tonka, in fact—, if its toys are still relevant today, it is not because they look anything like their real-life counterparts. It is because they do a trick completely out of reach of Tonka’s—they transform. Once you’ve understood how the Meccano crane truck works, you’ll have fun applying this new understanding and changing its shape, size and function. And create truck variants. At leisure. Meccano doesn’t only make us play with a crane truck, it makes us play with the very concept of crane truck.
While Tonka offers a ready-to-play toy that is fun to operate, Meccano offers a toy that is fun to build.
On the one hand, a result; on the other, a process.
There must be some Meccano enthusiast in every board gamer. Because with rulebooks, fiddly bits and interlocking mechanics that need to be understood before one can play at all, what board games really promise are processes. Transformations. Whether they admit it or not, tabletop gamers prefer their pleasure in pieces, and above all enjoy rebuilding a different pleasure along the same lines every time.
And this is even more true of historical board games—which are nothing but historical model kits, events to build. With which one can explore circumstances, actors, causes and effects or currents of ideas, distilled into a miniature working model. A model that must first be understood, and can then be manipulated, assembled / disassembled, and explored at leisure in these small historical cardboard labs. Just to see. What if…
Both Tonka and Meccano survive because they satisfy two distinct facets of our curiosity. They come with their very own set of questions. How does it feel to operate a crane truck? What can be done with it? are very different from How does a crane truck work? How can I make it stronger, lighter?
Tonka and Meccano are two essential toys, which go in two opposite directions.
What do you enjoy the most?
What type of gamer are you?