Like everyone else during this pandemic, black families are spending more time together at home. Miklos and Starla Fitch therefore hope to persuade the most bored citizens to consider playing board games.
In January, the Omaha, Nebraska couple launched a YouTube show that has over 6,000 subscribers. They said board game companies contact them every day now.
While they don’t know how many of their new subscribers are black families, they hope their episodes of amusing banter and market game information will attract a diverse audience.
“We’d love to hear what people like us have to say about board games,” Starla Fitch shared in an episode of the show.
“We get a lot of comments from people of color in New Zealand, Australia and other countries,” she told NBC News.
“We have Latinos saying, ‘We’re so glad you’re here,'” Miklos, known as Mik, said. “We would also like to see people who look like us play games.”
Marcus Ross, who as a Black board game designer himself is a rarity, said the industry, which had an estimated global market value of more than $7 billion in 2017, according to Statista, has a long way to go in terms of diversity.
“It would be very hard to overstate how white the market is,” Ross said. “The tabletop gaming industry is just beginning to see the possibility of this untapped market – black people.”
To help the Fitches reach a wider audience, their 15-year-old son Grant used his computer skills to help them create the “Our Family Plays Games” YouTube show.
His parents are the hosts, but Grant grew up playing board games, so he too sometimes appears on the show.
They talk about topics like little box games that are great for traveling, two-player games, and farming-themed games. An appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” last month doubled their YouTube viewership.
The Fitches grew up playing popular board games like checkers, dominoes, Sorry and Monopoly, and regularly host family game nights with their children. They have a collection of 280 games and can be seen sitting in front of their shelves during their show.
Mik Fitch said that after they got married, he looked for games he and Starla would like to play as a couple.
“Starla doesn’t like team games, so I got Catan,” he said. “You follow your own path to build your colony.”
Starla also likes what Mik calls “pretty components” for her board games. She calls them tough, not flimsy. He is interested in themes and something that allows him to strategize. Their shows last about 20 minutes. In Episode 27, they reviewed seven games that Mik said “don’t get enough love” for.
Starla said of a match, “It’s ugly, but it’s a good match.”
They both love the 1893 World’s Fair.
“I love the story,” Starla said. “We like to read about the investors who were there.”
When a friend told them that Frederick Douglass was at this fair, Mik called the manufacturer.
“I said, ‘You know Frederick Douglass was there and you might want to put him in the game. They said, thank you for telling us. You’re right, we might want to add it.
Their cheerfulness and infectious love of board games is why Tom Vasel, host of “The Dice Tower,” a YouTube video podcast about board games, made the Fitch family regulars on his show.
“I want to be as diverse as possible,” Vasel said. “But the word I use to describe them is genuine – and that’s what matters most. I’m happier after talking to them than before.
The Fitch’s also teamed up with Jade Rogers, founder of House of Afros, Capes and Curls, an Omaha organization that Rogers fondly says is “for black nerds” who share a love of science fiction, fantasy, games and afrofuturism. With the Fitches, Rogers aspires to create a younger generation of black players and designers.
“Kids meet them on zoom and participate in virtual game nights. Kids will create a game from what they’ve learned,” Rogers said.
The Fitches dedicated Episode 6 of their YouTube show to a “tribute to Black History Month”, highlighting the games they’ve discovered black people are drawn to. These include Splendor, Ticket to Ride, and Codenames (none of which were created by a black designer).
There is one game the Fitches refuse to play: Freedom: The Underground Railroad. Although the goal of the game is for abolitionists to work together to bring slaves to freedom in Canada, Starla said, “I can’t understand that slavery is a game.”
Says Mika “It won’t be in my collection. It’s just something we don’t want to play with.
At the end of the Black History show, they list the only black designers they’ve met in their playing years. In addition to Ross, there’s Eric M. Lang, Mark Corsey, and Omari Akil.
“For the board game industry, Fitch’s are pretty unique,” said Ross, whose company is called Water Bear Games. “Most of the critics are white men in their 30s and 40s.”
But like the Fitches, Ross said he thinks if black people find out about some of the newer games, they’ll love them.
“New games respect your time and your intelligence,” he said. “You need luck, but you need to have a strategy.”
He also thinks the recent protests and the “Black Lives Matter” cry are making manufacturers realize they’re missing out on a whole market of potential customers.
“The Fitches can appeal to an entirely different market, people who haven’t been exposed to it,” he said. “For these people, all the games of the last 10 years are new.”