Like everyone else during this pandemic, Black families are spending more time together at home. So Miklos and Starla Fitch are hoping to persuade more bored citizens to consider playing board games.
In January, the Omaha, Nebraska, couple started a YouTube show that has more than 6,000 subscribers. They said board game companies are contacting them every day now.
While they don’t know how many of their new subscribers are Black families, they’re hoping their episodes of funny banter and consumer information about the games on the market today will attract a diverse audience.
“We’d like to hear what people like us have to say about board games,” Starla Fitch explained in one episode of the show.
“We get lots of comments from people of color from New Zealand, Australia and other countries,” she told NBC News.
“We have Latinos saying, ‘We’re so glad you’re here,’” said Miklos, known as Mik. “We’d like to also see some people who look like us playing games.”
Marcus Ross, who as a Black board game designer is himself a rarity, said the industry, which had an estimated global market value of over $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 game industry is just starting to see the possibility of this untapped market — Black people.”
To help the Fitches draw a larger audience, their son Grant, 15, used his computer skills to assist them in creating the YouTube Show, “Our Family Plays Games.”
His parents are the hosts, but Grant grew up playing board games, so he, too, sometimes appears on the show.
They talk about subjects such as small box games 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 hold regular family game nights with their children. They have a collection of 280 games and can be seen sitting in front of shelves of them on their show.
Mik Fitch said that after they got married, he searched for games he and Starla would enjoy playing as a couple.
“Starla doesn’t like team games, so I got Catan,” he said. “You go your own route to build your settlement.”
Starla also likes what Mik calls “pretty components” for her board games. She calls them sturdy, not flimsy. He is interested in themes and something that allows him to strategize. Their shows run about 20 minutes. In Episode 27, they reviewed seven games that Mik said “don’t get enough love.”
Starla said of one game, “It’s ugly, but it’s a good game.”
They both love World’s Fair 1893.
“I love the history,” said Starla. “We love reading about the investors that were there.”
When a friend told them that Frederick Douglass was at that 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, Thanks for telling us. You’re right, we might want to add him.’”
Their cheerfulness and their infectious love for board gaming is why Tom Vasel, host of “The Dice Tower,” a YouTube video podcast about board gaming, has 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 authentic — and that’s what matters most. I’m happier after talking to them than I was before.”
The Fitches have also joined forces with Jade Rogers, founder of House of Afros, Capes and Curls, an Omaha organization Rogers lovingly says is “for Black nerds” who share a love of science fiction, fantasy, gaming and Afrofuturism. With the Fitches, Rogers aspires to create a younger generation of Black board gamers and designers.
“The kids meet with them on zoom and participate in virtual game nights. The kids are going to create a game from what they have learned,” Rogers said.
The Fitches devoted Episode 6 of their YouTube show to a “Black History Month Tribute,” spotlighting games they have found Blacks are drawn to. Among those are Splendor, Ticket to Ride and Codenames (none of them created by a Black designer).
There is one game the Fitches refuse to play: Freedom: The Underground Railroad. Although the point of the game is for abolitionists to work together to lead slaves to freedom in Canada, Starla said, “I can’t wrap my head around slavery being a game.”
Said Mika “It will not 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 come across in their years of gaming. In addition to Ross, there is Eric M. Lang, Mark Corsey and Omari Akil.
“For the board game industry, the Fitches are pretty unique,” said Ross, whose company is called Water Bear Games. “Most reviewers are white men in the 30s and 40s.”
But like the Fitches, Ross said he believes that if Black people are introduced to some of the newer games, they’ll love them.
“New games respect your time and intelligence,” he said. “It takes some luck, but you have to have a strategy.”
He also believes that recent protests and the cry “Black Lives Matter” is making manufacturers realize they’re missing out on a whole market of potential customers.
“The Fitches can bring in an entirely different market, people who have not been exposed to this,” he said. “For those people, all the games in the last 10 years are new.”