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How Opal Grove Games Is Fostering a Third Place for Black Gamers in Detroit

by SaMya Overall, Outlier Media

Someone's hand with painted nail polish and a ring with a purple gem in the shape of a triangle points their index finger to a card in a spread that is laid out on the table before them.
Photo Credit: Zaire Daniels
Opal Grove Games co-owner Aisha Blake gives a demonstration on how to play Magic: the Gathering on Feb. 11. Photo credit: Zaire Daniels

Co-founders Aisha Blake and Ben Lippi opened the store to create an inclusive community — and a little cooperative competition — for new, casual and diehard tabletop players.

This story was originally published by Outlier Media, a groundbreaking nonprofit newsroom designed to center and respond to Detroiters’ needs.

Aisha Blake and Ben Lippi have been gamers their entire lives. In fact, it’s how they met.

Before they started dating, Lippi owned numerous board games and would send photos of their extensive collection to Blake. One of the bedrooms in Lippi’s apartment was entirely filled with games, which “piqued her interest,” Blake recalled.

After bonding through a love of games, the Detroit-based couple would regularly travel outside the city to play tabletop games with dozens of other gaming enthusiasts. After a few years, Blake and Lippi considered opening a board game space in Detroit.

“I want to be part of creating more opportunities for Black people, for everyone who is underrepresented in games. I get people all the time who think of tabletop games as a ‘white people hobby.’ Games are for everyone. Fun is for everyone.”


In 2022, Blake and Lippi started as pop-up board game sellers vending at larger corporate-run gaming events. But when 27th Letter Books in Southwest Detroit reached out to see if they would be interested in using its basement, the duo pivoted and opened Opal Grove Games a few months later. 

“We just love introducing people to the depth and breadth of board games, like folks who haven’t historically felt welcomed or who have enjoyed it but only have scratched the surface,” Lippi said.

Opal Grove is a community gaming space where both new and lifelong gamers can play and shop for card, board and role-playing games. The co-owners Blake and Lippi see the store as a “third place” for Detroit’s game enthusiasts, specifically Black gamers.

Two people sit in front of a blue table under harsh lighting. One person is raising their arms to explain something, the other has their hands clasped and is smiling.
Photo Credit: Zaire Daniels
Co-owners Ben Lippi and Aisha Blake opened Opal Grove Games in October 2022. Photo credit: Zaire Daniels

Gathering a Gaming Community in Detroit

The idea for Opal Grove Games came from Blake’s experience as a Black female gamer in a predominantly white, male gaming community. She said went to multiple gaming conventions like GenCon and the Game Manufacturers Association Expo where she was often the only Black person and the only woman in the room.

“I want to be part of creating more opportunities for Black people, for everyone who is underrepresented in games,” Blake said. “I get people all the time who think of tabletop games as a ‘white people hobby.’ Games are for everyone. Fun is for everyone.”

Studies on the racial representation of board game players are slim, but most players are middle-aged, college-educated white males. An overwhelming majority of game designers and illustrators are also white males. 

Customers seem to appreciate the push for inclusivity. Regular customer Dwayne Shearill said he hopes to see a future collaboration between Opal Grove and his YouTube channel BlackBoardGaming, which he runs with his wife, Alicia.

“They’re just really good people,” Shearill said. “They’re not just selling board games. They have knowledge of the games that they’re selling, which I really appreciate.”

Opal Grove is one of very few stores in Detroit that sells tabletop games (Vault of Midnight in Milwaukee Junction is another), and the co-owners aim for it to be a noncompetitive, relaxing space for people to learn.

Blake noted that there are other gaming communities in the area, but said she and Lippi were focused on creating a place where “Black people could feel comfortable and welcome and free to explore” gaming.

Inclusive and Open Late

When you walk downstairs into Opal Grove, the first things you see are Pride and Black Lives Matter flags. Turn to the right, and you’re met with shelves of board games, from the more popular like Scrabble and a Monopoly-based card game to niche titles like Daybreak, a cooperative game about climate action.

Players can access the shop’s rental library and play as many games as they like for $3.50 an hour. If a game strikes their fancy, players can buy it. You can grab a card game like Uno for around $10, but the bigger board games can cost up to $165.

The shop is open until midnight on the weekends. It also hosts weekly events like its community game night on Thursdays — popular with players of all ages — and its casual Magic: The Gathering league on Sundays.

Lippi and Blake have also forged ties with others in the industry. Blake said they allow a “small but mighty” group of game designers and other professionals, many of them Black, to test out games at the shop before they’re released, watching participants play them to work out any bugs. 

Blake runs Opal Grove full-time, while Lippi, a software developer, works there when they’re off the clock. 

The duo received small grants and loans to get Opal Grove up and running. The shop isn’t financially self-sufficient yet, but Blake said their personal income and revenue from holiday sales have kept the shop afloat. About half of its yearly revenue comes from holiday sales, Blake said.

Blake and Lippi said they plan to move to a larger space in the future. 

“We wanted a space like this to exist,” Lippi said. “We felt it was worth taking the risk.”

New to Tabletop Games? Try…

Lippi said they’ve been hooked on Project L, a fast-paced strategy game, and Mental Blocks, a spatial puzzle game. Blake recommends the award-winning Dorfromantik, though she loves teaching customers Splendor, a card game where players act as gem merchants during the Renaissance era.

Opal Grove Games is open on Wednesdays through Sundays at 3546 Michigan Ave., Detroit, in the same building as 27th Letter Books.

Freelance photographer Zaire Daniels contributed to this story.