Black Gamers—and Everyone Else—Find Their Groove At Opal Grove Games

Playing games pays off—at least it’s paying off for Aisha Blake, the co-owner of Opal Grove Games in Corktown.
The 10-year-long Detroiter grew up in Manhattan, NY, playing games with her family, be it video games with her father and sisters or mostly word games with her mother’s side of her family. But it was her moving to Detroit as a Jesuit volunteer and trying to develop a circle of friends that got her into board games.

“I intended to stay one year when I moved to Detroit in 2013,” Blake said.

She ended up finding a community of Detroit couchsurfers, or people who live with people and sleep on their sofas for a certain amount of time, who restarted a weekly board game night.

“I showed up and said ‘I want to make friends. Please let me hang out,’” Blake chuckled. “And it was an amazing time. And couchsurfers have great stories.”

In about six months, that merry band of board gamers helped Blake understand the breadth and depth of the hobby. She also found love with her now-current partner, Ben, who had a whole bedroom with an extensive collection of board games.

Going into 2016, Blake and Ben went to a New Year’s party, where Blake met Ben’s group of college friends. The party was actually a “multi-day celebration of gaming.” Fifty to 60 people attended the event and “played every game imaginable,” Blake recalled. Some of the attendees were local game designers.

The couple returned to the celebrations over the years. And Blake eventually wanted to bring the spirit of that party to the D.

“We’re sitting in the hotel restaurant, and I said to Ben, ‘What if we opened a game store? Would you do that with me?’ And it was 25 percent a joke. But he said yes.”

Blake said that she didn’t know how to open up a store, but they were going to figure it out. That was January 2020.

She visited hobby stores around Detroit but couldn’t find a store in Detroit proper that was a game store with a space to play the games. She loved Vault of Midnight—“and they’re fantastic; that’s where Ben and I bought our board games—but the Detroit location is primarily a comic shop and don’t have a play space.

“What we wanted was an inclusive, thoughtful game store where people can hang out and find that gaming community that we were missing,” said Blake.

So far, Blake said they’ve been lucky as far as opening Opal Grove. They met a couple of people who work at Smirk & Dagger, a games publisher that Blake respected, who welcomed Blake and her partner into the gaming industry. The Smirk & Dagger reps were near Detroit, and they did a couple of demos for the store’s opening party—and a couple of the demo designers crashed the party.

“The two Chrises—Chris Chan and Chris McMann– have since started a table-top testing meet-up at our store twice a month. It’s cool to watch that creative process in their making their game The Night Cave. And we keep meeting people who give us this glimpse into this subcommunity of the larger gaming hobby in Detroit.”

The ultimate intention of the store is to support the different gaming experiences, specifically by making them more open to folks who’ve traditionally felt unwelcome.

“In my individual friend group, I’ve been fortunate to know great individuals who have welcomed me into their games, taught me to be a better role player and exposed me to tons and tons of board games. It was more as a consumer where I had trouble.” Blake told the Michigan Chronicle that she has gone to stores and wasn’t greeted by anyone, was given two-word answers when she went to the cashier’s counter, or had people direct an answer to a question she asked to Ben, who’s white.

“Enough of those incidents happened in enough places that I knew that I didn’t want that for me. I don’t need that kind of aggravation in my life. I decided that if I couldn’t find what I wanted at Vault of Midnight, the game wasn’t for me.”

Gaming is a luxury hobby, Blake said. And she refused to spend money at places that treated her poorly.

The average Opal Grove high-paying customers spend in a month is about $250-$300, or about a board game a week. And the game most of that crowd is spending that amount of money on? Magic: The Gathering.

Blake gave a quick education on the types of games her store sells. The majority of what is sold are table-top games. Board games are those that have actual boards, such as Monopoly and chess. Twister and Taboo are considered party games. Magic: The Gathering is a collectable-card game that’s released in sets of cards that relate to a storyline. Jacks and marbles are called dexterity games.

The store also offers card games like Uno and a deck of cards for a game of spades or euchre.

Opal Grove’s customers who tend to wander into the groovy dimly-lit basement store come out of curiosity, are families looking for something fun and engaging for their children or are hobbyist gamers who want the hottest, newest set.

“What energizes us is helping people find games that they love,” Blake stated.

The hottest games right now are the party games of Hues and Cues and Concepts. Night Cage and Improper Nouns, which are locally designed games, are also popular. Motor City Gameworks’ Three Sisters is another one.

When it comes to Opal Grove’s multiracial customer base, Blake said she’s had a lot of Black women who are getting into role-playing games for the first time—which, according to Blake, tracked with her own experience.

“It wasn’t until I met my partner that I felt like I had a safety net to delve into role playing. I played Dungeons & Dragons before, but what I was exposed to was aggressive, argumentative and exclusive, that you had to know so much before you could sit at the table.”

Now, every night is game night at Opal Grove Games, Blake said, but Thursday nights are $5 Game Nights. For $5, a person can play any game they want for as long as they want as well as learn about a new game. They also have other events including Opal Grooves, which is their monthly karaoke night held on Fridays.

“I love karaoke, and it’s my shop.”

For more information about Opal Grove’s events, go to

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