Meet One Of The Only Black Board Game Designers In The Industry
By DeAnna Taylor
Nothing is more fun than a dope game night with your friends. Whether it’s a classic like Uno or one of the newer card games on the market, playing games with those close to you is always a move.
While there are lots of Black-themed card games out there, there aren’t many actual Black board game designers.
Meet Omari Akil. The 32-year old New Orleans native currently lives in Durham, North Carolina where he and his brother are busy creating games that we can relate to.
We spoke with Omari to learn what it’s like to be one of the only Black game designers out there and to learn more about the games he creates.
Travel Noire: How did your love for board games develop?
Omari: Six years ago, I stumbled upon the show Tabletop, hosted by Wil Wheaton. It looked like they were having the kind of fun that I wanted to have so I decided to find my own gaming group. It wasn’t easy but I eventually found a group. After my first time there, I basically decided this was something I was super into and I went on Amazon and spent way too much money on what would be the start of my board game collection. I started mentioning to people that I was really into board games and slowly more and more people would be like, “Me too!” and now I have more board gaming friends than I know what to do with.
TN: Tell us about your brand?
Omari: Board Game Brothas is the company I started with my brother to design and publish board games. It was so obvious when we started making our first game that this was something we wanted to continue doing. We made a hip hop board game and once we really got into it we knew that if we wanted to see more games that more prominently and positively featured black culture, we would have to just create them ourselves. So, a big part of what were trying to do now is just be visible.
Very soon we want to spend some time in our community talking about developing games and eventually teaching game design. The more people from different backgrounds with different interest who are creating games, the better and more interesting the games become.
TN: How do you merge your love for hip hop with board games?
Omari: I love hip hop, but my brother is a hip hop head. When he came to me with the idea, I had no clue how it was going to work, especially since I had never designed a game before. After lots of conversations, what we decided to focus on would be the thing that has always been at the core of hip hop, storytelling. So much of hip hop is about who we are and where we come from. We decided that had to be in this game. As part of the game’s design, we came up with close to 500 “life events” that could happen to an artist going through their career. We have cards like, “Winning a talent show,” “Selling 35 CDs out of your trunk,” or “West coast tour.” When the game ends you can see exactly how you went from nothing to something. That to us is what hip hop is all about.
TN: What challenges have you faced as one of the only Black men in this market?
Omari: The biggest challenge I think, is just being in the space where you just feel so different. I think my path to creating games is different. I think my goals for creating games are different. When I’m in a room with 50 or more other game designers and we’re all testing our games, I constantly feel like so much more is at stake for me. At this point, all I can do is hope that I’m opening the door for people behind me who come from the same place and who want to do the same things that I’m doing.
TN: What sets your games apart from others out there right now?
Omari: All the games we are working on are clearly related to hip hop culture and black culture. They are designed to appeal to gamers who have hundreds of modern games in their collection and are looking for new experiences, but also gamers who haven’t played a board game since they were a kid. We want our games to be the best of both worlds so we can reach our community but also have the support and visibility in the larger gamer community.
I think we’ve seen some fun games come out that are specifically reaching out to the black community. But, they aren’t super playable to anyone who isn’t steeped in that culture, like Black Card Revoked, or Martin Trivia, and more recently Hillman the Game. These are great and necessary games (that you should buy), but we are definitely doing something different. Anyone can play our games with no knowledge of the culture, have a great time, and ideally learn something in the process.
TN: Where can we find you online?
Omari: You can find Board Game Brothas on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, you can sign up for our email list by going to www.boardgamebrothas.com, or you can also follow my personal account on Twitter (@omariakil) and Instagram (@omari_akil).
DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel writer. The Charlotte native recently completed one year abroad working as an English teacher in South Korea. Her hobbies include fitness, traveling to new countries, and trying new foods.