Report from SaltCon

by Bret

A board game convention is a little different than most geek events. Usually there is a great focus on a lot of celebrity and spectacle. Although the larger venues have plenty of this (such as GenCon, Origins or the mother of them all in Essen, Germany) we at SaltCon are mostly just here to play games all day with old friends and total strangers who then become old friends.

Steve Poelzing, one of the main organizers (and a totally awesome guy) told me the goals they have for this event:

“We wanted the con to be about gamers, designers, and families. We have a two fold mission. 1. To be a Sundance of prototype games (the Ion Award). Jason Fullen was the winner…[and] there are companies currently considering [his] game for publication. Other finalists such as Carrie Ulrich and Phil Kilcrease had their games also taken back by publishers for further evaluation. So far, we’re averaging 3 of the 6 finalists are being considered for publication, and that’s exactly what we want.

2. We want the atmosphere of the convention to be comfortable. We want families as well as friends to know that when they come to SaltCON, the staff will be friendly, the other players will be welcoming, and if you want to learn a game, this is the place to learn it. We do offer tournaments for the more serious players, but those tournaments are secondary to the atmosphere of friendship and fun game playing.”

For me and everyone I’ve talked to who went, all of these goals were easily met, if not exceeded! Along with all this there was free stuff given out all day including a game I won early in the day called Chobolo (designed by Steve)! Many of us also got to play test some of these new games and give feedback to the designers.

I arrived at the convention (located at the Officer’s Club on the University of Utah campus) just after 8:30 AM. My first order of business was to drop off and pick my games from the math trade table. Done through, a math trade is where a bunch of people list games they want to trade away along with what they’re willing to trade them for from that list. These are all put through an algorithm to tell who to trade what to whom. I made out very well this year, getting pretty much everything I wanted.

Next it was time to hit the tables! I met up with some friends from my regular gaming group and we started into Factory Manager, a part auction, part resource management game we only got two rounds into due to some players having other duties to get to. However from what I played I liked. Shortly thereafter a few other friends showed up and we all played a six player game of Fearsome Floors. This is a hilarious, easy to learn yet very strategic game of cat and mouse between your 3 character tokens and an ugly monster your trying to not get killed by and out of the building to safety. Since the monster and all your characters have differing,limited movement, there’s a lot of jockeying going on in hopes of getting your opponents killed in front of you. I didn’t do so well but the games a riot no matter what!

I and two buddies moved off to a quieter part of the room and played 3 games together. The first was Airships, a game I originally learned at the last con. The objective is to roll dice to improve your airship components which in turn give you better dice to roll for even better components, eventually rolling for entire airships that give you victory points. I ended up winning by one whole point! Second was Himalaya, the only game all day I didn’t particularly care for. You guide a Sherpa around mountain trails gathering supplies and using them in various ways building components that may result in victory points. The way and places the resources came out was just too random for me to feel I was doing anything useful to my cause. Conquest of Paradise was last before my buddy Chris had to leave. I bought this last year on sale and wanted to get a few plays in before deciding to keep it or trade it. An exploration game with a little wargame and resource management thrown in, the theme is somewhat unique in that it takes place in the South Pacific/Oceania area. I’ll keep it (at least till the exploration gets boring) seeing as I won by 4 points in the end;)

Played a very quick two games of Venison. One player is Santa’s reindeer trying to deliver presents to houses. the other is a hunter trying to shoot them down. All is done through flicking of discs. Quite awesome.

Some friends were kind enough let me make two sandwiches from their fixins so that I didn’t have to leave and buy something. This let me get in a rather quick game of Summoner Wars (an nice little fantasy fighting card game on a grid) and be around when they announced a play of Hagoth: Builder of Ships by Mike Drysdale and published locally by Mayday Games. LDS themed games have mostly been complete disasters over the years and the local designers have been attempting of late to find a formula to buck the trend. Here I believe they’ve succeeded. Quick play and easy to learn but much to think about and strategize, you draw cards that either add to your ship’s blueprints, roll for materials, build your ship, sail your ship or do something to slow your opponents. Between 4 players the score was a difference of 2 points in the end.

Afterward one of the other players named Mark showed us a design he;s working on for a collectible card game (CCG–like Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon) using the scriptures that, with a few ideas we through around, I think has great promise that also has potential as a teaching tool. (As a teacher, something I’m very much interested in)

Got in a game of RA (I lost that pretty badly, but it’s still one of my favorites) before ending the night with Perikles, an intense, complex 2-3 hour that’s Euro a Wargame hybrid I absolutely love but don’t get to play very often because of its length and complexity. My win here by 3 points was the most satisfying of the day because every decision was so crucial. Plus it capped off the night beautifully!

So all in all, I spent a total of 15 hours playing 10 games (and remarkably, winning 6 of them! However, though winning does help make it fun, I would’ve had a blast even had I lost all 10) The fun comes in simply comes in playing cool games in a friendly place with old friends and making new ones.  This, to me, is one of the greatest appeals of the hobby. You go anywhere a gaming group gets together and find almost everyone incredibly friendly. If there’s room in the game for another player as you wander near, well, you’re now part of the group! Fpr this and everything describe above, I give SaltCon two BIG thumbs up!

Thanks to Steve for the pictures (I, like an idiot, forgot my camera) and helpful insight, Dan Naylor for running a fabulous math trade, Seth Hiatt of Mayday Games for letting me play Hagoth, Phil Kilcrease, Scott Nelson, Dale Gifford, my buddies who put up with me winning so much (at least this time;) and anyone/everyone else who contributed to a fantastic convention I hope will be around and often for years to come!


4 thoughts on “Report from SaltCon

  1. Excelent write-up Bret. Dan Callister, the runner up to the Ion award with his game, is also being considered for publication by one of publishers that attended SaltCon. So there is at least 4 of the 6 finalists being considered. It was fun playing some games with you.

  2. I don’t play board games much, but thanks to your coverage here at K-blog, Bret, I discovered the online, stripped down version of Settlers of Catan and played against the bots for several hours when I was home with a major head cold last week. I can see the appeal of those types of games (although, of course, the online version is rather limited — I can see how it’d be even better if the layout of the board changed every time).

  3. Thanks Kent. Glad we could play so much together

    Wm Morris,
    Thanks for reading! If you can play several hours of Catan on the computer, boy do I have some games for you!;) And if you like playing them online, recommend trying (BSW). I’ve never used it myself but it’s free and I know a lot of gamers that use it all the time

  4. It’s fun to hear what goes on at these conventions. Nice write-up! Looks like a real family-sort of event with all the kids I see in the pictures. I just heard my friend’s husband from WA was in SLC at a game convention last weekend…I can only guess it was this one. (Right?) He’s developed a card game called S’Quarrels…have you heard of it? (P.S. — Say something nice about it regardless, since I just emailed them the link to this post. !)

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