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SaltCON 2018: The Happiest Place on Earth

SaltCON Main Image
Photo courtesy of SaltCON

2018 was SaltCON’s biggest year yet, with 1,750 attendees. This sold-out board game convention gets better every year, with no intentions of slowing down. If you’ve never been to SaltCON, you may want to reconsider your priorities and make it out next year.

You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Life Star Wars SaltCON

When reviewing a convention, there are a lot of things that could be included. Here are some of the things I won’t be touching on too much, but which are certainly worthy of a mention:
  • 40 unique exhibitors
  • Over 4,000 prizes
  • 20+ tournaments
  • Over 1,300 games in the SaltCON library
Compared to some conventions, SaltCON is relatively small. And yet, as you can see, SaltCON packs a wallop with events, prizes, and more. But let's take a look at what SaltCON is all about.

People Power
While all the aforementioned aspects of SaltCON help make SaltCON what it is (which, to put things bluntly, is awesome), there is one part of the convention that really embodies the convention, and that is the people.

The spirit of SaltCON is that of inclusion and friendliness. I went up not really knowing who I would be gaming with the entire time. I thought maybe I’d spend most of my time with my in-laws, but surprisingly enough, I only played two games with them the entire weekend, and that was on my first day there. Instead, I mostly played with people I had never met before, which was way more fun than I could have possibly imagined.

Benjamin Kocher at SaltCON
SaltCON is about forging new friendships and renewing old ones.
As an example of how inclusive SaltCON is, I noticed the following while I was in line waiting to check out a game. Two of the people in font of me invited a stranger next to them to join their group, since he was asking about the game they were checking out. There was no hesitation in that, either. And, the stranger (to them) beamed at the invitation and accepted the offer with a big smile. Inviting a stranger to game with them seemed like the most natural thing to do. And you know what? That was a reoccurring theme throughout SaltCON.

If talking to random strangers gives you anxiety, yet you would like more players to join your table, the “Players Wanted” signs make it easy to ask for newcomers to join, without having to be too forward. Simply put the sign on the table and watch people wander over in your direction to see what you’re playing and ask to join.

Honestly though, the people at SaltCON are just so nice. I joined large groups of people I didn’t even know, and by the end of our time together, I felt like I could legitimately call them my friends. I was accepted by all I spoke and gamed with, and for someone with not a little social anxiety, this was huge for me. I’ve never attended a larger convention, so I’m not sure what those are like in this regard, but SaltCON will always hold a special place in my heart for helping people feel welcome and wanted.

Terrific Tournaments and Awesome Awards

Rob Cramer Ion Award Finalists 2018 SaltCON
Behold the Ion Award finalists!
I only participated in one tournament (Crokinole), but I can’t leave this part out of the review. Tournaments are fun. Straight up, unadulterated fun. And there are lots of options to make gamers of all types happy. As I mentioned, I played in the Crokinole tournament (I won my first and lost my second game in single elimination, but had a blast doing it), which is one of my favorite dexterity games. My brother-in-law played in the Race for the Galaxy tournament (which game he’s mildly obsessed with). Other tournaments included Hardback (a deck-building word game), Terraforming Mars, Splendor, 7 Wonders, and more. If there’s a specific game (or type of game) you like and would love to take a chance at competitively, SaltCON’s tournaments are a relaxed, fun way to do so. (And the winner goes home with a prize, so can’t argue with that!)

The Ion Awards is always an exciting time at SaltCON. It's here that unpublished games get put through the wringer and are judged by people from various publishing companies (including Red Raven Games and Mayday Games). While there are only two winners (one for the Strategy category, and another for the Light category), all the finalists have solid games and are one step closer to getting them in front of the world. In fact, many of the previous Ion Award winners have been published. What a wonderful opportunity for game designers!

Vive la Venue
The venue itself is the perfect place for SaltCON. Held at the Davis Conference Center in Layton, Utah, there is room a-plenty for all the various activities and events going on. The main gaming hall is large, with lots of tables set up for gaming, and room enough that it’s not crowded. Side rooms host RPG games and quieter locations for those who would like a bit more solitude (I spent most of my time in the main gaming area and didn’t feel stuffed or crowded at all). The game library isn’t far from anything, and the exhibitor hall was always a happening place.

SaltCON Davis Conference Center Main Hall
A panorama of the main gaming hall on Saturday (and yes, that baby in the pen was all smiles).
The conference center is clean, the staff work fast and hard to keep everything running smoothly, and the atmosphere is much more calm than I would have ever assumed a 1,750-attendee convention could be. While the venue could change in the future (it will remain at the same location next year, FYI), the Davis Conference Center will, to me, always be SaltCON's home.

Oh, and one more thing about the location. There is a hotel connected to the conference center, which makes gaming and sleeping (wait, people sleep?) all the more convenient. Of course, if that sells out (or is too pricey), there are other hotels nearby. I stayed in one that was only a 10-minute walk from the convention center. Talk about convenient!

With Eyes Wide Open

Late-night crowd at SaltCON
The 1:30 a.m. crowd, keeping it real.
Let’s be honest with each other. When you go to a board game convention, you go to play. Stopping—even for eating—is difficult at best. Fortunately, SaltCON offers 24-hour gaming. Although the game library closes at midnight, attendees can check-out games overnight. On Friday night I didn’t leave until 1:30 in the morning, but there were plenty of other groups still going strong when I left. I was up and at ‘em by 7:30 the next morning for another full day of gaming. Was I tired? Exhausted. Was it worth it? YES. (In fact, I feel a tinge of guilt for wasting all those hours sleeping when I could have been playing games!)

Staying up all day and all night playing games is generally frowned upon (something about adult responsibilities…). However, SaltCON is the perfect place to leave your responsibilities at the door and indulge in four days of gaming bliss.

Games Galore!
Taluva board game at SaltCON
I think it’s pretty impossible to leave SaltCON without bringing home at least one new game. After all, attendees this year received a new game from Iello (you know, the people who publish King of Tokyo and Bunny Kingdom). Then there are the giveaways, tournaments, and the live flea market from which people can acquire games.

The game swap, however, is where most of the people come away with arms loaded.

With its own dedicated room, the game swap allows people to leave games (along with a sticky note that includes the price of the game and the seller’s contact information) for other people to peruse and, eventually, purchase. I sold five games this weekend, which games I simply did not play anymore, thus making more room on my shelf and more money to acquire games I will actually play. It’s a win-win for all involved.

One of the best reasons for checking out the game swap is because there you can discover hard-to-find games, games that are out of print, and others you may have thought about but didn’t want to spend full price on. Most of the games are used, but some are still in shrink. No matter what the condition, however, the prices are (usually) always worth it. It’s a great place to sell and buy.

And I know what you’re thinking, but no. People don’t pick up the games and walk out without paying the owner (besides, they have volunteers watching for sneaky thieves). Sellers receive calls and/or texts for the games in question, meet up, exchange money, and the game moves on to a new home. Usually the process takes less than a minute or two (which includes travel time from your game table to the game swap room), which makes it even better.


Learning and playing Scythe at SaltCON
SaltCON was the first chance I had to play a lot of new (to me) games, including Scythe (above).

I could go on ad nauseam about how amazing SaltCON is. I have yet to have a bad experience in my four years of attending. I truly believe that it’s the people that make this convention such an amazing experience. The spirit of fun is contagious, and the people—staff, volunteers, and attendees alike—will go out of their way to make sure not one person is forgotten. Everyone is more than happy to play with strangers (we invited a number of passerby’s ourselves when we sat down to play games that had room for more, and the only ones that declined were those that already had a destination in mind).

I met some wonderful people at SaltCON this year, ran into some old friends who I haven’t seen in over seven years, and made lots of new friends. Needless to say, I had a wonderful time and would recommend this convention to anyone. Is it possible to have an unpleasant time at SaltCON? I suppose so, but it’s possible to have a horrendous time at Disneyland, too. Sure, it can happen, but the odds of that happening are much like those of successfully navigating an asteroid field (which are pretty slim odds, in case you were unaware).

If you’ve never gone to a board game convention before, SaltCON is here for you to have a great first experience. If you have attended other conventions before and are looking for something new and exciting, then SaltCON is where you’ll want to go next.

SaltCON 2019 will be held on February 28 and March 1-3. Tickets go on sale on September 1, 2018, so mark those calendars and secure yourself a spot at one of the happiest places on Earth.

See you there!

About the Author:

Benjamin Kocher Everything Board Games

Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He's a freelance blogger and budding game designer. As an avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with a rich, engaging theme. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

SaltCON 2018: The Happiest Place on Earth SaltCON 2018: The Happiest Place on Earth Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on March 15, 2018 Rating: 5

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