Stepping into a typical fandom convention usually yields congestive crowds that are so noisy that you can barely speak to friends, and breaks for fresh air are much needed due to the stuffiness. Yet this not the case at SaltCON — a Utah-based board game convention held at the Davis Convention Center in Layton, Utah. Inside the building was mellow, breeding a welcoming atmosphere for gamers of all walks of interest and experience.
SaltCON is an event for those who just want to meet up, play with others and try new games. The organization SaltCON UT LLC is run by Dale Gifford and Dan Naylor. Gifford took it upon himself to ensure that there was always a game day event for locals at a time when none existed back in 2009. Since then, the event has grown to the point where they host three events a year with their spring event being their largest. This year, approximately 1,925 people attended.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t until instructor Ashley Brown of the Entertainment Arts and Engineering program at the University of Utah mentioned the event that anyone in the program had heard of SaltCON. She was adamant that students attend and preferably enter or host their games at the event for feedback and a possible route towards publication. In fact, the organization only advertises by “word of mouth through Facebook posts and flyers at game stores,” Gifford said. It’s no wonder that the event isn’t as large as similar conventions, but there’s a different type of joy in this unique experience.
The down-to-earth attendees were a breath of fresh air as they mingled and conversed. Even though the turnout was great, there was no rush to get somewhere or pressure to purchase anything while browsing. The layout of the main room was well thought out at each table and wasn’t jam-packed. Overall, the intimidation of it all was taken away when there were volunteers to guide you where to go, trained teachers to guide playing and other friendly people.
Playing a variety of games in an informal environment helped to bring a nice experience for entertainment arts students who are used to playing games for assignments and analyzing each and every detail. While this is necessary for the field of study, playing a game with strangers felt like getting back to the reason games are made — for enjoyment and human interaction. These two aspects are a large reason behind continuing SaltCON each year. As Gifford said, “Board games give human interaction. People are alone at work in their cubicle, looking at their phones all day. Board games allow for those to meet up with friends or family. Children learn essential skills like problem-solving and how to lose.”
Though students working their way into the gaming industry are taught more video game related skills, board games still need to be played and studied. When asked about the relationship between the two, Gifford said that “video games have [actually] helped board games become popular.” Video games bring more content for board games as the “bar has been raised.”
If you missed SaltCON this season, then you can check them out at their smaller fall hosting August 30-31. Each event is worth the entry fee as you can try as many games as you want. The organization is also in need of volunteers. The SaltCON Facebook page is the best way to stay updated on current events and reach out to the owners. Weekly game nights are also a way to participate, meet new people and possibly get your games play tested or play test others.
In an earlier version of this article, the founding date of SaltCON was misatributed as 2007. The article has also been updated to clarify SaltCON UT LLC as an entity, as well as the roles of Dale Gifford, owner and founder, and Dan Naylor, a partner in SaltCON UT LLC. We regret the errors.