The weekend bridging the end of February and beginning of March this year was SaltCon. It’s an event Tara and I look forward to every year. And so far, over the last several years we have not been disappointed. SaltCon is our kind of event. After all, we struggle to find an afternoon, let alone a whole weekend where we can sit and play games without being interrupted by just about everything else.

What is SaltCon?

For those of you who don’t know what SaltCon is, or have never attended, you have missed out. Don’t worry, though, because it happens every year (with mini-conventions happening an additional 2 times each year).

The Where, When, and How Long

SaltCon is a gaming convention local to the Salt Lake City, UT area. Every year I’ve attended, the organizers of the convention have rented out the Davis Conference Center in Layton, UT. For their spring event (usually the first weekend in March) the convention lasts 4 days, from 10 am on Thursday to 10 pm on Sunday. And I’m talking the ENTIRE TIME. While the vendor hall closes relatively early each day, and the Game Library and Game Swap close at midnight and reopen at 9 am, the gaming areas are open all night.

If you’re foolhardy, or simply mightily devoted to gaming, you could potentially play games for just under 90 hours. That’s a lot of gaming. Then you have the option of attending the summer events.

What does the convention offer?

SaltCon has so much to recommend it, that it’s almost impossible to list it all in a post like this. Instead of an exhaustive list, I’ll focus on the highlights! While we didn’t get a chance to experience all of these this year, we did enjoy most of them.

The Game Library

Each year the organizers bring a game library which has grown to host more than 1600 games. With any convention badge you have the opportunity to check out games and play them. When you return your games, you get to check out more. And again. And again.

The Math Trade, Game Swap, & Flea Market

For the Spring convention, SaltCon helps coordinate game trades between attendees. For many of us, game collecting has become more than a hobby. It’s something of an obsession. When we find games we no longer play, or that we just happened to acquire multiple copies of we want to trade them for other games, games we love an haven’t acquired yet…or games we haven’t tried and are willing to take a chance on.

The SaltCon Math Trade allows convention goers to submit a list of games they are willing to trade. Then, after reviewing the lists other users have submitted, they can identify which games they’d be like to get in exchange for each of their games. Then with some computer wizardry, the maximum number of acceptable trades are made and everyone brings their games to SaltCon with sticky-notes attached. We dropped of 7 games, and got 7 games in return. It’s awesome!

Then, because some of our games didn’t find a lucky match in the Math Trade, we brought them to the convention and dropped them in the Game Swap area. This time the sticky-note listed an asking price and our contact information. I don’t think you’re really getting a clear picture of this room. It’s a fair sized room stacked floor-to-ceiling with games. We found copies of games we’ve wanted for a while, games we weren’t sure about, and more that we’d never heard of. Most of the time they’re all listed for prices that are too good to miss.

In addition to those methods of swapping games, you can peruse or offer games in the online or in-person Flea Market. It’s much the same as the game swap, except that the seller is available for negotiation without a phone call or text.

Over the 3 days we attended SaltCon, we acquired some 15 games and spent a net total just under $100 on all of it. We felt pretty awesome about it!

Prototype Alley

It’s not a real alley, just in case you wondered. Prototype alley is where current and aspiring game designers come to show off their games. Sometimes they’re nearly finished, other times they’re still in the midst of development. Either way, visiting prototype alley is well worth your time, especially if you keep an eye on new games. Plus it’s lots of fun to rub elbows with people who are creative enough to make a game of their own.

The Vendor Hall

As with most convention vendor Halls, the purpose of SaltCon’s is to allow companies to sell their products. That being said, there are far more appealing options in the SaltCon vendor hall than in most other conventions I’ve attended.

We probably wanted to buy something from at least 80%, if not more of the vendors there. Of course, budgets being what they are, that didn’t happen. Even so, we got to talk with people who create and sell wonderful things. We got to see a sneak peek of Red Raven’s upcoming game (it looks great, by the by), we saw games that will be coming to Kickstarter soon, we saw games that have all of the polish you could hope for, and games that weren’t polished but were ridiculously fun. We came close to buying accessories, fancy dice and bags for those dice, and way more.

So maybe the vendor hall isn’t for you, especially if you struggle to control how much money you spend. I could have easily blown thousands of dollars in that vendor hall, if I’d only had the money to spend and the space to store everything I bought.

Play to Win

In addition to the game library, there are a selection of games labelled as Play to Win. Whenever you check out one of these games and play it you can be entered to win that copy of the game. It’s a pretty cool way of trying and then having a chance to get a new and exciting game.

The RPG Area

Anyone who reads 5th Level Nerd consistently knows that I’m a huge fan of RPGs. SaltCon has an entire area devoted to nothing else. This year I had the chance to be the Game Master for two separate games: the Dragon Age RPG and Sigmata. Although neither went perfectly, they both went well. My games were only two of a wide selection. There were games featuring systems I’d never heard of, D&D Adventure League, and some games I’ve really wanted to play.

Unfortunately for me, I scheduled my games during times that overlapped with the games I’ve wanted to try. If RPGs seem like something you might be interested in, I’d recommend trying a game at SaltCon. Not only will it be an easy introduction to a huge variety of systems, you get a chance to meet people who might just need another player in their group.

The All-Hours Gaming Rooms

The largest open areas of the convention center are devoted to the all-hours gaming rooms. Like I said earlier all-hours really means exactly that. It’s a large room with hundreds of tables and on Friday and Saturday almost every table will be completely full. It’s an awesome sight, seeing that much space dedicated to people enjoying board games.

The only issue with having such a large area packed with so many people is that it can get exceptionally loud. There’s not much to be done about that, except know that it’s going to happen. That being said, there was also a quiet gaming area for people who tend to get overwhelmed by the noise. It’s a very considerate move for the convention organizers to make, and we made a stop or two in the quiet gaming area to decompress.

The War-Gaming Area

A new feature of the last couple of years at SaltCon was the war-gaming area. While I don’t have the money, space, or time to be a war gamer, I cannot help but be impressed with the attention to detail contained in this room’s displays. Large tables covered in green felt were contoured to represent battlefield terrain. Miniature trees, peat moss, and other set dressing accompanied the miniaturized ranks of soldiers battling against one another. It’s a place that anyone interested in war-gaming shouldn’t miss.

Artemis

Artemis is a Star Trek bridge simulator that I covered in far more detail last year. Each player takes on the role of one member of a starship’s bridge crew. Each participant sees only a piece of an evolving situation, and teamwork is essential to be successful at some of the more difficult missions. I loved the experience last year, and though I didn’t make it this year, I plan to go back for more as long as Artemis is at SaltCon.

Other Activities

SaltCon has so much more to it that I didn’t get to participate in. Things like a beginner’s introduction to miniature painting, game tournaments, drawings for prizes, a scavenger hunt, and more. In short, if you’re a gamer, SaltCon has something for you!

My SaltCon Experience

Some of you are probably saying, “Yeah, yeah, we already know all of that! What about your experience at SaltCon?” Good question. Unfortunately, this post is already too long. Next week I’ll go over my SaltCon experience in more detail. Until then, share this with people who haven’t experienced the joy of SaltCon.

After all, if SaltCon had more than 2000 attendees this year, maybe we can increase that number even more next year.