SaltCon 2020 – an amazing fun-filled experience for any level of board gamer.
What Did You Do This Weekend?
I’m still in the phase of my gaming career where I get mildly embarrased when people ask “What did you do this weekend?” and my reply is “I went to a board game convention.” It sounds nerdy to me, and maybe it always will. I definitely get a lot of looks – you know the one: the eyebrows raise and the cheeks pull back in a weird smile as if to say “oh…good for you, that sounds….neat.” I feel like that look is the equivalent of my grandpa patting me on the head as a child, thinking: someday you’ll be a grownup too.
And the worst (or best) part about it is that after spending 12 hours playing games, I come home to my wife with the biggest grin on my face and feel nothing but childhood excitement and fulfilment. It is fun! I went to SaltCon 2020 in Davis County, Utah, and I had the time of my life.
Maybe you’ve never heard of a board game convention. I hadn’t till just about a year ago. So what is it? Every convention is a little unique, but basically there are a handful of large rooms with different purposes: a room full of publishers selling games, a game library, a playing room, etc. I’ll go into depth on WHAT a convention is like in another post. But for now, my SaltCon 2020 Experience:
SaltCon 2020 was held Thursday-Sunday. I attended from 10:00-9:00 Thursday, after work on Friday from 6:00-Midnight, and then Saturday from 10:00-8:00. It was a lot of time mostly spent playing games.
Other Than Playing Games
I walked in and first thing I did was head to the Game Swap. I looked around and dropped off 4 games I was selling: Puerto Rico, Sheriff Of Nottingham, Villainous, and Cryptid. Why sell those games? Puerto Rico I love, but setup and rules explanation took too long, so I now play San Juan, the card game version. Sheriff of Nottingham – my wife doesn’t like so we never play it. Villainous – I tried to like that game…I really wanted to…and I just didn’t…at all. Cryptid – LOVE that game. I bought myself a copy…and my family bought me a copy for Christmas, so thought I’d sell one.
I walked around the “vendor fair” portion of SaltCon 2020. I didn’t end up buying anything, but I saw some cool games that were just heading to Kickstarter or were recently published. I got to talk to Dan Kazmaier about his new game Chai, a very cute game about combining ingredients to make tea. It was intriguing and had some beautiful artwork and tiles. I wasn’t ready to pay $70ish dollars for the metal tokens and other kickstarter premium stuff, but it did look awesome!
Onto the meat (I feel as if I’m rambling again). I played a lot of games that were new to me at SaltCon 2020. I had a list of 30 or so games I wanted to try. I ranked them into Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 as far as priority. My feelings of nerdiness are coming back for some odd reason. I only ended up trying 5 games on my list, but I got to try a bunch of new(ish) games. So here are my thoughts on my favorite games I tried.
What a beautiful and fun game! You are trying to grow trees and earn points based off of the trees you have grown. The game comes with cardboard standee trees that come in Small, Medium, and Large. You use “Light Points” to upgrade seeds to small trees, and then upgrade those to medium and finally large trees. The visuals are AMAZING. It is so fun to see trees literally grow in size on the board!
The best part of this game is how Light Points earned. Trees gain Light Points each round if they are receiving sunlight. These Light Points are used to further upgrade trees or plant new trees. The sun rotates around the board each round. So on one turn your tree is blocking another player’s tree from receiving sunlight, and the next round their tree may be blocking yours. It is such a fun and creative way to earn resources (these Light Points), and it really provides a lot of strategizing and thinking of not only where to plant and grow trees, but when. I saw this game in the Game Swap and added it to my collection because it was one I knew my family would adore.
What a pleasant game. If you could capture the feel of a nice clean summer breeze in a board game, it was done in PARKS. It has beautiful artwork, great wooden resource tokens, it feels refreshing. You get control over 2 wooden hikers, traveling down a path. You collect resources as you go down the path and spend those resources to visit different National Parks, earning points for the Parks you visit.
My favorite aspect was the trail you trek as a hiker. You can gain extra resources by jumping forward quickly on the trail, but then you may miss out on other resources if you go too quickly, and there is no going back. It creates an interesting and fun decision making process. This is definitely one I plan to add to my collection…just waiting for those lottery tickets to finally pay off.
Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon
I have become more and more intrigued by tile placement games, and Ishtar is a game that adds to my intrigue. In Ishtar you are creating the Gardens of Babylon out of a desert. The aspect of this game that is so fascinating to me is that as you lay tiles there are many different means of earning points. You can collect gems, build trees, build next to landmarks on the board. However, few of those methods will actually earn you points unless you spend gems to upgrade, creating the ability for you to earn points.
So, naturally you will spend your time upgrading to earn all of these points, right? Wrong! If you spend all your time and resources earning the ABILITY to gain points, you will not have any time or resources left to actually GAIN the points, only the ABILITY to gain the points. On the other hand, if you spend all your time trying to GAIN the points, you may not allocate enough time to upgrade for the ABILITY to gain these points. So how do you win? That is where the fun and strategy comes – finding the perfect balance of upgrading the abilities and actually gaining points. While my explanation may sound confusing, the game is anything but. If you give it a try, you will find the game simple to learn and play, yet complex and satisfying in gameplay and strategy.
Another great tile placement game. Fertility plays like Dominoes, where your two sided tile must match to an existing tile, and you will earn resources based off of how well you match, not just the existing tile but also surrounded spaces on the board. Play only for what is best for you and you may just set the next player up for immeasurable success. This creates a fun bit of thinking and reasoning as you balance a good move for you that won’t allow your neighbor to jump ahead of the pack.
Each round you must spend all of your gathered resources, no storage silos here. You can choose to spend your resources to buy new city tiles to add to your city, or spend resources on your already acquired cities. These citiy tiles provide many different ways to spend resources to acquire end game points. And therein lies another aspect of strategy making this game a great one: lots of interesting decisions of where to spend your gathered resources. Will you dabble in a little bit of everything or specialize in one method of points?
My favorite game I played at SaltCon 2020! I am kicking myself for not picking up a copy while there. This game is an incredibly fun deck builder. Each card in your hand can be used in one of 2 different ways: one a reusable way to collect more cards, the other a destructible way that will help you earn gems. These gems are used to buy artifacts. Collect a few artifacts and you can exchange those for rune stones.
And rune stones, the very name of the game, are what make the game so fun. There are 8 different rune stones. Each stone provides an amazing benefit. The catch…you only have room on your player board to collect 4 of the stones, and they aren’t easy to acquire. This is by far my favorite part of the game. There are so many different combinations you could create, making this game one that you could play over and over again to try to create the perfect engine. The game is very building, where you can do the same thing on the first and the last turn, but by your last turn you will be 10 times more productive than on your first because of how you have built your engine. I thought this game was incredibly satisfying and is one I would play again and again.
Rattlebones: What a strange little game. Someone mentioned that they owned Rattlebones and explained that it had changeable dice. As you play you can change the face of the dice to be something different – while the game was a little too silly or strange, the idea of changeable dice was enough to make it a one time play for me.
Between Two Cities: Loved this game! I love the idea of working with both of your neighbors, knowing that you are helping another player as you are helping yourself. It is one of the few competitive games I’ve played that is able to omit any cut throat nature, somehow creating a beautiful blend of cooperative and competitive all at once.
For Sale: A first play through for me: definitely worth trying especially with a group while quarantined. My young kids love watching movies, and I have 5 or 6 movies I reserve for “watch with dad” movies, because they are kids movies I enjoy that don’t annoy me. And that is what For Sale is for me with short, non-thinky games. Some of them I just can’t handle, but For Sale is that perfect game that I wouldn’t pick with my gaming group, but with my family who isn’t big into games, this is one of my first picks.
Castell: I just happened upon a group starting a game, and without knowing anything about it I jumped in. Turns out Castell is essentially a game about a traveling circus. While the game was a bit too much bookeeping, it was a great game for me to gather ideas for my own circus game, 3 Ring Circus, that is in the works. This isn’t a game I will likely play again and wouldn’t recommend it for most casual game players, but for me it was fortuitous to happen onto it.
While I jest (mostly) about feeling nerdy, SaltCon 2020 was an amazing experience. Although I went by myself while my wife watched the kids (she’s a saint), I made a few great friends and had a blast playing games with total strangers. This is an event that can be for anyone. I saw families with young kids, I saw hardcore gamers with their table-filling games of miniatures and tokens. What a great event for anyone that enjoys sitting around the table playing a good game with great people.