Monday, March 06, 2017

Weekend of Gaming Awesomeness at SaltCON 2017

This past weekend was my chance to escape away to my personal convention of choice...SaltCON. This multi-day event is held up in Layton, Utah and is filled with hours and hours of board games. It's a time to catch up with friends who I only see online or at this yearly convention.

It's a time to find out about brand new games, play prototypes of games still in development or play games that I otherwise won't get a chance to play at home (usually due to length or complexity). It's also a place to meet with vendors and exhibitors selling goodies that are specific to the board gaming hobby like player maps, game inserts/organizers, special dice or other fun items to show off your love for the hobby. It's one of my favorite weekends every year and I'm always excited for the first week in March to arrive. Here's a low down of my gaming experiences from the event.


I started out my Thursday with a game of Terraforming Mars (By the Way - wait for the price to drop a bit closer to $60...current high price is because it's sold out by retailers, but a new printing should arrive soon) by Stronghold Games in the Envoy room. Thanks to Scott from Envoy for teaching. I had a good time with this one although I diluted my strategy by trying to do too many different things (and made a bad name for myself by sending a big fat asteroid to destroy a ton of plant life, but hey, all's fair in gaming and terraforming). I look forward to trying this again to try out some different strategies and improve the ones I tried this time.

Next I learned and played Trickerion: Legends of Illusion by Ape Games. Thanks to Mark for teaching. This is a fun worker placement game with a great theme.
I enjoy the balance of trying to figure out which tricks to learn and prepare for and how to do all of that in a way to optimize your time to get on stage and perform the show. Quite a fun game that I'd enjoy playing again.

After a brief snack break and a little time checking out the vendor booths I slid over to the "Hot Games" area to learn Railroad Revolution by What's Your Game. I had fun playing this economic route building game and I'd be willing to play it again but I probably won't seek it out. It takes the 'Ticket To Ride' elements to a higher gamerly level but probably too much so for my family to really enjoy it.  I found the tight economy and the addition of the telegraph stations to be rather interesting but not enough to necessarily pull me in again and again.

While waiting for a couple of Hot Game tables to open up, I ran into a friend and hopped into a game of Blood Rage by Cool Mini or Not. I hadn't played this before but I'd heard good things so I was excited. From a very high level, the map and placement/battle mechanics reminded me vaguely of "Small World" (which is fine since I enjoy Small World). I was glad to see that aside from a high level comparison this was quite a different and more in-depth game. I have always been a fan of Viking lore so the theme drew me in. The minis are great as well. The game play was simplistic enough to grasp quickly but has some good decisions and planning to make this an intriguing game. I had a good time playing this one.

For my final game of the night I slid back to the Hot Games area and learned Scythe by Stonemaier Games. I really enjoy "Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia" by Jamey Stegmaier so I was really excited for this one. We started with 4 players but after the first couple of rounds one of the players dropped out and the 3 of us finished up. It looked like we were playing on the expansion board for 7 players so there wasn't a ton of interaction between players until beyond the midpoint of the game but once we started battling we had 2-3 rounds that were full of battles. I really enjoyed the game. Between the economic civilization building, the confrontational battles, the exploration to reveal variable "Encounters" and the myriad of choices each turn it really hit my sweet spot on many levels. This was my favorite new game of the convention and one that I'll seek out again.


Friday morning, I started in the Hot Games area with a game of Great Western Trail by Stronghold Games. We played a quick 2-player version of this game and I really enjoyed it. I liked the combination of a deck-building mechanic and the tile placement / worker movement along the game board to try and maximize your money/herd while still achieving other goals. It's a little heavier than my family usually plays but I think it might work with them so I may try to introduce it sometime.

The time had now come to check in at the Mayday Games booth for a live action game of AssassinCon. Each player was given a sealed envelope with instructions and a target. The game is to spend the next ~30 hours moving around the convention searching for your assigned target. Once you find the target you walk up and "bang" announce the kill. Your target then signs your card and they are dead...they give you their current target and you begin the hunt again searching for that new target. All the while someone else is hunting you. The goal is to stay alive to make kills and then have the most recorded kills by the end of the game. I had fun trying to stealthily look at other folks' name tags trying to find my target while keeping an eye out for anybody looking shifty searching for me. Sadly, my target managed to stay hidden from me for a full day and by Saturday morning I still hadn't found her when Chris came up to me and announced that he was killing me. I handed over my target and wished him good the end, he ended up being the first place winner so I take heart in knowing that I avoided my own previous hunters until the grand champion assassin managed to find me.

Next I went back to the Envoy area and spent a little time learning Between Two Cities by Stonemaier Games. Thanks to Rico for taking the time to teach this one. I was wondering if this would be a good fit for my family and I really think it will be. It's a very quick game so we actually played twice back to back and the short play time should make it easy to get to my table at home. The tile drafting mechanic will easily remind them of another family fave (7 Wonders) and the tile placement will initially feel like "Castles of Mad King Ludwig" (another one we play as a family) so I think it should be easy enough to teach and build some interest. The scoring mechanic is really interesting. I like the cooperation it builds with your neighbors/opponents and the way it forces you to try and balance some tricky decisions of which tile to place in which city (especially if you are given just one tile that could really help both of them while the other might hurt both of them). A fun lightweight game that might make its way into our collection.

I had a brief break but then moved into a Puzzle Hunt put on by Meeple Nation. I knew the basic idea of a puzzle hunt (I'd attended a community one in the past and had built one that spanned the valley when I worked at Microsoft). However, there is also a wide variety in terms of what goes into a puzzle hunt so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Brent (and team) created a fun pirate treasure themed puzzle hunt that had us scouring "ancient" letters and maps trying to determine where various pirate treasures were hidden. The puzzles were creative and tricky and a lot of fun. To add to the them, each time we searched for treasure, we had to "dig" with our shovels and if we were in the wrong location, our shovel "broke" and we had to do an additional task to earn a new shovel. This promoted the theme and also discouraged random guessing and some degree of confidence before digging. Our team only managed to find 2 of the 5 treasures in the time allotted but the max any team found was 4 treasures so we were towards the middle of the pack. It was a lot of fun and I'd love to try again.

For the next couple of hours, I went through the exhibitor hall to work on the "blackout" game of trying to gather exhibitor signatures to be eligible for an award on Saturday night. I learned/played Tiny Epic Western a western worker placement game from Gamelyn Games, Pups a dog themed trick taking game by Bink Inc, What's Up a memory/matching game by Strawberry Studio, Wet Blanket a take-that card collection game by Binary Cocoa, and Out Last: Westbrooke a thematic survival game hitting Kickstarter soon.

After a little dinner, I came back and hopped into another event hosted by Meeple Nation. This time we played Deception: Murder at SaltCON. This event took the game play from Deception: Murder in Hong Kong by Grey Fox Games and brought it to a real life event. Rather than using cards to represent the various objects in the game, the Meeple Nation crew brought in a wide variety of objects for each player to hold...ranging from obvious (plastic) weapons like axes or guns to more creative items like flowered leis, martini glass, jump ropes and others. The clue cards that the forensic scientist used were themed to SaltCON and referenced SaltCON locations or events as well as board game themed behaviors, game types and other concepts. It was a fun experience brought to life by going beyond the cards and the table.


Saturday morning began bright and early with a game of Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island currently produced by Portal Games (we played the edition by Z-Man games). Thanks to Brian (and wife/friends) for teaching and to Tom and Scott for letting me join in on this one. I've been wanting to play this one for a while and am really glad I was able to try it out. I've heard that this game is extremely difficult to win so I was especially excited that we managed to escape the island successfully. I really liked the theme and the options available each turn as well as the fun challenges that came up each turn. I also enjoyed the mechanic of having the various cards we encountered work their way back into the deck to show up later in the game with potentially disastrous outcomes. This is a solid, very fun co-op that I'd love to play again. I think the depth and time investment will likely keep it from being played with my family but I'd gladly play it again at a con or game group.

After Robinson, I went back to the exhibit hall to finish up my "blackout" board. I played Naturally Disastrous a co-op game about aliens trying to escape from Earth by Silver Lake Games, Bellhop a lightweight pick-up-and-deliver by Bored Brothers, and Luck O The Dice a light dice rolling game with a fun leprechaun theme by Zark LLC.

While checking out exhibitors, I saw the Asmodee table complete with a volunteer teacher ready to show off 7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon. My wife and I have been playing a lot of Duel so I'd been very curious about this expansion. After a great explanation of the changes we dove in and played a complete game. I feel like this is a great expansion, offering just enough changes/variety to create new decisions and strategies without making it a completely different game that may or may not be appealing enough to get played. I think this is one that my wife is going to enjoy playing.

I then took a lunch break and handed in my "blackout" exhibitor card, acknowledging that it was the longest game I'd played at the con so far.

After lunch I saw that it was time for the Garbage Day tournament. Knowing that it's a fun light game and doesn't take a ton of time I decided to hop in. After the tables filled up we all worked to fill the trash and clean our rooms. I managed to survive the first spilling of the garbage can but after that it seemed like the cards were against me. I continued to get only low value cards to go into my room or else cards to play right to the can...I had no way to sabotage my opponent. Meanwhile my room was filling considerably as I not only had to keep playing "1" value cards in my room but I was handed numerous cards of "0" value. By the time I had to clean my room, the trash was already hanging well over the edge and I had twelve cards to try and clean out of my room. Needless to say, I overflowed the bin and was eliminated from the tournament. I waited to see who made it to the final table and chuckled as I saw that the final table upped the stakes by bringing in a larger sized garbage can (think of a smallish bedroom can of ~1-2 feet tall) and oversized cards (probably 6-8 inches tall). I don't know how much more difficult the balancing was with these cards but the overall appearance was fun to see.

I then started looking for a new game to play. I found a table with Captain Sonar set up and looking for one additional player. I'd played Captain Sonar last fall and had a ton of fun so I was excited to be able to join in. We played 3 games back-to-back and I took on the roles of Radio Operator, Engineer and finally Captain. The games were all intense and scoring was very close each time. I was on the winning team only once in the three games but still had an awesome time in each game.

It was now time for the awards ceremony and the live prize drawings. Congratulations to the Ion Award winners...I look forward to seeing your great games come out (and from the runners up and other competitors as well). I didn't win anything from the drawings but did manage to snag a couple of games from the "flea market" / "game swap" area before they closed down that section of the hall.

I finished off my convention with a game of Clank! by Renegade Games. I'd heard some great buzz/hype around this game both before the convention and over the days I'd been there. I spent a good portion of the weekend trying unsuccessfully to find an open game to join. It seemed like it was always checked out of the library and the publisher Renegade Games had sold out their copies by Friday morning. In a bit of luck, an open seat I was standing by during the awards/drawings happened to have an open copy of the game and they were learning the rules during the announcements. They had an empty seat and graciously let me join. This game is probably my "top game" for my family during the convention. Personally I still liked Scythe better but for a game to play with my family, this one is the winner. It's a fun thematic deck builder that adds fun gameplay of exploring, gathering treasure and pressing your luck against the deadly dragon and against the timing of your other opponents. It was great fun and I am sure it will go over well with the family.

Overall it was a great weekend of gaming. I had too many church responsibilities to return to the convention on Sunday but I had plenty of fun on the three days I was there and really enjoyed the time. By my count I played over 20 different games, most of them new to me and a few of them multiple times. A very fun filled and exciting weekend.

Huge thanks to Dale, Sean, Dan and everybody else who helped organize this event.

I'm already excited for next year.


Trent said...

Nice write up!
It was great seeing you again even though we didn't get in a game this round.

Rico said...

I'm impressed you remember everything you did. It was a huge blur to me (a super fun blur). :)

I'm happy you enjoyed Between Two Cities and I hope your family enjoys it too.

Okie said...

Thanks Trent. We'll have to try harder to get a game in next time. :)

Thanks Rico. I really think they will. As to remembering, taking pictures of each game helps a lot though I forgot to get some pictures and so I'm sure there are things I forgot.