Another SaltCON is in the books. This year, our fearless show runners brought in over 1350 people to play board games. The space was fantastic and the con ran smooth and fluid, thanks to the hard work of the SaltCON organizers, Dale Gifford, Sean MacDonald, Dan Naylor, David McClelland, and Geoffrey Briggs. They really put on a great show, bringing in more vendors and game giveaways every year.
Meeple Nation continued our live party game tradition, running four separate events at the con. First up was Werewolf. We ran two games with a unruly village of 17 and 16 respectively. Nathan runs a slick game with lots of bloodshed and lynching, and ultimately the villagers managed to root out the hairy ones and save the town in each game.
Brent created, wrote, drew up, directed, and brewed up a fantastic puzzle hunt, which was a highlight of more than a few attendees. We had 8 teams of 4 competing to dig up pirate treasure by solving a series of puzzles. Ultimately, team ? won the day by solving 4 of 5 puzzles correctly. Big props to Brent Mair for putting in the work to make this event shine.
Next, we ran a Family Feud style game show with 11 teams of 4 and some audience members. The teams guess the top three answers from a poll we ran on the Internet. The questions involved Star Wars droids, gateway games, food not allowed at a game table, and many more board game themed topics.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to our survey, and a big thanks to SaltCON and Tasty Minstrel Games for offering our winning teams some great prizes for the puzzle hunt and game show.
Finally, we ran a game of Deception: Murder at SaltCon. We took the fantastic game Deception: Murder in Hong Kong by Grey Fox Games, and made a live action version. Ryan collected a bunch of props as weapons and evidence and let each player hold the items (instead of using the cards).
The scene cards were also SaltCon themed. The game used the same rules otherwise. We played two times, and the murder was caught red handed in both.
Big thanks to Grey Fox Games for providing some promo cards to give to our players.
Thanks to all the players of our live games this year. We wouldn’t do it without you, because you all made it great.
We played some board games, too, over the weekend, but this post is already long, so we’ll save that report for another day. Here are two other reports of the con: Trent from The Board Game Family and Okie on his blog cucullus non facit monachum.
Until next SaltCon, we’ll see you at the game table.
The smaller half of the main hall at SaltCON 2016, before the convention really got going on Thursday morning
SaltCON is a board game convention for families, gamers, and game designers. This convention is quickly becoming the preeminent board game convention of the Intermountain West. SaltCON happens each year during the first weekend in March near Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2016, SaltCON added more space, regional tournaments, and more games to give away, including over 100 play-to-win games. The total attendance this year was 1142 people, up 37% over last year.
The Meeple Nation Architects or Primes or Hosts. We’re still working that out.
The Meeple Nation Podcast was at SaltCON again in force. We ran social games each day, including Ultimate Werewolf, Two Rooms and a BOOM!, and Live Codenames. We love the social games and many of the players came back the second day to play with us. We must have done it right. The same player won both Live Codenames sessions, which means he was on the same wavelength as Ryan, who created the clues. Ryan is not sure if he should be scared or if he’s ready to start a new podcast with a new co-host.
Action Packed game of Live Codenames
Our game of Ultimate Werewolf was one of the best games Nathan has ever witnessed. The discussion was rife with accusations and outright attacks. Pleas of innocence were abundant. The first game with 15 gamers lasted almost a full hour before the werewolves were finally sniffed out.
Playing Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
We also played six games of Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, one of our new perennial favorites. We had little trouble finding investigators. Paige, Aaron, Sydney, half of HUGG, Trent, Michael, and Matt. With twelve players, we had a surprising number of accurate guesses in the first round of the game. Our forensic scientists demonstrated some mad clue-giving skills.
We recorded a podcast live in front of an audience with guests Ryan Bruns of Mayday Games, Ben Hilliard from Daedalus Productions, and Claudine Finlay and Julie Balazs from HUGG. We talked about attending conventions and being prepared to attend the big one. We spoke about attending from a gamer perspective as well as from that of a game company. Some good advice all around. Also, Brent was finally famous enough to be interviewed on Meeple Nation.
We recorded podcast audio with about 20 board game professionals, including Seth Hiatt from Mayday Games, Andy Van Zandt, Michael Mindes, and Seth Jaffee from Tasty Minstrel Games, Matt Saunders designer of Mow Money, Greg Spence from the The Broken Token, Chris Urinko from Daft Concepts, Michael Coe from Gamelyn Games, and Dale, Dan, and Sean the organizers of SaltCON.
Recording our podcast with the gamers from HUGG, the Herriman Utah Gamer Girls.
The convention was largely focused on open play with a “hot games” area and an Envoy room where volunteers taught the play-to-win games. Every day was packed with dozens of scheduled events, including panels, tournaments, and roleplaying, which ran continuously in a dedicated room with 306 participants.
The Ion Award, an annual board game design contest, was judged and prizes were awarded. Board games donated by game stores and game companies were given away. The grand prize went to a Meeple Nation listener. Dave Bremer won 504 and The Gallerist. Great job. Nathan won a few duds, but at least he won something.
We even managed to play a few games along the way. I’d call that a success. We are already looking forward to next year. If you live anywhere in the Intermountain West you should definitely check out SaltCON in 2017.
We managed to break out the game Best Treehouse Ever. Unfortunately, Ryan couldn’t get the rules straight and botched the game. He did have the coolest treehouse ever, though (not shown).
Meeple Nation participated in an Extra Life event last weekend the NUGG, the Northern Utah Gaming Group. We got together to raise money for charity, specifically for Primary Children’s Hospital in SLC. Our fearless emperor Brent actually coordinated the whole event, which I thought it was a smashing success.
We had over 80 people attend and raised over $1400 for Primary Children’s Hospital. Overall in 2015, Extra Life raised $44,507 for the kids at Primary Children’s Hospital and 6,775,102 for all of the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.
We’d like to thank Mayday Games and Tasty Minstrel Games for donating to our silent auction and Mayday Games for providing food and drink. We’d also like to thank Val Iverson, President of Trampoline Parks, LLC, for providing a fantastic place to game for 24 hours straight and Paul Liljenquist, President of Focus Services, for more space and for help in coordinating the venue.
Game of Ghostbusters played twice with full Kickstarter special edition.
A special thanks goes out to Brent’s wife, Diann, for doing the little things that made for a great time and helped with the silent auction. I’d like to give Brent special recognition for making the whole event happen and for making it great. Awesome job Brent Mair!
Playing board games for 24 hours might seem like a great idea, and you’d be right. It was awesome, including hilarity at regular intervals. Highlights for me were Codenames at 1 in the morning, Ghostbusters: The Game, Mysterium and an epic ~12 hours of Pathfinder The Adventure Card Game: Wrath of the Righteous.
Game of Mysterium played several time over the 24 hours.
Legendary, everyone left speechless, stars in their eyes!
It finally happened. After an unknown number of plays, mostly online, my brother and I played a perfect game of Hanabi. This was one of my goals for the year. Playing online makes the incidental ‘micro-cheating’ almost non-existent, mostly because you can’t inflect a mouse click. We played on www.boardgamearena.com, which is a free website where you can play a plethora of board games.
We played using the 5 basic colors, so the new challenge is to attain a perfect game using the 6 color. Hanabi is a great game people. Why aren’t you playing it yet!
Props to my brother Cory for a well played game.
Everyone left speechless!
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about theme lately. We have reviewed quite a few games so far on the podcast, and I’m always the one who cares the most about the theme, but I don’t think that I’ve quite articulated exactly why I feel the way I do.
How does the theme of Kingsport Festival hold up to Ryan’s critical eye?
To me the theme of a game has the fantastic opportunity to make me feel something. I’ve heard that in sales and in writing that the ultimate goal is to make your audience “feel” or “care” about the product/writing, and I think that a board game is no different. I understand completely that different types of games will feel differently and care differently about various games, mechanics, and themes. This post is simply how I perceive theme.
1. The Theme Must Matter!
This is the big one for me. If you have a Lovecraftian game, the theme has to be important to the game. It has to be a part of the experience besides just the names of cards and locations. There has to be a sense of mystery and danger. There has to be some kind of Sanity mechanic and a consequence for loosing all of it. There has to be a sense of good and evil and an impending DOOM! If not, the art and the names aren’t going to be enough to make it feel like a Lovecraftian horror.
If you put the King in Yellow on a card and that card doesn’t feel like a King in Yellow card, you’ve likely lost me. The game might be fun, but I’ll likely be thinking too much about what the game could have been if the theme really mattered to really enjoy it.
2. The Theme isn’t the Most Important Thing!
The game should still be good without a theme or by changing the theme. If it is not, it will never be great with a fantastic theme that fits into the rest of my list. The theme will elevate a good game, but it will not help a mediocre game become good. Let’s use Monopoly as an example. No matter what theme gets slapped onto the box, the game has never gotten any better, ever.
But somehow, for me at least, Solar Quest transcends the Monopoly mold by making the theme mean something. Your pieces are spaceships traversing our galaxy buying up planets and moons. You need fuel to fly your ship. You have to get a certain roll on the dice or the gravity of the planet will prevent you from leaving orbit. Oh, and lasers!
3. The Theme must Resonate with the Mechanics and with the Players
This is one of the most important aspects of theme that I cannot stress enough. What I mean is that when you have a creature, a vampire for example, in a game, the mechanics, art, gameplay, and feel of that creature must meet the players expectation of a vampire in some way. Better yet, in every way.
Wizards of the Coast has mastered this aspect of theme over the years with Magic: The Gathering. In the early stages, several of the art for creatures would show a creature with wings, but the card would not have the ability to fly (or vice versa). As much as they tried to point out that the art didn’t matter to the game play, players would constantly play the card incorrectly and complain about the disconnect.
A piece of theme resonates when the component meets the player’s expectations in some way, or surprises them in a pleasant way. Magic: the Gathering, whether doing a top-down design (theme first) or a bottom up design (mechanics first) does a fantastic job making the theme and mechanics resonate.
To illustrate, consider the card Dromoka, the Eternal.
Wizards doesn’t normally have dragons that aren’t red, but this set deals with dragons of all colors. Wizards, in making this card, wanted the card to feel both white and green, to feel like a dragon, to be distinct from a traditional red dragon, and above all to be a great card. If games designers put that much effort on single cards, I would have far less to complain about.
One game that fails miserable at this is Nightfall, a game oozing with theme. The problem is that the monster types rarely matter at all, and the game boils down to colors. You never have to see if someone played a vampire. You only care if they played a card that had a blue or yellow circle on the card. Some of the cards have a bit of mechanical resonance, but overall, the game does not “feel” right to me.
Another way resonance is important is that it can help players learn and teach the game. If I were to tell a new player that vampires can only be played at night, they instantly understand and will likely remember the rule. It makes sense. Creatures with large wings fly. Traveling by plane gets you long distances faster than by car.
Another example has to do with Binoculars as an item in a game. Mechanically, the binoculars could do whatever the designer wanted them to, but if the designer wanted the card to resonate with the players, he or she should consider what the players might expect from binoculars. In one game, the binoculars card helped you evade threats, which seems reasonable as you can see said threat coming sooner. The problem is that this game also had a search mechanic, and in my head, the binoculars should have been tied to that mechanic, and it always felt off to me.
4. The theme must enhance the game play!
This might be the same thing as resonance, but I guess I can’t stress it enough. The theme must enhance the gameplay and never get in the way. Kingsport Festival is a new Lovecraftian themed game, just dripping with theme, but after finally playing the game, the theme just felt flat to me.
In Kingsport Festival, you play a cultist enlisting the help of creatures and gods of the mythos to win the game. Seems reasonable enough, but in the end it boils down to points—cult points. To get said arbitrary cult points, you accumulate cubes that represent evil, death, and destruction, but are just resources. I’m still confused about the theme of these cubes. Do they represent how evil you are? Do they represent how much destruction you can cause? Unclear. And to make this worse, you use these cubes of evil, death, and destruction to move your influence marker into buildings within the city. Am I spreading death and destruction? Not really. I’m not destroying the building. I’m gaining a new ability by being there.
These disconnects don’t really get in the way of the game play, but the game just does not resonate with me. I love Lovcraftian games, but in this one, the theme failed me. I’m a cultist vying against other cultist to be the one with the most cult points. Does that make me the most evil cultist? Or the most successful cultist? Does Cthulhu or Azathoth rise and devour me first for my achievements? Nope. I just win.
Adam Kazimierczak in a thread on Board Game Geek sums it up well: “It’s hard to cubify evil without losing something in translation.”
5. Strapping on a loose theme will not make your game better (though it might make it sell better)
It seems tempting to paste Zombies or Cthulhu onto a game and feel like you have something that will resonate with players. In my case, though, if you do it sloppily, you will get the opposite effect from what you intended.
If your game doesn’t care about theme, I’d consider avoiding a theme that already has excellent games that have done justice to the theme, like what Dead of Winter is for Zombie survival and what Eldrich Horror is for Lovcraftian horror. If your game can’t compete with resonance, get out of the icky green sludge.