"Part of the thrill of most of these tabletop games is having the person in the room with you," said Luke Erekson, a game designer from Murray who was peddling his customizable card game, "Clash of Realms."
"It's still fun to hang out with people to get together with friends, family, loved ones and have some fun."
The SaltCON crowd just might be the friendliest group of competitive people you're likely to find. And this is not a sci-fi convention: There aren't a bunch of people dressed up as aliens.
One guy wore a buffalo hat complete with horns Saturday morning, but it was a good-luck charm. "I've won a tournament every time I've worn this hat," said Josh Anderson, who drove from Idaho Falls, Idaho, to join SaltCon.
"We just want people to come and have a good time," said Dale Gifford, a SaltCON organizer. "Sit down, play a game, have some conversation, meet some people. It's like having a family game night. Here, people are actually talking."
These are not your father's board games. Oh, you can still find Risk, but you're more likely to find people playing Triassic Terror, Thunderstone or Salmon Run. Some games are for kids; others are for adults. Some can be played in 15 minutes; others might still be going after 10 hours.
According to Gifford, the trend today is Euro-style games. Unlike, say, Risk, in which the goal is to knock your opponents out of the game, "Euro-style is 'We're all in the game the entire time, and we're collecting points.' At the end, whoever has the most points wins. It keeps people in and keeps them engaged."
Some of the gamers brought their favorites from home. Eleven-year-old Logan Allen and his mom, Jessica, drove from Sandy for their third consecutive SaltCON and brought the game Smallworld with them. Logan loves it because it features endless variations.
"I have seen him walk away from video games to play board games," his mom said.
Like many others, the Allens picked out a table, set up the game and propped up a sign inviting others to stop by and play, which happened rather quickly.
"It's great," Jessica Allen said. "I'm always a little nervous that I'm going to be the only girl. But there are a lot of people with families. And you see young kids, too."
Men outnumber women, but maybe 15 percent of the SaltCON crowd is female. The gamers are more young than old, but range in age from 5 to 75.
And the youngsters can surprise older players who expect kids to be pushovers.
"Logan's got the strategy and he's been playing a long time," his mom said. "Pretty soon, they get this surprised look on their face, like, 'Wow. I'm impressed."
SaltCON, now in its fifth year, is many things to many people. Some are there to play; some to buy new games; some to sell games; some to learn to design games; and some to try to sell their inventions to game companies.
The annual Ion Awards go to the best new games from unpublished designers, as selected by game company owners who come to SaltCON and sit down and play the games with their designers.
"The last three Ion winners have made deals," Gifford said.
When • The event continues Sunday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Where • Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel, 150 W. 500 South
Tickets • A one-day individual pass is $30; a one-day group pass (up to five people) is $105. Available at the registration desk or at saltcon.com