SaltCON celebrated the event’s 10th anniversary this year. The experience was very welcoming for this first time attendee, and there was no shortage of coolness to take in. Below are the top 5 coolest things I saw at SaltCON.
#1 Learning and Buying Games Direct from the Designer
It’s fun learning a new game, but it’s even cooler when the person teaching you how to play is the game’s designer. I had the good fortune to learn three games that were new to me directly from their designers, and even bought a 4th new game from its designer without realizing it.
The first one that caught my eye was the fun of MoonQuake Escape‘s 3-D gameboard and color scheme. An energetic man in bright orange greeted me at the table and started explaining how the game was played. It took me a second, but I eventually realized that the name on the man’s attendee badge and the designer’s name on the game’s box matched. It would be impossible to listen to Jeff Johnston talk about MoonQuake Escape and not get excited. As he explains the game, you can see the gears in his head turning as he envisions the scenarios players will find themselves in and the fun of the decisions they’ll have to make – should they play to advantage themselves, or disadvantage another? Should a player attempt a strategic maneuver, or the risky and chaotic one? Subtle trickery, or blatant gotcha? Whatever decision a player makes, Johnston has invested in making it fun. Did I buy a copy after seeing the pure joy and enthusiasm flowing from the MoonQuake Escape’s architect? Yes. Yes I did.
The next designer that I met was Thomas Shepherd of Toresh Games. Thomas was very open talking shop about the process of creating and playtesting the types of games he likes to play, and that remain fun with different sized groups of people. Thomas chose to publish on his own, and has spun out a series of games after his early efforts were successful. Thomas told me about finding the match between his vision for game play and Christopher England’s art, and knowing that he had the right combination. I purchased his first hit, Snowball Fight, and have played it quite a bit since attending SaltCON and it has quickly become a family favorite. The way the card play unfolds is quite elegant, and there’s a surprising amount of rapid decision making required of the players as they assess their options, the timing of their strategy, and the social dynamics of the other players at the table.
Lastly, I met Jarom Higley in “prototype alley,” where game designers go to get playtester feedback from SaltCON attendees. At the time, Jarom was days away from launching his game Rise of the Exiled on Kickstarter (spoiler alert – it’s already funded! How cool is that? And I’ll admit, I’m happily backing Rise of the Exiled.). Jarom quickly walked me through a completely unique gaming concept that requires a lot of skill and pits players in a competition that sets the stage for getting big time bragging rights over your buddies. I don’t want to ruin the story, but the game was more or less inspired by Jarom’s creative use of an excess in junk mail. With feedback and playtesting, Jarom’s idea grew. He explained to me that he really nerded out over the data collection required to balance Rise of the Exiled, and also gained insight on little touches that would make the game more enjoyable from his playtesters.
The availability of game designers at SaltCON represents a really unique opportunity to interact with artists up close. I love movies, music and books, but there’s something so interactive and intimate about playing a game. Learning about games from the people that made them was easily the coolest thing to take in at SaltCON. I even ended up buying Burgle Bros. directly from Tim Fowers and had no idea I was getting it from the hands of the designer.
#2 Lichtenburg Figure Character Crates from C&C Woodsmith
OK, stay with me for a second here – there’s this thing called the “constructal law of design in nature,” and it will kind of blow your mind if you read that link. But the important thing to know is that there are certain patterns in nature that occur in different settings that seem completely unrelated but occur for the same specific reasons, and one of those patterns is related to branching. You actually see this everywhere, like root systems, blood flow, oxygen transport in the lungs, rivers, etc., but probably the coolest way that pattern manifests is in lightning.
Next, there are a lot of games that use miniature figures, and often people that play those games get really, really into taking care of their miniatures and want a cool way to keep them safe and showcase them.
So C&C Woodsmith decided to combine the desire to keep miniatures safe with man’s desire to HARNESS THE POWER OF LIGHTNING and this is what they created:
Those squigglies are called Lichtenburg Figures, and yes, they are burned on to that wood, and yes, it is amazing.
#3 Sorting Hat Bath Bombs from Geekery Bathe
My wife and son are really into Harry Potter. They’re also really into bath bombs. I found the perfect product for them, as expressed in the following Venn diagram:
This just makes sense. The bath bomb reveals a color in the bath, and by doing so sorts you into your house.
Geekery Bathe had other cool stuff, but the Sorting Hat bath bomb is the real deal.
#4 Daft Concepts Wood Gaming Accessories
Sometimes, owning a cool game isn’t enough. Sometimes, you need cool stuff to make your cool game even cooler.
Daft Concepts has the stuff to make your cool game even cooler.
Take this Burgle Bros. building frame:
Sure, you can have a lot of fun playing Burgle Bros. by laying out the 3 floors side by side on a table.
Or, you can have a lot more fun by playing the three floors on an actual building.
Daft Concepts makes all kinds of crazy stuff like this. If you’ve got a favorite game and you want to take it up a notch, Daft Concepts almost certainly has something for you.
#5 Light Switch Plates Never Looked So Cool
For those needing the perfect touch to finish off their geek grotto, I present to you Deeply Dapper‘s light switch plates:
Sure, you could go to Lowe’s or something, but then your geek grotto would be boring. And what’s the point of a boring geek grotto? No, you need a Legend of Zelda light switch plate. Deeply Dapper has it.
It wasn’t for sale, but in addition to all kinds of neat stuff the guys at eviljellyfish.com had their own wood burned Splendor storage box, and it was sweet. Not just because Splendor is the hotness, but because it looked incredible:
Check out that dragon tome, too!