I’m learning more and more to have zero expectations when attending conventions. So far, my experiences had been overwhelming, stressful and began destroying my overall willingness to attend any convention more than once. When I heard about SaltCon, a board game convention, I was thrilled by the concept and exceptionally weary of the end product.
When I arrived Friday morning, the volume of attendees was lower than any other convention I had attended. Seeing as it was the second day and the expected ticket sales were set to breach 800, I found the 200-300 board game enthusiasts to be plenty adequate. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to squeeze through the masses to look at the exhibitors or fight tooth and claw to sign up for a game. The intimate setting provided a comfortable atmosphere and was genuinely laid out to entertain fans.
As I made my way through each booth in the Exhibitors Hall, I stopped at an empty table to thumb through a game manual. I couldn’t have been reading the rules for more than a few minutes when Dale Gifford approached me. He politely introduced himself as one of the convention’s organizers and asked me if he needed to find the aforementioned games representative to talk to. I quickly declined—I was startled by having any member of a convention’s staff actually communicate with a member of the press for anything more than self-promotion. He told me to find him if I needed anything and went on his way.
To many people, I can understand how this interaction would seem insignificant. For me, this was the most amazing experience I had ever had at a convention. My previous contact with staff members and organizers of other events generally left me shell shocked. I’ve become very accustomed to a mentality of “eat or be eaten,” when it comes to organized entertainment. I can vividly recall an instance from FanX earlier this year, when I was told I needed to leave a panel BECAUSE I was a member of the press, and another when a staffer told me I needed to “learn to read a map,” when I asked where a celebrity I was set to interview was sitting. Suffice to say, Gifford became the most important person at the Davis Conference Center to me in that simple moment. I quickly tailed after him to give him my compliments.
He stepped aside for me to talk about Salt Con and its growth over the past few years. When I explained to him how impressed I was at the organization as well as hospitality the volunteers, vendors and even fans displayed, he said, “We want people to help each other. We want our volunteers to teach. We want that friendly experience.” I mentioned his approach in communicating with the tables and booths and his attentiveness to the needs of everyone involved with the success of Salt Con. He said, “I talk to them like we’re friends because honestly, a lot of us are friends. People have been coming to Salt Con for seven years, I see them at other game days. A lot of our vendors are literally our friends.” More than the camaraderie, the style of Salt Con is directed at the fans, something most conventions have forgotten. I noticed a few attendees with a fox tail here or a mask there, but ultimately the fluff of cosplaying and other extravagance was removed. The purpose was pointed at playing games and was never neglected.
After our chat, I took off to attempt learning some of the dexterity games with a friend. It wasn’t long before Gifford was walking by and saw our struggle. This led to him giving us a speed round in each of the games, as well as my learning how horribly competitive I am. If more organizers cared as much about the content and quality of their conventions as Gifford did, I never again would need to worry about what I was walking into when signing up for them. He had said that there was no advertising money that was used to promote Salt Con, that every attendee was a result of someone else’s shared experience. Every part of that statement, for me, was 100 percent believable. I even called a few friends and encouraged them to come play games and paint figures with me. If a person’s expectation of a convention entails long lines, celebrities you can see but not talk to, overpriced food and novelties and endless wandering waiting for a college-class type panel to start, then by no means is SaltCon a convention. Instead, it’s a sleepover party with 800 of your closest friends playing board games and talking about their latest RPG character they’ve created. I’ll pick Salt Con any day of the week.