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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Brian Kelley and Ernest Bourne play Pastiche during SaltCON at Fort Douglas Officers Club in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Gamers who do it the old-fashioned way — who move their pieces around a board and interact with other players face-to-face — are gathering this weekend for the third annual SaltCON convention for players, designers and families.

The convention, which may draw as many as 250 people, allows them to see what's new in board games, to play old favorites both for fun and competition, and to meet other people with similar interests, says Steve Poelzing, one of the five men behind SaltCON. Included are tournaments, demonstrations, a library to check out games to play, game swaps and trading, game vendors and more.

It grew out of a meeting called Gathering of Strangers, which was held at the University of Utah Union Building for a number of years, but has now moved, with new sponsors and a new name, to the Fort Douglas Officer's Club. The founders also include Dave Bailey, Dale Gifford, Phil Kilcrease and Sean MacDonald.

"This is a perfect place," Poelzing said. "We want a family-friendly setting that's almost like playing games at home."

Eventually, Bailey said, "we hope to grow to where we are a destination convention for people to come from all over, and then maybe we'll move to a hotel." Right now, they are concentrating on growing slowly but steadily.

"There's a stereotype in the gaming world that gamers are young, male, geeky types," he said. "But that's not true. We get lots of people of all ages, lots of families, lots of women who come together and have a good time."

First and foremost, say the SaltCON founders, board games are fun.

"We all have fond memories of playing with our families," Poelzing said. "They are a great family activity. But they are also a great community activity."

Board games teach cooperation and problem solving skills, Gifford said. In a world where many workers only "bump into people on the way to the bathroom or the refrigerator, games let people work together and interact with each other."

These days, so much of the focus seems to be on video games.

"You sit and play, but you don't get together and grow,' Bailey said. "Board games stimulate your mind. They let you laugh together; they let you grow as people."

And, added Poelzing, "games teach you how to be a loser, to be genuinely happy for someone who has done something well, even if it isn't you. Society needs more of that."

Take politics, for example. "Politics should be a cooperative activity; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose," Poelzing said. Instead, said Bailey, "you get parties who will not support and accept the winners, and the only focus is tearing down and impeding progress so they can win the next election."

Get all those politicians together and play some board games, and maybe they'd become more civil, Poelzing said. "We have lofty goals," he admitted. "But I can tell you that I've played games with all kinds of people, many are people whom I disagree with their world view. But playing together helps you appreciate them as individuals. You learn more about what makes them tick."

Games "mimic what you do in life," Bailey said.

Very popular right now are games such as Dominion and Forbidden Island and Pandemic, which are cooperative in nature, where players work together against the board. Also popular are standards, such as Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. Bailey really likes one called Founding Fathers that lets you try to influence delegates at the Constitutional Convention. Small World is another fun one, he says, and this year's Spiel de Jahres (the most prestigious gaming award) is Dixit, a story-telling game.

Even old standbys like Monopoly and Clue and Risk have their place and value. There's something for everyone at SaltCON.

Board games are very popular in our area, say the men, not just for players, but the region is also getting a reputation as a game-design center. One of the highlights of this year's convention is the worldwide debut of a new game called Pastiche, designed by Sean MacDonald and published by Gryphon Games.

It's a great game, said Rick Soued, a representative of Gryphon, who is at SaltCON. The object of the game is to collect palettes of colors that enable you to commission great works of art.

"It appeals on a lot of levels," Soued said. "It's fun to see a game with an emphasis on fine art. But it's easy to learn and engaging; there are strategy elements. You can play it with your 9- and 10-year-old children or with your own parents."

MacDonald is pleased with how Pastiche turned out. "It's a nice feeling to see your idea come to fruition. They took what I thought it should be and made it better."

Another part of SaltCON is the Ion Award competition, which allows eight game-designer finalists to play their games with judges from game stores and publishing companies.

SaltCON features nonstop game playing. In one corner, you might find Ash Brimhall and John Lagerquist re-enacting the historical conflict of Rome vs. Carthage in a game called Hannibal. "The convention is an opportunity to get together and play the way I like to play," Brimhall said. "It's sometimes hard to find people who will set down and play a game that lasts for hours."

Claudine Finlay was learning how to play Kingsburg for the first time. The European strategy games are her favorites, she said. "They are just fun. But they are also challenging; you need to think ahead and adjust to what other players do."

Teenagers Shauna and Audrey Hoopes were playing a Looping Louie, which sent an aviator around and around. "SaltCON is really fun," said Shauna. "This is my third year. You get to meet new people, and play face-to-face."

SaltCON continues from 10 a.m. to midnight today. Tickets are $30 at the door. For more information, visit www.saltcon.com.

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