SALT LAKE CITY — While his father, the late Larry H. Miller, was building a legacy as a Utah business icon, young Bryan Miller was making a name for himself on the game board.
As a kid, the younger Miller would spend hours upon hours playing Monopoly with his friends, he said. When those friends were occupied, he would "put eight players around the board in their positions" and play against himself.
"I was doing a board game equivalent of what (my dad) was doing in real life," Miller laughs.
The elder Miller never really caught a passion for board games like Monopoly — even calling them "a waste of time," Bryan Miller said — but his son's enthusiasm for them has not wavered.
"To me, I think there's a whole mindset of making time to enjoy life," he said. "Games are really what adds richness to his life."
It is with such a mindset that Miller gathered board game lovers from across Utah on Saturday to compete for the title of Monopoly champion. The so-named Utah Monopoly Championship, while not formally run or sanctioned by the board game makers, is the first of many to come, he said.
Only about 25 players were in contention this year, but next summer Miller wants to shoot for the moon and break the world record for number of Monopoly players competing simultaneously in a tournament — potentially on the same weekend as Salt Lake Gaming Con. According to Guinness World Records, that mark is currently 733, achieved in January in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
"I'm always looking for ways to bring people together," said Miller, who is also the organizer of Walkfifty, an annual 50-mile walk from Provo to Salt Lake City.
Competitors were spread out among several tables Saturday for a 90-minute round, with the four players with the highest accumulated net worth advancing to the championship. The final round was untimed. A GoPro was setup from above the championship table so onlookers didn't have to encroach upon the players to see what was happening.
A lot of the fun for participants was being among fellow lovers of board games, said Miller, who once finished fifth in a national Monopoly tournament.
"To me, it's part of the fun of the game to get nerdy with it," he said.
Competitor Danny Kooyman concurred, saying it was enjoyable to be "playing the way it's supposed to be played," with people who understand the official rules. Though many players are quite passionate about the game, he added, the competition remained good-natured throughout.
"It was a friendly game at our table," Kooyman said. "I don't think there was anybody who was too cuthroat or ruthless."
Ben France, who traveled from Vernal to play in the tournament, described the result from his game as something all too familiar to many Monopoly fans:
"I started out really good, and then I lost everything," France said with a chuckle.
But the camaraderie with other players made the tournament well worth his time, he said.
"I was the one who slowed down our game," France joked, explaining that he suggested every player say something about themselves before each roll. "After one or two rounds, someone shot me down and said, 'Hey, if we go faster, we'll have more value'" and a better shot of advancing to the championship round.
Nancee Beamer DeLibero said she attended the tournament as a way to forget about her severe health setbacks. The Orem senior citizen called the event, complete with new friendships with other players, "absolute soul food."
"It was more than fun, infinitely more than fun," Beamer DeLibero said. "We had laughter. People my age don't laugh anymore. It's become difficult or become a chore, but I don't believe in that."
Competitors passed "go" plenty of times, though the winner didn't ultimately collect $200. Saturday's prizes for all four consisted of a copy of the board game, as well as the card game Monopoly Go, while the runner-up was given movie passes, and the champion was treated to a prize pack from Megaplex Theatres.
To attract a world record number of participants next year, a more lucrative prize will need to be dangled as an incentive, said Dawn Miller, Bryan's wife, who also coordinated the event.
The couple are co-founders of 100% of Humanity, which aims to help low-income entrepreneurs in developing countries obtain small-business loans. There was no entry fee for the tournament, but participants were encouraged to make donations to the nonprofit.
If the 2018 event ends up breaking the record, Preston Maurer, of Salt Lake City, said he will be part of it. Maurer, an avid online Monopoly player, ultimately fell short of the championship round, saying the game's strategy in an in-person setting "becomes a little more challenging, for sure."
Despite the loss, Maurer said he was sold on the vibe of the tournament itself.
"Having that fun atmosphere and no judgement, and just playing a fun game, it definitely builds community," he said.