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Utah board game lovers unite at state's biggest gaming convention

LAYTON — If the term "board games" brings to mind rainy afternoons spent playing Monopoly with the grandparents, the lively scene at the Davis Conference Center this weekend may surprise you.

As board game enthusiasts ages 4 to 84 gathered around dozens of tables to play, Joe Colflesh set up a large felt-made depiction of Glendale, Virginia, that he created himself.

"Basically, it's grown men playing with tin soldiers," Colflesh said.

He has played a miniature war game called Brigade Fire & Fury with some of his buddies for the past 40 years.

The men choose a battle from an era they are all interested in, and they "resolve" who would win the battle if things in history had happened differently.

For example, what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln hadn't won the election?

"They've kind of turned into my brothers through the last four decades. It's a real brotherhood. We talk, and we discuss. We'll jive and tease," Colflesh said.

On Thursday, the men shared their game to the next generation of game-lovers during a four-hour re-creation of a Civil War battle. But they were just one of many celebrating the love of interactive gaming and board games during the 10th annual SaltCON, which runs through Sunday.

"In this day and age where we have so much electronics going on, there's parents playing games with their kids," Colflesh said.

For David Leavitt, it's an event for his whole family. "We just like lots of board games," he said.

"You get to try out new games, see if there's something you'd be interested in buying, trade games with people. It's really fun. Something that the kids really like to do," Lara Leavitt said.

"Games are fun," explained the couple's 9-year-old daughter Adelynn as she sat at a table playing with her parents.

She got her favorite game, Kitty Paw, at last year's SaltCON, she said.

While many people explored booths featuring new games and game-related products in one room, others gathered around tables for fantasy role-playing games.

Four young men played a spirited game of Dungeons and Dragons.

They seemed to agree that the game provides them a chance to use their imaginations. This freedom is lacking in video games, where everything is depicted on a screen, William Hale said.

Through the fantasy role-playing game, they can create their own characters and envision their own world, he added.

The game also provides social opportunities. Though only two of the avid gamers knew each other before this weekend's events, "everyone's already friends," Hale said.

"I play to meet people," added Gerald Glad, one of Hale's new friends, from across the round table.

Event volunteer Christine Hammack also appreciates the way board games help her and her family visit with friends and meet new friends. She has participated in the convention for the past three years and says it's the only time a year when she sees some of her friends who live in other cities.

"You have every age group, every diversity you can think of, and you have people who only see each other maybe once a year sit down, play games and talk," she said.

"Instead of being on your phones, or staring at a screen, you're interacting, you're thinking. You can find people that enjoy doing all the different things that you like, and there's a game for every style of play," Hammack added, noting that her whole family attends the conference.

"It's a very big community," she said.

Dale Gifford, one of the original founders of SaltCON, said this year the convention pre-sold tickets to more than 1,400 people.

The first year, just over 100 people attended, he said.

There has been "exponential growth" in the number of new games out there since the early 2000s thanks to Kickstarter and other opportunities for independent companies to get their games made, Gifford explained.

"It's not like Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk," he said.

In the past, "gatekeepers" of the gaming industry limited the number of games created, he said.

"If you like Egyptian stuff, or if you like baseball, or if you like cute little animals, or if you like 'Dr. Who,' or if you like 'The Walking Dead' ... whatever genre you're into as a geek or whatever, through books or movies or TV, there's a board game out there, probably," Gifford said, gesturing at stacks of games lined up in a storage room.

Though the SaltCON is a for-profit company, it just makes enough money to break even, Gifford said.

He puts 40 to 50 hours a week into the convention on top of his regular full-time job, and it's a "labor of love," he said.

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