How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Con
Dave and I had talked about taking a road trip to go to Salt Con several times, but each year we let it go by without taking any action. As 2019 started up his wife was encouraging him to go, and with that incentive, we decided that this year we would definitely go. So, we loaded up my car, prepped for winter weather and hit the road. I could not imagine what the next few days would bring, or what impact this one trip would have on my life over the next few years.
The trip started out innocently enough. Our area had recently experienced a once in a decade snow storm, so we took extra precautions. I made sure the tires on my car were up to the trip, bought chains, and packed the appropriate safety gear. All that preparation seemed to be unnecessary, as the roads were completely clear all the way to Utah. Dave's parents lived not far from the convention center, so we planned on staying with them. We got in a little late, but not terribly so. Everything seemed great until the next morning when we arrived at the convention center.
That's when Dave noticed that there was an odd smell emanating from my car. Popping the hood, we could see that something was not right. The radiator cap was missing, and the engine compartment was coated in radiator fluid. I don't know how we didn't notice it the night before. While still trying to attend the con and do stuff with the Meeple Nation crew, we called around to parts stores and mechanic friends to figure out what to do. In the end, we decided on a short-term repair of making a cap out of saran-wrap and rubber bands, since no parts stores seemed to carry the radiator cap that we needed, or at least their computer systems didn't recognize my make and model of car.
We had a blast at the con. Played a ton of games with Meeple Nation, playtested a few games, and bought some to take back with us. One highlight of the trip was going over to Andy's house on Saturday, getting fed some great BBQ, and playing even more board games. The week went way too fast. All too soon, we were on the road headed back to Washington. Our temporary repair had held up well for the week, but it was probably too much to expect it to make the full trip back.
Just outside of Boise, Idaho, the car started to overheat. We limped it over to an auto parts store, and with help from the staff there, found a cap that would probably work and got back on the road. Not too much farther down the road, in Oregon, we hit a traffic revision. Pulling into a gas station, we found out that a rig had lost its load of pipes all over the road and it would be several hours before we would be allowed to continue on the freeway. Alternatively, there was a back road route we could take, so we decided to try that. The roads were icy, it was dark and was a winding mountain path. There were moments when I wondered if we'd make it, but in the end we arrived safely back home.
So, was it worth it? In my opinion, definitely. Playing games pretty much non-stop for 3 days was amazing. I loved play-testing games, and talking to vendors. Getting to know Nathan, Ryan, and Brent was great too. That led to my wife and I ducking out of a family reunion for one evening later that summer to go to Meeple Nation HQ and play games, which if you know me, is quite a big deal. I usually only travel to visit family.
In fact, I liked the con so much that a year later I was ready to go again. Dave had moved back to Utah by this time, so an added bonus to going to Saltcon was the opportunity to hang out with him again. I must have talked it up quite a bit as my wife expressed a desire to attend as well. So, once again, we headed out, this time bringing the kids. It was a little odd as I was recovering from a sports injury and had just a few days before gotten the OK to actually walk. On top of that, the pandemic was just getting going. We stayed with my sister in South Jordan, and that was the only real difficulty with the trip. Not that staying with my sister is a terrible thing, it's just that the 45 minute trip was a little rough late at night. And a couple times, my wife ended up wanting to leave earlier than I wanted to. The prospect of a two hour round trip to drop her off was not a pleasant one. One night we even got her a frontrunner ticket as the station was only 15 minutes from my sister's house. Other than that, we had a great time. I think if they'd had a Saltcon Spring 2021, we would have been there.
We were bummed when Spring 2021 was canceled, and I didn't really pay attention when End of Summer was announced as being on. I don't know why, I just never really thought about going to the smaller Saltcon events. But, when we found out that my family reunion ended just a week before EoS, and having over a year of remote working under my belt, we decided to try going. The tickets were sold out by the time we even considered going, but I had heard that they were still looking for volunteers, and that volunteering got you a ticket to the event. I reached out and got on as a Saltcon volunteer. I took on enough volunteer hours to get myself and my wife a pass, and we had my sister watch our kids. This time, we decided to rent a room in the convention hotel. That was a game changer for us. Instead of being a 45 minute drive, we were a five minute walk away from a bed. We didn't have to worry about disturbing someone by coming in at two or three in the morning, and I didn't have to figure in a drive to my game length math at the end of the day. Volunteering was a great experience too. I got to work with a lot of interesting people, and got to see a different side of the convention. While I was volunteering, my wife was playing games either with the Meeple Nation members, or trying out the hot games. In fact, I've created something of a monster there. As soon as we got back from the con, she ordered two of the hot games she played (Calico and Gods Love Dinosaurs). I told her we can't afford for both of us to have a game buying habit, but I guess there are worse problems that we could have in our marriage.
A month or so later, I'd heard about the trip to BGGCon that the Meeple Nation crew was planning. I was literally considering asking if I could get in on the trip when they asked if I wanted to go. The trip was fantastic. The logistics were a little more challenging, since I didn't have a whole vehicle to plan to take stuff to and from the convention. I ended up taking a backpack and a large wheeled duffle, which if I had it to do over, I'd use the backpack as a personal item, bring a carry on, and check the duffle as well. Except for a couple of excursions for food, we never left the convention hotel. In fact, since we were using Uber for travel, we decided it would be more time efficient and a similar cost to order our food and have it delivered so that we could spend more time gaming. The guys pretty much summed up my thoughts in their post-BGGCon episode. It was fun to learn new games, teach games that I enjoy, and meet gamers from other places. Although BGGCon this year was smaller than in previous years, I'm hoping that in 2022 it will be a bigger event again.
So, in three years and four conventions, what have I learned? What would I do the same? What would I do differently? Well, for starters, let's talk about travel to the conventions. I know I can play games in my town. Occasionally, they do have some small one or two day events with the local gaming groups, but those have been hit or miss, and sometimes I struggle justifying taking time off work to go, since I'm just in town. Going to the convention, because of the logistics involved, and the number of people attending, for some reason makes it easier for me in my mind to justify canceling a class or two and rearranging my schedule to go.
Second, the hotel thing. My wife and I have already booked our room for Saltcon Spring. There might be reasons that we won't do this in the future, but for now, I'm just figuring that into the cost of attending the con.
Speaking of costs, traveling to cons. For Saltcon, I have a couple of options. If it were just me, then I could drive or fly. A round trip ticket is roughly similar in cost to the gas used plus food and snacks for driving. Now, you can reduce the cost by packing food, but the time involved in driving vs flying makes flying a more cost effective prospect. Since for Saltcon I'm bringing my wife and at least one of my kids, driving is the way to go. Regardless, I make sure to add in travel costs to the cost of attending the con.
Next, what do I bring? This is evolving for me. The first convention I pretty much just brought myself (and Dave). I didn't bring a ton of games. The next two, I brought way more. I'd planned on spending some time with family too, so I brought games I wanted to play with them. We had a large duffel filled with games, but didn't pull out very many of them. I think for Spring 2022, I'm going to look at what is in the library, and only bring what I think I'm actually going to pull out to play that isn't in the library. I also bring things that I need for comfort. I have a wedge pillow that helps me keep from snoring, which isn't so much for me as for whom I'm sharing a room with. When I drive, it's no big deal to bring the pillow. Flying is much more of a challenge. I brought it with me to BGGCon. It took up most of the room in my duffel, but it's a memory foam, so I could compress it more to fit games or other things I purchased. I don't regret bringing it, but it is the reason I will probably make sure to bring a carry-on as well as a checked bag the next time I go to BGGCon.
I hope this helps those who wonder about us nut-cases that spend money and travel hundreds of miles to gaming conventions. If you want to find out if con attendance is something you'd enjoy, I highly recommend the conventions I've attended, Saltcon and BGGCon. If you are local to Salt Lake City or the surrounding area, definitely try out Saltcon. If you do attend, look for the Meeple Nation tables in the main gaming area, and join in on some of our events.