Sunday, May 15, 2016

Games from the Abyss: An interview with Call of Cthulhu Champion Tom Capor (Part Two)

In Part One, Tom Capor and I discussed the Living Card Game (LCG) Call of Cthulhu. We got to know about Tom's history with the game, his influence on the community, and why we should all respect the Black Dog. Here is were things get a little emotional, as we discuss the discontinuation and the baggage that came along.

(CF) The game was discontinued last September. Was it an emotional change for you?

(Tom) "Definitely. After my first championship win in 2009 and being able to insert a piece of myself into the game, I was attached to the game. As my success continued, the game defined me as much as I began to define it. It became a major part of my life and I would accredit it for a lot of the relationships I hold today. So, now that it’s over, I feel lost. Tried playing other games and I’ve yet to find a game that offers the same level of play that Cthulhu had. So for now, I’m not gaming too seriously. Despite my intentions to compete in up to several games later this year. It should do wonders for my health though."

 You said "the game defined me as much as I began to define it". There's no doubt that you are strongly associated with the game, but do you feel like you helped shaped the community playing it?

"Certainly. On more than one occasion I’ve been called the face of the game. Beyond my tournament success and designing cards, I’ve written a few articles for Fantasy Flight Games, play-tested for the game, created deck lists for expansion inserts, consulted on FAQ updates, posted videos of gameplay, local community organizer, and was a somewhat active member of the online community. There were almost no major aspects of the game where that I didn’t get a chance influence it at least a little bit."

Tom, you know I loved Hastur’s faction the best. It was never given its own expansion until it was announced that Call of Cthulhu was being discontinued. Fans of the game went bananas, considering the game had been around since 2004. So… was it worth the wait?

"I really wish the Hastur box wasn’t our final box. Really felt like there was room for one more to round out just a few things. That being said, the Hastur box is an amazing box. By far one of my favorites, so if Call of Cthulhu LCG reached your local gaming table, I recommend picking it up."

What have you been playing lately?

"For now I’m just enjoying whatever crosses the table. Our group is a huge fan of co-op games, but since we’re also deck building fiends, Lord of the Rings lcg has been occupying our ‘most played’ spot. Competitively, the closet thing I have to a home at the moment is A Game of Thrones LCG 2nd Edition. Which has become my main game for competitions later this year. So those, and I’ve been working on a few projects of my own that hit the table now and then when I’m ready to playtest a version."

The physical toll you described in part one was upsetting to read, not just as a person who knows you but as a person who is passionate about mental health. Anxiety can be a barrier to any hobby and, consequently, to a healthy outlet to decompress. Do you have any advice for players who feel apprehensive about getting into competitions?

"I appreciate your concern, truly. As for helping others, going to be pretty real with you here. This will largely depend on the game/game’s community, the prizes of the tournament and why someone is apprehensive. I wouldn’t recommend signing up for something like a MTG Pro Tour Qualifier for your first tournament for a game. People are playing seriously for a serious prize in a game that takes itself very seriously. It’s not conducive environment to a fledgling gamer and prizes are often very top loaded so you’re not likely to leave with a smile on your face.

On the other side, events like MTG Pre-Release tournaments or small local tournaments come with a completely different tone.  I would recommend those to everyone regardless of your apprehension. Most people don’t care if they win or lose, they’re there just to get/play with the new cards and have some fun games. Almost everyone is a rookie so mistakes and rules questions, even the most basic ones, are far more forgivable. It creates a lighter atmosphere. So despite there being a tournament-like structure, it’s more of a tool used to organize what would otherwise be a chaotic event. Plus everyone goes home with some cool stuff regardless of how well you do. So relax and enjoy. Another factor to consider is the size of the game’s community where you considering playing. This isn’t a hard rule, but traditionally, the smaller the community, the friendlier the environment is.  Case in point, Cthulhu had/has a very tiny but awesome community. Even at the World Championship level, I’d encourage new players to compete. We had MANY people that would help teach you the game in the middle of tournament play. That includes the World Championship, and includes teaching themselves into a loss. Which is incredible to me so I wouldn’t expect that environment too often, but I also know that Cthulhu was the only game out there with the level of kindness and acceptance.

That being said, some real advice.

1. Bring a friend – Having someone you know around will go a long way in overcoming any negative experiences.
2. Don’t let one bad experience ruin your day – Easier said than done, but realize, not everyone is a nice person. Or maybe they’re not having a good day, or whatever. Every community is has lot of amazing people you can meet, but they all also have some people that should just stay home.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – Sure, #2 applies here. You COULD annoy someone, but most of the time, you won’t. In fact, in my experience more often than not the opposing player might even try to answer the question for you. You don’t need to be master class rules lawyer either to compete. If you have a basic understanding of the rules… that’s more than good enough. As you compete, you’ll quickly realize that there are very few people who are actual rules experts and anyone/everyone will forget some of the most basic stuff quite often.
4. Think of it as a learning experience – I never enter a tournament expecting to win it. I just do the best I can. I don’t worry about how many wins and losses I need. I’m there to 1, play some games and 2, hopefully learn something so I can improve. If a win comes my way, great. If not, hopefully I learned a lot. I recommend this approach. It takes the stress of winning and puts it into a more constructive place.
5. Remember – Tournaments are nothing more than events with goal. Mingle. Meet new people or get to know your opponent’s better. Don’t chat their ear off during play or anything, but if you can present yourself in a friendly manner the more likely you are to have a positive experience.
6. You’re allowed to change your mind – This might not apply to all games, but for the most part, unless the state of the games changes (turns pass, opponent plays a card, you or they gained some amount of extra knowledge, etc...), you’re allowed to take moves back. Some jerks aren’t satisfied with the free knowledge you just gave them by playing the wrong card or made an incorrect move and will try and stick you to your current play. If they do this, don’t be ashamed to politely call a judge. Depending on what happened, they’ll explain what can and can’t happen for the situation. As long as you’re humble, all will be ok.

Ultimately, don’t let things like a fear of mean people, not knowing the rules as well as you want, or not having a good deck ready be an excuse to not enjoy playing a game you like. Tournaments may bring a different mindset than playing against a buddy at the kitchen table, but from my personal experience and the experience I’ve witnessed through others, you could be missing out on something wonderful."

Do you feel like the love of the game or the community helped you in any way with your mental/physical health?

"Mentally, beyond all doubt it’s improved my life. Physically,  it’s probably a wash. On one hand, I get out of the house. On the other hand, sitting all day isn’t exactly helping my body and when you add in the stress and how it affects my ability to sleep… Okay, it’s probably detrimental to my health, but for me, it’s worth it.On a more positive side, mentally, gaming is my happy place. It’s the primary bond I share with my best friends and remains my primary avenue for making new contacts as well. In addition, since I’ve had some success, it’s also allows me opportunities to travel and see other parts of the world beyond my home town and creating friendship with those beyond the barrier of how far my car can take me. Without gaming, I doubt I would have those experiences otherwise.

You could argue its health applications, but in contrast to the real world, in the gaming world I get to feel like I’m a big deal. In games, you’re a critical piece if not THE critical piece. Whether it’s because you know the rules, or you brought the game to the table, or because you’re on the only player on your team, etc… You’re an important part of the game. People are going to look to you for help and guidance. It feels good to be wanted even if it’s in the most minor of capacities. It’s that extra bit of fun you don’t even realize you’re having."

 There will be no more expansions for Call of Cthulhu. There will be no more tournaments. Is there any value in playing the game anymore?

"Is there still value in playing the game? Certainly. I still find it fun. With such a large card pool, there are tons of different decks you can try out. I thoroughly recommend drafts or smash-up style setups. Multiplayer rules exist, but it’s really a 2-player, 1 vs 1 game. So, if your local gaming table caters to those kinds of games for fun and enjoy low luck games. Cthulhu should be a natural fit. " 

Why do you think people get personally invested in games? 

"For me it’s an addiction. For normal people, it’s another medium in which you can experience the world. It’s an excuse to hang out with or meet new friends. Perhaps it scratches the competitive itch. Some like the challenge. It can be an outlet for creativity.  Some people just like the cute/cool fiddly bits. They can be used to learn or to teach. Of course, they also let people indulge their fantasies and exercise their imagination. For those reasons and many more, people love games and when you love something, you want to invest in it to keep it alive."

Tom is my diametric opposite. While I place a high value on a game's aesthetic and theme, Tom has a keen eye for the mechanics. Call of Cthulhu LCG had a strong theme and a staff of developers who cared enough to the small details. It had value for both the hard core and casual player, and it really did deserve a longer run. I can't thank Tom enough for giving insight on this game and how it can affect players. Community in gaming is something I cannot emphasize enough: no matter if you play in every competition or if you show up to charity events every once in a while, players need to respect each other's gaming style. Players all along the competitive/casual spectrum can learn something from talking together... and boy, have I learned a lot from playing with Tom! Again, I thank Tom for discussing this awesome game. On that note, here are my Game Night Picks Scores!

Difficulty: Hard, try to play this with a veteran.

Time: 30-60 minutes

Sobriety Check Point: Sober up for this one. I once played in a tournament after a few beers with lunch and I had a bad time.

Friendship Integrity: Breakable, but still fun. Players are encouraged to play with factions that best match their gaming approach. This means you can be as sneaky or as heavy-handed as you want to be.

Thanks for reading! Even though this game is no longer in commission, I'd highly recommend playing it. If you are a fan of MtG or if (like me) you are a fan of H.P., it's a great play for mechanics and awesome card art. If you have any questions or any Call of Cthulhu experiences, let me know. And, as always, have fun playing out there!

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