|A long, long time ago, I can still remember, when White Dwarf didn't suck on chodes...|
The Tale of Four Gamers is perhaps one of the most persistent memes that's ever done the rounds in the wargaming community, although I suspect FOOTDAR will give it a run for its money in time. See, once upon a time, in the hallowed years of the mid-nineties, when 'Wiki' was just the Hawaiian word for 'quick' and Jervis Johnson was a pillar of the community instead of the laughing stock he's been made into by the kind, merciful kiss of the Internet, White Dwarf ran a series about four staff members who pledged to construct Warhammer Fantasy Battle armies to a budget which, all these years later, seems frankly laughable. I recall those articles fondly, and still have a tendency to count meat-filled sandwich products as a gaming expenditure and refer to small children as Noise Familiars as a direct result of their influence on my unformed brain.
I was clearly not alone in being strongly influenced by the article - White Dwarf and, in later years, the GW website, counted it among their greatest successes, referring to the requests for a rerun, a 40K version, a follow-up on the armies, anything at all to do with it, on an increasingly exasperating basis. I've never been active on a wargaming forum where there isn't some version of it on the go. Privateer Press, as has long been their way, followed in GW's footsteps and recently got in on the act with their Studio Challenge articles, although these cheerfully omit the budgetary restrictions. Only this morning, I came across The Western Immoren Economy Tours, a Warmachine blog which is pursuing the endeavour in the original spirit and style, with a tight £30 a month limitation on purchases.
All of this sets questions a-moving in my fragile, agile mind, chief among which is "why do I have neither pig-flesh nor baguettes in my house at this present moment?" Hot on its heels, however, is a query more pertinent to people who aren't sufficiently fortunate to dwell in the House of Von, and this is it: "why is the Tale of N Gamers format so popular?"
Is it the sense of joy that comes from achieving a goal, in this case the construction of successful forces on a tight and inflexible budget? Is it the sharing of your experiences with an audience? Is it the slow pace of construction, which enables an emotional investment to be made in a force and a serious attempt at actually painting it all made?
I'm not sure. It's possible to do all these things in isolation, although personally I fail badly at the first and third elements - whenever I've tried to set myself a monthly budget, it's exploded within the first two instalments, and when I'm set on a project all unfetteredly-like, I tend to rush forward, seeking broader and deeper gaming experiences than can be achieved at entry level.
I think it's the shame. I think it's the knowledge that your fellow Gamers will rib you rotten if you go over budget, and rightly ridicule you for not managing to paint one lousy box of new models in twenty-eight days.
All right, there's a bit more to it than just humiliation. I also think it's the guarantee of games against others who are similarly constrained by circumstances. As recent events have reminded me, it's not always fun playing with people who can afford a more tactically viable force than you, and a player base that's subscribing to the same limitations levels off that playing field, especially when cheats will be punished by withdrawal of snack van privileges.
That said, recent 'official' Tales of Four Gamers have left me cold, and I believe the format may be dying a death as the realities of modern gaming hit home. The truth is, games companies have a certain vested interest in sweeping the precise costs of new forces under the rug, particularly when their game doesn't scale down as well as it used to (I'm looking at WFB here, although I'll be following the Warmachine effort with interest, since the buy-in cost for that game is lower and it's the long-term maintenance of the army and expansion of its tactical portfolio that hurts, financially speaking).
This limitation was pretty obvious in the first ever instalment; Paul 'Fat Bloke' Sawyer's Beastmen, available only high-cost low-value combinations and yet requiring the second-highest model count of the forces involved, ended up as a small, top-heavy army, shackled to expensive point sinks and not necessarily equipped to handle its competitors. Funnily enough, the Beastmen are in the same old predicament today, as I learned to my cost when I contemplated them as an army... so I suppose some things don't change.
Anyone for a bacon butty?