I am the Fourth Wall pits 3-6 investigators against “The Wall,” an unspeakable Eldritch Horror, intent on driving the world insane (we all need a hobby). It can be played by 1-6 investigators, up against an automated Wall, or one player can oppose the others, taking direct control of the Wall itself. The game has just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter, and should be available next year, but is it any good? Let’s find out!
I am the Fourth Wall – What’s in the box?
I am the Fourth Wall comes in a nice compact box full of cards, and a few tokens. The copy I had to review was only a prototype, so there was a fair amount of placeholder art/text, and a fair number of typos, but it looks like the component quality is going to be good.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I spend a lot of time playing games from Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files, which provides the dark yet slightly pulpy 1920s setting typical of most Mythos games these days. I am the Fourth Wall provides a refreshing change, moving things forward to the 1950s, and displaying this with a distinctive, cartoony art-style.
Great! How Does it play?
I am the Fourth Wall can be played in two different ways: fully cooperative with an AI version of the wall, or as a 1-versus-many game, with a human player controlling the wall. The designers have taken the interesting decision to give the game 3 rulebooks: 1 for the investigators, which is used however you’re playing the game, and 2 for the wall – one for the player-controlled version, and one for the AI-version. Initially, I thought that this was quite a clever idea, but it does lead to a certain amount of duplication, not to mention dangers of mixing rules up, when you can’t remember which instruction came from where.
Although I am the Fourth Wall declares that it can be played solo, your actual investigators count is always between 3 and 6, meaning that a solo player has to control all 3 characters. (With 2 you take 2 each, and with any larger number you can keep it down to 1). The characters on offer are an interesting mixture of Mythos staples like the Arcane Professor and the PI, mixed with 50s pop-culture tropes like the Roller-Skating Waitress.
Did I mention it was the 1950s?
On your turn, you have 2 action points to spend, which you can use on neutralising threats on the board, seeking clues or, eventually, by closing gates. As an investigator, your only way to win is by closing all the gates in play, and you always need to keep this over-arching goal in mind.
Your key resources in I am the Fourth Wall, are your marbles! Marbles are the various common (or not-so-common) items that you find lying around, and you can use them to deal with horrors generated by the Wall. Your hand-limit is your sanity, and the amount of sanity you have left dwindles as you play cards. If you ever use or lose ALL of your marbles, then that investigator is driven insane, bringing your turn to an abrupt end.
Every time the First investigator takes a turn, you advance time. Depending on the number of investigators playing, you will only have a certain amount of time before the Ancient One awakens, and even before you reach that point, you will activate additional loss conditions as time passes, so you can’t afford to hang about.
If you use a Marble to Intervene, you can also trigger any Intervene abilities
Aside from unique abilities described on them, each Marble will have symbols representing Clues, Force and Science. Investigators can take the “Intervene” action to play marbles whose symbols match the horrors in play – once a horror has all its symbols matched, it is discarded from play, although many have a “Deathrattle” ability which will harm the investigators on the way out.
Rush Marbles can be played at any time
Of course, all this intervening is just fire-fighting – it might stop you from losing, but it won’t help you win. To win in I am the Fourth Wall, the Investigators need to close all the gates.
Elder Signs are the most efficient cards for closing gates
Closing a gate will take your whole turn, and you need to discard Marbles showing all 3 symbols – ideally you want to use an Elder Sign, which has one of each symbol, ensuring that none are wasted, but often you’ll be having to ditch other cards, meaning you lose their extra icons and any “intervene” abilities they may have.
Who is the Fourth Wall?
If you want to play I am the Fourth Wall solo, or as a fully cooperative experience, then the Wall is controlled by an AI. Each time an investigator gets a turn, The Wall gets a turn, churning out new horrors onto the Streets.
The Streets, with their extra abilities, are an additional boost for the AI Wall, that a human-controlled Wall will have to do without
The Streets are where current threats or “Horrors” are placed, and in the solo/fully co-op version of the game, there are 5 of them, each with a number and a unique power to strengthen the threat that the wall poses. The AI behind this is remarkably straightforward, and most of the sequences are pretty clear, so you know what you need to do when it’s time for the wall to act.
The number of turns you have depends on the player-count
Time is the Wall’s friend. If the game goes on long enough, it automatically wins, so simply throwing additional obstacles into the investigators’ path is an effective strategy for it. It can also win if, during the second half of the game (once you reveal the “An Eye Opens” line on the Turn Tracker), there are 5 gates open at once. This means that being able to defeat investigators and open extra gates also strengthen the wall’s position.
Either of these cards can fail to do anything beneficial for the Wall when revealed – Wrath only activates after “an eye opens” and Destroy is useless if there are no Marbles on the Streets
When the AI Wall targets an investigator, you simply pick the investigator currently holding the Target token, then pass that token to the next player clockwise before resolving the next target effect – this results in a broadly even distribution of interaction, although not necessarily of harm.
The problem with having an AI wall, is that sometimes it will miss completely. I’ve had some games where we won before some investigators had even had a third turn, just because the Wall failed to really throw up any obstacles, and we just closed down the gates.
To balance the possibility of an effect not doing anything, the general ability of the Wall to rack up nasty effects is probably slightly overpowered – of course, this means that when they all hit, you can get wiped out very quickly.
I am the Fourth Wall
No, I said “I am the WALL”
Alternatively, assuming you have enough players, one of you can opt to take control of the Wall. The game remains much the same for the investigators, and the overall win conditions are the same for both sides, but the Wall can now react to the situation in a different way.
Rather than simply churning out a single Horror each round, the Wall now generates Doom, a currency which can be used to put Horrors into play, or to activate powers on existing Horrors.
An additional ability open to a player-controlled Wall, is the chance to “Brood” – essentially this involves taking a turn where you don’t really attack the investigators directly, but you replenish your power, taking additional Doom, and refreshing cards that have previously been Drained to trigger abilities.
Perhaps the biggest change with a player-controlled Wall, is the ability to choose which player is targeted by an effect or, sometimes, to choose which of their marbles an investigator loses to a discard effect.
The player-controlled wall does have slightly fewer tools at their disposal – no location-powers on the streets, and having to pay multiple Doom for some powerful cards. Overall though, we found that this wasn’t really enough to balance out the ability to respond to the investigators’ actions. Whilst the fully co-op version of I am the Fourth Wall can tend to be a bit easy, this just felt impossible, unless you were the wall, in which case it was easy enough to keep the investigators going around in circles, and targeting one or two to go insane, allowing you to re-open gates.
Gone, but not forgotten
Having your investigator go insane is definitely a bad thing: you forfeit any remaining actions you had, and the Wall gets to open another Gate. However, it’s nice that I am the Fourth Wall doesn’t feature player elimination – if your investigator is driven insane then the next time it would be your turn, you simply draw another investigator from the deck, draw a new set of marbles equal to their sanity, and go again.
The eliminated investigator is shuffled back into the deck, meaning that multiple deaths can see the same character coming back out again.
I am the Fourth Wall – Final Thoughts
5 Gates are opened, the Pentagram is complete, and the Investigators lose!
I am the Fourth Wall is a fun game, with a refreshing take on the well-trodden ground of the Mythos. It has its own distinct feel, and the art and layout match this well, whilst being clear, and straightforward to interpret.
I’m not a fan of games which say they can be played solo, then require players to control large numbers of characters (3 in this case), but given the upper limit of 6 characters, I think it would have been very difficult to scale the game properly for solo-investigator play.
There are still big gaps in the prototype, art that has yet to be added, and chunks of the rulebook that need fixing, so it’s slightly hard to tell whether it’s the gameplay that feels unpolished, or just the components.
Overall, I think the version of I am the Fourth Wall which eventually gets to backers will be a game that looks good, and is easy to play. Personally, I don’t think I’d bother with the versus mode again, but the solo/fully co-op experience can be fun, provided you’re prepared for the possibility of a fair bit of randomness.
7/10 – Fun, but not amazing.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.