25 Sep I Am the Fourth Wall and Kickstarter Incentives
This past weekend I had the opportunity to play a game recently fulfilled off of Kickstarter called I Am the Fourth Wall. My friend Nick had just received it in the mail and was excited to get it to the table. I had never heard of it, but was excited to play. The art style is unique given the blend of Pop Art and the Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos. The bright colors and bold outlines are something rarely seen in Cthulhu-themed games. In addition to the fun Pop Art flair, there are a massive number of characters to play, all exhibiting a comical flair.
As we removed the components from the box, we contemplated whether or not we should play the one vs. many version or the cooperative version of the game. I have to say, I do always hesitate when I hear that a game can be played in multiple ways unless it was initially designed to be that way (and even then, I hold some reservations). As our group discussed what we wanted to do, we decided to play the cooperative version given that none of us had ever played before. We figured that, considering our inexperience, playing cooperatively would keep the playing field level and we would all be able to help each other out.
We then set up the game, looked through the four rulebooks provided, and then dove right in. Fortunately, Jeremy had looked through the instructions earlier, and had a pretty good feel for what was going on. After some of his direction and with the four rulebooks by our side, we began the journey to rid the streets of cultists, monsters, and the like. As the game progressed, we woke the Elder God and things got rough, just as anyone who has played a Cthulhu game would suspect.
As we continued to fight and remove the fiendish villains from the streets, we began to realize that we were supposed to simply disregard a bunch of the iconography on the cards. This seemed strange, though. As we continued playing, this problem persisted. That’s when Nick explained that the game was originally only going to be a one vs. many game, and all of the iconography we were ignoring was meant to be used in that mode of play. Nick added that the whole “cooperative” option was a Kickstarter stretch goal. Immediately, everyone looked around the table and agreed that this game was clearly not meant to be played this way and that next time it comes out, we will have to play the one vs. many version it was intended to be.
This begs the question though, was the company right in adding this game mode? Did it help sell more copies to more backers? I am sure it did. Was there a cooperative option offered by the game that would not have been there otherwise? Absolutely. Did the buyer get what they anticipated? Maybe. We certainly didn’t feel like we got a game that felt complete in regard to the cooperative play. And this is what spurs on the most important question: Should publishing companies add on additional game variants to push copies of a game?
My all-decisive answer: Perhaps. This depends on the amount of work someone wants to put in prior to releasing additional game modes. If the variants get the same attention and playtesting as the original, I am all for it, but it should be curated through multiple playthroughs, blind playtests, and other means of testing the game. This new version should be held to the same standard as the initial game. Otherwise it shouldn’t be published unless it comes with a large warning label about the lack of development that was poured into the process. And who knows? Maybe I Am the Fourth Wall was given this treatment, but we certainly couldn’t tell. As soon as we found the rulebook that explained all the iconography we were supposed to ignore (the one vs. many rulebook), the game immediately sounded like it would be a much better experience than what we were currently going through. The cooperative play just seemed incomplete.
That said, I am sure I Am the Fourth Wall is a splendid game when played with the original design, but in this Kickstarter stretch-goal variant, we felt like something was missing. I hope to play it again soon—as it was originally intended to be played.