An unusual radio transmission from the Archeological Research Center on R’lyeh Island has suggested that everyone on the island has gone mad. Now, a second expedition, one that you are part o, is being sent to find out what happened. Should you go or should you Stay Away!?
At a Glance
Stay Away! is a “contagious horror game” from Ares Games for 4-12 people, ages 13 and up. It’s bluffing and deduction, combined with some story-telling. There’s not really anything that objectionable about the game, but some of the card art might be seen as scary or disturbing to younger players. The game box says it plays in about 30 minutes, but a large group can take much longer than that.
What’s in the Box?
The game is entirely made up of cards. Outside the rulebook and insert, there’s nothing else in the box. The cards are of good, decent quality and there are a lot of them, 110 in all. There are:
- 89 Stay Away! Cards
- 21 Contagion Cards
- 46 Action Cards
- 17 Defense Cards
- 5 Obstacle Cards
- 20 Panic Cards
- 1 Play Direction Card
The artwork on the cards is suitably disturbing and a mixture of scenes and individuals and items, most punctuated by terror and tentacles. There are tentacles everywhere. There’s not a lot to it, but what’s there is all quite good.
How to Play
The goal of the game is pretty straightforward. One player begins the game as The Thing, an awful, madness-inducing, tentacled monster from beneath. That player’s goal is to destroy all the Humans by infecting them. If The Thing can infect them all, they win. The Humans are trying to find out who The Thing is and kill it. With fire.
Setup can be a bit challenging and there’s some math involved. Seriously. There’s an equation in the rule book! It’s easy math though so … whoever is setting up has to sort through all the cards, culling out the Infected cards, all the Panic! cards and The Thing card. They then take all the remaining cards and shuffle them. Next, deal four cards for each player, less one. This is where the math comes in. The example in the rulebook is that, for a six player game, you would deal out 6 X 4 – 1 = 23 cards and then add The Thing in, making for a deck of 24. These cards are then distributed equally among the players, guaranteeing that one of them received The Thing. This is that player’s role for the rest of the game.
All the Infected, Panic!, and Stay Away! Cards are shuffled to form a single deck, which is placed face down in the center of the table. A player is chosen to be first and the Play Direction card, an arrow, is placed in front of them, indicating who is next in order.
On a player’s turn, they must do two things. First, they must draw a card from the deck to their hand. If that card is a Panic! card, it must be resolved immediately and then discarded, face down. Panic! Cards elicit a variety of actions, none of them really good. For instance, sometimes all defenses between players must be discarded or you have to show all your cards to a player adjacent to you. They present a good deal of unpredictability and, worse, they take up your entire turn, preventing you from doing anything else.
If it is a Stay Away! card that was drawn, you either discard a card from your hand or play a card from your hand, following its instructions before discarding it face down. Action cards allow you to show your cards, look at the cards of an adjacent player, remove barricades, change places with another player, or a variety of a half dozen or so other actions. They might also be Defense or Obstacle cards that shut down another player’s actions or prevent others from playing actions or trading cards with you.
Which brings us to the second thing a player must do on their turns. A player must choose a card from their hands and trade it with a player sitting adjacent to them. Obstacles prevent trades, but, otherwise, a card must be traded.
This is the bulk of the game. The Thing is the only one who can trade an Infected card, so if you receive one, you now know who The Thing is and you must work to help them win the game. As an Infected, you can never discard your Infected card but if you receive any more, you may discard them or try to trade them to The Thing. You may not trade an Infected card with another Human or Infected.
Humans who suspect a player can play the Flamethrower card, which eliminates a player from the game. There is a No Barbecue! card which acts as a defense, but the Flamethrower is the only way to eliminate players and take out The Thing. If The Thing is roasted, the game ends and the Humans win. If there are no Humans left in the game, The Thing can declare the game over and the last Human infected and any players eliminated lose. The Thing may never end a turn with a Flamethrower in their hand.
Should You Stay Away! Or Should You Buy?
This game was originally Kickstarted and has been around for about three years now. This is a new version (see changes here). That said, it wasn’t on my radar until it showed up on my doorstep. I like a lot of what Ares does, so I was excited to give this a try.
We played Stay Away! five times; twice with nine players, twice with four, and once with five. Most of the time, with bluffing/deduction games, more people make the game so much more fun. That wasn’t true for us with Stay Away! With nine players, early elimination meant sitting around, picking up a book, watching television, and patiently waiting an hour until the game was over to get in to the next one. (It was a long 20 minutes before the next player was eliminated, too.) Further, we found it a slow slog to have The Thing only infect the ones sitting next to them during a big game. In a game with lots of players, this was a lot of moving around and those cards weren’t coming up as often as needed to move things along. Frankly, it made the games go on way too long and wasn’t really a great time.
However, with fewer players, the game was a blast.
Play moved more quickly, players became infected earlier in the game and it was fun. In both games, it was hard to tell who was infected and who not, since Infected cards could be drawn from the deck and there are just so many of them! Also, in both games, the beginnings were somewhat slow. However, towards the end of the games, the excitement reached pretty high levels, especially for those who had become infected, as they closed in on the Humans. For the few Humans left at the end of games, it was high tension.
Strategy was interesting on each side of the game. If you are Infected & know who The Thing is, your job is to help them win, so you pass Infected cards, encourage movement, and get The Thing a No Barbecue! card if you can. If you are Human, you want to throw up obstacles and barricades while collecting flamethrowers. There’s a bit of paranoia involved, as people move near you, you can’t help but be suspicious.
I think what makes the game especially fun is the narrative in the rulebook, which continues into the cards. The game becomes a story you tell through your play and it is very enjoyable in that way. The horror theme only makes the story better. Stay Away! retails for under $20 and is available now.
Disclosure: GeekDad was sent a copy of this game for review purposes.