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This game is considered by many to be clever. You are playing four separate hands of cards at one time (one hand associated with each of 4 islands on the table). When the activity moves from one island to another, you must put down one island's hand of cards and pick up the other. That's fair enough, though tedious enough to kill the game right there.
The bigger problem is that this game, like [page scan/se=0027/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Bohnanza requires you to worry about the sequence of cards in each hand. You can't just pick up all the cards and then start sorting them out, as is the case in virtually all other card games. Nope, in this game, you must leave the cards behind (when leaving an island) in such a way that the cards on top can be drawn (via playing of other cards) into the current hand (off at another island) from the top. However, you also have to worry about the next time you return to an island. Upon returning, you must use only the bottom four cards (cards above that are discarded).
Thus, due to these artifical mechanics, it's very likely that a person will, at some point, violate the rigid rules of hand management. This happens often in Bohnanza when a novice starts to sort cards in their usual manner before realizing their faux pas. Well, the same is true here, as a player picks up a pile of their cards, starts sorting them out, and another player says,'wait, you can only use the bottom four cards.'
I guess this can be considered clever to some, but it's just tedious to me (and I didn't even breach the rules). I say pass on this game.
Deal everyone their supplies: four facedown cards; one of which is placed at each island. Your hand consists of drawn cards added to those at the active island. One or two players control the island by discarding the most Prince or Priest cards. Destination cards change the active island, forcing players to lose some current cards and use new supplies. The new island's controllers earn scoring tiles; highest score wins when all tiles are claimed. A useful card allows you to transfer cards between your hand and your island supplies. Fortunes and strategies change rapidly in this vibrant game, when new active islands cast dominant hands adrift. Our opinion of Bali? High!
One of the interesting developments at Nuremberg was the launch of Kosmos's new line of "small" multi-player games. Take a standard, square Kosmos box and split it down the middle to produce a rectangular box of the same depth as the original and you have the package that the new line comes in. Neat, distinctive and stacks nicely on your shelves. Two games for the space of one has got to be a good idea. The price is less too, about 30 DM, as opposed to around 50 for the new Entdecker.
Bali takes its theme from the power structures that existed in the Malay archipelago in the 17th century. There are four small boards, each representing an island. Each island contains two important personages, in the form of a priest and a chief, and a village for each player. As you would expect, prestige accrues to any village that is home to one or both of these two leaders. A key figure in the whole society is someone called the "Dalang" who visits the islands and gives out symbols of power and spirituality to the respective chiefs and priests. In the game these translate into victory points and so the twin aims are to get the important people into your villages and to have the Dalang visit those islands where you are prominent. All of this is accomplished by means of card play.
Each player has four small hands of cards, one attached to each of the islands. At any one time you play with the cards from the island where the Dalang is situated. When he moves, you put that set of cards down and pick up those from the new island. There are six types of card, five representing people and one governing movement. The active player -- a role that rotates in standard fashion -- will try to use the people cards to arrange things to his or her satisfaction on the current island before (given the right cards) moving the Dalang to another island in order to score points. The other players will do their best to make all this difficult.
The personage cards are the Priest, the Chief, the Warrior, the Scholar and the Artist. The first two of these are used to move the leaders on the island and the other three to try and create conditions which will increase the chances of such power plays being successful. When a player becomes the active player, they begin by drawing two new cards from the deck and adding them to the cards in their hand. The passive players each draw one. The active player now starts to play cards, to each of which the other players have the option of responding. The initiative remains with this one player until they either step down or are deposed, at which point a new active player takes over. Spells as active player are fairly short, as you soon run out of cards you can usefully play.
A power play with Priest cards is an attempt to gain control of the island's Priest marker. You begin by discarding a Priest card and you then lay your remaining Priest cards face down in front of you. (You aren't obliged to play all of them, but there is no real reason not to.). Unless someone else can top this display of priestly strength by playing more such cards, the Priest token is moved to your village. If they do beat it, the Priest goes to their village instead. Apart from the initial discard, the cards played are then put back into hand. Power plays with the Chief cards work in exactly the same way, save that the struggle is for the Chief marker.
Such plays have a better chance of success if you have the right cards, if you have more cards or if you have fewer potential opponents. This is where the Artists, Scholars and Warriors come in. The discard of an Artist card entitles the player to replace up to three cards from their hand with an equivalent number drawn from the deck. When the active player chooses this option, the passive players can respond by discarding an Artist card of their own and also replacing up to three cards. A passive player also has the option of a "power response" which will end the active player's stint. To do this you have to discard two Artist cards. The first results in the usual "replace up to three"; the second is replaced with a card drawn from the deck but its only other effect is to move active player status one to the left.
Scholar cards are not dissimilar. With these one begins with the discard and then can either take up to three cards from or distribute up to three cards to one's stacks on the other islands. Taking cards is the more likely choice, but there will be times when your holding on another island has been denuded and you want to build it back up. When you take cards in this way, you don't get to choose which cards. Instead you just choose a stack or stacks and take the top so many. As with the Artist play, once the active player has taken the Scholar card option, the other players get to do the same if they wish and provided they have a Scholar card of their own to discard. Also as with the Artist cards, the "change of active player" power response is available.
Warrior cards are used to cut down the competition by driving other players from the current island. The active player discards a Warrior card and then nominates one of the other players as not being involved in the show of force. Each of the others must then discard a Warrior card of their own or flee from the island. Fleeing involves discarding all but three of the cards you have in hand and then distributing these three to your stacks on the other islands. A response of two Warrior cards will again result in a change of active player. An active player with Warrior cards will often begin with such plays in order to reduce the number of players with cards on the island prior to making either a Priest/Chief power play or a point-scoring move to another island.
That just leaves the movement cards. Each of these has on it the names of two of the islands and can be used to move the Dalang from his current location to either of them. The active player says which and makes the move, unless one of the other players objects and is in a position to block it. In order to block, the objecting player must play a movement card of their own which also carries the name of the proposed destination.
If the move goes ahead and if the active player has a dignitary in their village on the new island, the owners of the villages where the new priest and chief live score points. Scoring is a matter of collecting "devil masks". These carry numbers and the players acquire them in ascending order of value, so the points are skewed towards those collected nearer the end of the game, which happens when the last mask is picked up. After scoring, the active player's turn is at an end and the player to their left takes over. This time all the players will begin by picking up the bottom four cards from their stack at the new island. These will form the basis of their new hands. The cards you were using on the previous island will have been left behind there. Any cards above four in your stack on the new island are lost to the discard pile. It is then a matter of " active player draw two from the deck, others draw one" and off the process goes again, with the new active player in control of the agenda.
The devil masks are the main source of victory points but there are others in the form of "seals of power". There is one of these for each island and it goes to whichever player was the last to have the priest and the chief of the island in their control at the same time. They aren't hugely important in points terms, particularly as they aren't things you can be sure of holding on to, but they do serve a useful purpose in providing players with extra reasons for doing things, which thereby adds to the tactical and strategic richness of the game -- a good thing, because these are quantities of which the game is a little short.
Like the ceremonies that inspired it, Bali is elaborate and ornate, but, also like those ceremonies, most of the content is on the surface. I draw a distinction between complication and complexity. Complication is about fine print and twiddly bits; complexity about intellectual depth. Bali has a fair amount of the first but almost none of the second. With four separate hands of cards to keep track of and with cards frequently on the move from one stack to another, players have a fair amount to try and remember, but it seems to me that this memory aspect is where most of the skill lies. The actual objectives are straightforward and not things that call for careful planning. When you are the active player, you want to move the dignitaries to your village and the Dalang to an island which will yield you points; when you are a passive player, all you can do is hope that the active player can't damage your position too much. Active or passive, this comes down to what cards you hold. If you don't have the right ones, tough. The game has a nice and well integrated theme, scores well for the originality of its mechanics and is pleasant enough to play, but I'd be surprised if many groups adopt it as one of their favourites. Another Bohnanza it ain't.