St Ives, Sydney
The game that’s brought the new phrase “Gelehrt Alert” to our gaming lexicon.
Each player has a hand of cards sited at each of the 4 islands. When the ship moves from one island to another, each player puts down their hand of cards adjacent to the old island and picks up their hand from the new island.
The cards allow you to
1. become the Prince (most blue cards)
2. become the Priest (most yellow cards)
3. exchange cards from your hand to the deck
4. go to war (force other people to match your krieg card, or they must place 1 card on each of the other islands and discard the rest)
5. do a Gelehrt Alert and pick up cards from your hands on other islands, or parcel out your current hand to the other islands.
6. travel to another island
When the active player does something, the other players have the opportunity to do the same thing if they have the same card. Generally, if they have two of the same card, they can also take over being the active player.
The trick to successful play seems to be to set up combinations, mostly around setting up a scoring opportunity on the current island (for when next you get back to it), send your cards to another island to use them more than once, and then move the ship (and active play) to that island, with the hope of moving back to the original island to score it. For example, play a krieg to hopefully rid two other players of cards at this island. Play a gelehrter to pick up 3 prince cards that you’ve cunningly placed on top of some hands on other islands (they’re all face down, so memory plays a part), play all your prince cards to become the Prince, play another gelehrter card to put the Prince cards back to another island. Then play a movement card to that island, where (naturally) you’ve previously won the Priesthood, so that you’ll score. Even though the active player now changes, you get to pick up the Prince cards and now hope to win the Princehood on this island as well.
There’s one evil consideration that crops up continually throughout the game. The Gelehrter card means you only ever pick up off the tops of the hands you leave behind. When you move to an island, you only get the bottom four cards - everything else on top of those get discarded. So when you leave an island, let’s say you have 7 cards, you must decide what the top cards are that you may want to use at another island (using a gelehrter once you get there) - but knowing you may lose the top 3 if you don’t get a chance to play a gelehrter before you get back to the island, because then you’ll only keep the bottom 4.
So given each move to a new island means each player starts with at most 4 cards, and there are 6 types of cards, all of them desirable, all of them wanting to get played, there’s definitely a fair pitch of luck involved in what cards you have when. Gelehrter cards can be a godsend as they enable you to ramp up your handsize using cards from other islands. But having some krieg cards are great because you can kick other players off the island. But prince and priest cards are necessary to set up your scoring for later on. And travel cards are essential, otherwise you’ll rarely score. Which makes for interesting setup and play, but always at the mercy of what the active player has in their hand and decides to play. And at the mercy of the cards you pick up along the way to boot.
One downside is the end-game. Scoring is cumulative, and in the end there’ll only be one or two ‘6 pointer’ masks left. By this time, a player or two will be out of it, can’t win. The remaining two or three are fighting to get the last scoring opportunity. In this situation, you’ll generally only score if you can get the necessary travel card to get you to the island you need. The players that are out of it won’t want to kingmake and set up scoring opportunities, and the others will try and veto any scoring move you make. Which can make for a long while before one player has the right cards, and the others don’t, to put the game to bed. My two games have gone for 90 minutes with the same problem. 60 minutes would have been perfect. This problem causes the rating to drop, cause otherwise I find the game interesting and challenging, as you’d expect from Rosenberg. It has elements of Mamma Mia memory combined with a twisted ‘win battles now to hopefully score later’ element. The theme meshes well with the mechanism. As with all card games, the key to enjoyment is doing the best with what you get. Bali certainly seems to give you ample opportunity to manage your own success given the hand(s) you get.
Scores: Pat 26, Rick and Kevin 19, Craig 9
Ratings: Pat 7 (2 games), Rick 6 (1), Kevin 6 (1).
The Verdict: I certainly want to explore it further. Awkward to teach, so it’s a gamer’s game, but that’s fine by me.