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Tom Vasel
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I had heard on the internet for quite some time that Basari (FX Schmid, 1998 – Reinhard Staupe) was an excellent bartering game. When I saw that Out of the Box Publishing, one of my favorite game companies, was reprinting the game in America, I was quite pleased and looked forward to playing it. When we opened the box and saw all the colorful little gemstones, I was even more pleased – there’s just something about little glass stones in a game that adds a “coolness” factor.

Basari was indeed as good of a game as I had heard. However, I was concerned after initial playings, and after reading up on strategy on the internet, that the game might be “broken”; but later playings assured me that the game was quite good, and not flawed like some had said. Instead, I found that Basari is an excellent game to play, and fits easily in a half hour of time. This usually sounds like good “filler” material, but I found the mechanics of Basari clever enough that when playing it, one feels like they are playing a “meatier” game.
A board is placed in the middle of the players, a depiction of a gem marketplace. Each player receives three gemstones of the four colors (red, yellow, green and blue), with the remainder of the stones (there are 100 total) placed in the middle of the board, sorted into same-colored piles. Each player then picks a color (gray, brown, black, or tan) and takes the three pieces, three cards, and die associated with that color. Each player places their point marker piece on the start space of a scoring track that wraps around the edge of the board. In the middle of the board is a series of twenty-eight archways, arranged in a square. Players pick which archway they wish to start at (multiple players can pick the same archway), and place their start disk on it. Each player then places his “merchant” piece on top of this start disk, and the game is ready to begin.

There are three rounds in the game, each consisting of several turns. Turns are broken into two phases – the movement phase and action phase. In the movement phase, all players roll their die and move their merchant piece clockwise that number of archway spaces. Each archway has a number at it (from four to seven) and shows pictures of two to four jewels, in one or two colors. In the action phase, each player secretly selects one of their action cards – which are then all revealed simultaneously. If three or all players pick the same action – it is canceled, and play moves to the next movement phase. If only one player picks a specific action, they immediately carry out that action.
- Gemstone card: The player receives the number and colors of the gemstones pictures on the archway where the merchant piece currently sits.
- Points card: The player moves their points marker the number of spaces on the points track equal to the number in the archway where their merchant piece is.
- Die card: The player rolls a die, and moves their merchant piece that many spaces clockwise on the arches. They also subtract the number rolled from six, and advance their points marker that many spaces.

If two players pick the same action, they must barter for it. Whichever player has more points begins the bartering, and offers the other player any number of gemstones that they currently own. The other player can accept this offer (which allows the offering player to take the action), or raise it. An offer can be raised by increasing the number of gemstones offered, or by offering higher valued gemstones. (The gemstones are ranked, from highest to lowest: red, yellow, green and blue). The bartering occurs until one player accepts the offer of the other.

Both of these phases continually occur, until one player’s piece passes their start disc – having made one complete lap. After the action phase of that turn, the round ends. Players who merchant pieces made one lap successfully score 10 bonus points. Also, the players score bonus points for having the most gemstones of each color (red = 14, yellow = 12, green = 10, and blue = 8). Each player who scores points for having the most of a color must also return 3 gemstones of that color back to the middle of the board. All players move their merchant pieces back to their start discs, and the next round begins. After three rounds, the player with the most points is the winner! (Ties are broken by amount of gemstones.)

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: I was very impressed with the high quality of the components, especially considering how inexpensive the game was. The only quibble I had was that for as often as the cards are used, I thought they should be a bit thicker. Getting 100 small colored glass stones in a game is great, though, and I was pleased that they went with glass stones over cardboard tokens. What’s really neat is how the colors of each players pieces match – even the dice. The dice were an unnecessary touch, but a welcome feature. The artwork on the board is crisp and clear (a feature of all OOTB Games), and resembles a Persian market. Everything fits very well in a small, flat, extremely sturdy box, and the plastic insert includes some plastic bags for the jewels and pieces.

2.) Rules: The rules are very short and simple (although long compared to your typical OOTB game). As always, the four pages of rules are clearly formatted, with full color illustrations and examples, and superb formatting! I found that the game is easy to teach, although it usually takes one round before people realize what the best strategies are and how to barter effectively.

3.) Strategy: I read an article on rec.games.board that if a player consistently picks the same action card all the time (namely, the points card), they would easily win. I tried this out in a game without telling the other players, and was soundly defeated. We mentioned, tried it again, and found that it was not a problem. The best way to win this game is to successfully look at what everyone has, what you think they want, and figure out what card they will play each turn.

4.) Bartering: Bartering is fun in this game, and it’s easy to give more stones to the other player than the action card is worth. Exactly how much is each action card worth? Once players get this down, they will do better in the game. Bartering can take long, but if players don’t draw it out, the game doesn’t suffer time-wise.

5.) The Die Card: One variant on the internet is that only one die should be rolled each movement phase, and all merchant pieces moved the same amount. This is a good idea, and makes the Die Card that much more useful. As it is, it only seems to be picked about 15% of the time in the games I’ve played. When using this variant, however, it moves closer to 33%, as players can only be the first to lap the board if they use this card. This lowers the luck level of the game, and while some might dislike that, most people enjoy the variant.

6.) Theme and Fun Factor: The theme is certainly integrated into the game, as bartering is what the game is mostly about. One can easily imagine that they are bartering viciously in an ancient market. The bartering, to me, is the most fun part of the game, although picking the action cards and trying to bluff your opponents is also quite enjoyable.

7.) Time and Players: This is a better game with four players, but still an excellent one with three. The time to play the game usually runs in less than half an hour, and while that qualifies the game as a filler, the strategy is good enough that I think the game transcends the “filler” category.

Basari is definitely worth your time and money. For a small, inexpensive game, it certainly packs a gaming punch, and will please both people looking for a “light” game, and those who want a little more strategy and thoughtfulness in their games. Folks who like to haggle will especially like the game, as they will have a field day here. Luck plays a small role in the game, but good bluffing, bartering, and strategy will help the best person to win this small, fun game.

Tom Vasel
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