Posted by: gschloesser | February 12, 2020


Game play can be rather swift, as turns move quickly.  Each player’s turn consists of four basic phases:

Take a Sacrifice card.  This step is optional.  A player may purchase one of the four types of sacrifice cards.  However, there is a cost, which is five stones minus the number of farmers of that type they have present in their display (which is zero at the start of the game).  So, until a player begins generating stones, purchasing a sacrifice card is usually not an option.

Sacrifice cards are important as they will likely score victory points at game’s end.  Plus, they are needed for, of course, sacrifices! More on this in a bit.

Play cards.  The player must play at least one card into his display.  However, a player may play up to three farmers of the same type, provided he pays the stone cost.  Playing one stonemason, priest or farmer has no cost, but playing multiple farmers cost one or two stones.

Stonemasons earn the player stones when triggered, while farmers reduce the cost of sacrifice cards.  Priests earn victory points.

Shrines are a bit different.  Playing one costs seven stones and triggers a “Sacrifice” phase.  When played, the normal game phases are interrupted and each player must place one of their sacrifice cards face-up onto the altar, with the player triggering this phase placing an additional one of his choice taken from the decks of sacrifice cards.  Sacrificing cards is important, as this will determine the value of each of the commodities at game’s end. Erecting shrines is also important as each is worth four points at game’s end, which can be substantial.

Take cards.  The player must take cards from the Offer columns, filling his hand back to three cards.  Cards taken must come from the bottom of a column, and the final card revealed after a player finishes taking cards triggers a scoring.  Players determine the number of cards they have in their display that matches this revealed card, and they will reap the benefits accordingly.

Depending upon which card is revealed, players will receive sacrifice cards (farmers), stones (stonemason) or victory points (priests).  Shrines give the players a choice between victory points or stones. Possessing a majority of these types will yield additional benefits, so that is certainly a worthy goal.

The game ends rather abruptly when the deck of cards is exhausted, which happens rather quickly.  At this point, the cards that have been sacrificed on the altar are separated by type to determine the top three commodities.  Players will earn 3, 2 or 1 point for each matching card they have in their possession. For example, if there were more peanuts sacrificed than any other type, each peanut card a player possesses is worth three points.  Players also earn four point per shrine they constructed, a point for every five stones they possess, as well as the victory point tokens they collected during the game. The player with the most points is victorious.

There are two variants included in the game. The Oracle adds eight “oracle” cards to the deck.  When oracles appear in the Offer, they are discarded and the active player may look at the top four cards on the altar and keep one.  The Demon places the demon token atop one of the Offer columns and prevents players from taking cards from that column. It is moved when a priest card is played.  Both of these are minor variants and do not greatly affect the play of the game.

The central mechanism / choice in Bali is one that is present in numerous other games.  That is, players must collect cards for victory points, but then must spend some of those cards to insure that those cards earn as most points possible.  So, the tough choice is balancing this need to collect and conserve cards versus the need to spend some of those to optimize the points they will earn. This can be a tough choice, and finding that balance point is the challenge.

Gaining majorities of various types can prove lucrative, and one should possess numerous stonemasons since stone is a valuable commodity used to construct shrines and purchase sacrifice cards.  Thus, choosing which cards to take from the Offer columns is quite important. However, one must also consider which card will be last to be revealed, as that card will trigger a payout. These choices factor into a player’s overall strategy.

As mentioned, the game tends to flow quickly and player turns are usually fast.  That is a positive. My big negative, however, is that the game seems to end too quickly.  16 of the 58 cards are set out in the offering, leaving only 42 cards remaining in the deck.  This expires quickly as players take 1 – 3 cards per turn from the Offer. This usually means that a player will only have 8 – 10 turns per game, which really isn’t enough to create a properly honed engine.  Further, the game ends immediately when the deck expires, making it likely that not everyone will have an equal number of turns. I tend to dislike this in a game, as it is usually a sizeable disadvantage for those players who did not get their fair share of turns.

For me, Bali is an enjoyable game.  I enjoy the choices and balancing acts it forces players to make, and I think the theme works reasonably well.  However, I do think it has a few issues, particularly those mentioned above. Perhaps these could be fixed with the addition of more cards to the deck and allowing each player to have an equal number of turns.  As is, however, it doesn’t offer enough shine, cleverness or originality to give it a long shelf life.

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