The Wadi love them some games. In fact, it's all they seem interested in doing; and much to Quark's (and Sisko's) annoyance, they learn quickly and like playing for really long stretches. Sisko heads for bed after six hours of the Wadi playing Dabo, and Quark is left to deal with loitering winners.
Naturally, Quark decides to end their winning streak the Ferengi way: Cheating. And when the Wadi find out, they aren't happy. They bear down on Quark, and force him to play a fair game: Chula.
After the board is deployed, Sisko, Bashir, Kira and Jadzia find themselves in some mysterious maze-like structure. Turns out they're the game pieces for Quark's game of Chula, only he doesn't know it yet, and simply sees this as another gambling man's game.
The absence of the senior staff eventually reaches Odo, who goes snooping aboard the Wadi ship. After discovering a blinding light behind a door, he leaps in... and lands at Quark's.
Quark finally realizes his pieces are the missing officers, and has a suitable Oh, Crap! reaction. He starts playing it safe, but Bashir is still lost. And a later move means he's forced to choose a piece to sacrifice. Realizing his choice would mean killing a crew member, Quark breaks down and grovels, begging not to be forced to sacrifice them.
The Wadi oblige... and have the game choose a piece to sacrifice at random.
Nearing the end of the game, Jadzia is injured, and Sisko and Kira refuse to leave her behind. As the cave they're in falls apart around them, they tumble into a deep crevice... and pop back at Quark's bar, along with Julian, no worse for the wear.
It really was just a game. Sisko and crew were never in any real danger. Sisko is bitterly angry, but the Wadi just laugh him off and leave DS9.
This episode provides examples of:
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Quark grovels on the ground for the Wadi to spare the crew.
- Alien Lunch: From one alien to another - Quark really doesn't like the Wadi's nectar.
- And You Thought It Was a Game: Subverted. Turns out it is just a game after all.
- Arc Words / Title Drop: "Move along home!"
- "Ass" in Ambassador: All these guys want to do is play games. It's not even clear why the crew thinks they are ambassadors, they seem to be just some random people.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Wadi can't quite figure out why anyone would be annoyed at being shanghaied into their game. This is not so much a case of them not understanding the crew's aversion to mortal peril, but their surprise that anyone would think they were in peril. After all, "It's only a game!"
- That said, the whole scenario is explicitly just to mess with Quark after they caught him cheating them.
- Calvinball: The player of the Wadi's game are required to learn the rules as they go. Progress through the game is dependent on the pawns completing tasks which are decided at random, and never made readily apparent.
- Character Development: In this early episode, Quark is already shown not wanting to put innocent people at risk, not even for profit. While he does later choose the riskier road, it is only to get his people out of danger faster.
- Forgotten Phlebotinum: The Federation security officer working under Odo seems utterly baffled when trying to comprehend what's going on on the Wadi ship when the senior officers are "trapped" there in the game. He states that the only type of technology that the Federation has that is even similar to what his scanners are showing is the transporter. It seems like everyone has forgotten about the holodecks that had been such a big thing on TNG for years. Everything that happens in the "game" could very very easily be done on the holodeck, and no one even stops to consider that they're in a simulation. Of course, thanks to the Holodeck Malfunction even simulations can be deadly, but it's still amusing to watch them puzzle over how the Wadi could be doing that when even on the station they have the same technology. Quark has holosuites (miniature holodecks) in his bar, and they're even mentioned in this episode.
- Sisko does give the basic commands like "Computer, end program" when he arrives, and it can be safe to say that a Wadi holodeck wouldn't respond to his input.
- Genre Savvy: Despite being thrown into one of the weirdest episodes of the whole franchise, many characters display admirable common sense (but see also Wrong Genre Savvy below):
- It takes Sisko less than a minute to consider the possibility of a Holodeck Malfunction when he wakes up inside the game. His shouting "Computer, end program" doesn't accomplish anything, but it shows he's thinking.
- Quark and Odo connect the dots with admirable speed once they're aware that four officers are missing and Quark is playing with four pieces. In fact, the episode skips the dot-connection and trusts viewers to figure it out on their own.
- Ice-Cream Koan: Fallow is just full of them while explaining the gameplay to Quark. On a rewatch when you know the game mechanics most of them are actually just literal statements missing crucial context.
- It's Only A Game: Said verbatim by Falow with a laugh at the end, when Sisko, Kira, Dax, and Bashir are returned to the station, surprised to still be alive. It's a bit of a Wham Line, as despite how seriously the Wadi seem to take their games, it turns out they have the exact same aphorism as humans.
- I Will Only Slow You Down: Jadzia tries convincing Sisko and Kira to leave her when her leg is injured. They don't listen.
- Idiot Ball: Lieutenant Primmin, which very likely got him fired. None of the senior staff show up in Ops the next day, and what does he do? Laugh it off, telling Odo they're probably hungover from the Wadi party. He doesn't even bother to confirm this by asking the computer. It should be no surprise that he is never seen or mentioned again.
- Large Ham: The Wadi, especially Falow.
- Not What I Signed on For: Kira angrily protests being trapped in the game, in contrast to the Starfleet attitude of taking such things in stride.
- Planet of Hats: If the Wadi delegation is any indication, their people are all about games.
- Poor Communication Kills: The Wadi never mention whether their game is really life-or-death for the "pieces", nor does anyone ask. Both sides take their own assumptions for granted.
- Sadistic Choice: "Pick one to save two!" Subverted in that no one actually gets hurt.
- Say My Name: When Bashir disappears from the game.Sisko: FALLOW!
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: At one point, Sisko orders Kira to keep going. Kira refuses, and tells Sisko if he doesn't like it, he can court-martial her. Sisko fires back that he can't since she's not in Starfleet. Dax then chimes in that if she could, she'd court-martial both of them.
- Serious Business: The Wadi take their games very seriously. Falow forces Quark to play the Wadi's game after he catches him cheating, and he gets quite pissed when Quark delays in choosing his pieces' path.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: The punchline: nobody was in any danger at all and nothing happened!
- Songs in the Key of Lock: One of the game's puzzles to unlock a door requires the players to mimic a young child's hopping while reciting the lyric she is singing.
- Stock Lateral Thinking Puzzle: Another puzzle places the players in a room filled with partygoers, but also filling up with a toxic gas. As they're choking, Bashir realizes that all of the unaffected party-goers are drinking something. So he takes a glass and downs it, then convinces the others to do so. It proves to be an instant antidote to the gas.
- Subverted Trope: There's absolutely no reason to believe that the "pieces" are in actual peril, or that dying in the game would mean dying in real life... but Holodeck Malfunction is so firmly engrained in the Star Trek universe that neither the audience nor the characters ever question that assumption until the Wadi point out the obvious. Games are safe.
- Title Drop:
- Falow gives an enthusiastic one to Sisko when he first appears in the game."Shap two! Move along! Move along home!"
- And then another one when the game is over."Time to move along home."
- Falow gives an enthusiastic one to Sisko when he first appears in the game.
- Total Party Kill: How the game ends, even though they don't actually die.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Given all the sadistic aliens playing games with Starfleet crews and potentially-lethal Holodeck Malfunctions seen in previous episodes of the franchise, the DS9 characters — inside and outside of the game — wrongly assume that Chula is played for life-or-death stakes.