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 from their own society: Chula.
After the board is deployed, Sisko, Bashir, Kira and Dax find themselves teleported into some mysterious maze-like structure. It turns out that 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. With each turn, the party is presented with some sort of riddle or puzzle, and their success or failure determines what Quark wins.
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 still gets eliminated from the game to an uncertain fate. A later move means Quark is 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, Dax 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 Bashir, none the worse for wear. It really was just a game, and the only stakes were whether Quark won.
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.
- And You Thought It Was a Game: Subverted. Turns out it is just a game after all.
- Arc Words: "Move along home!"
- Artistic License – Statistics: At face value, the gambling aspect of Chula appears pretty elementary. Quark argues that taking the riskier plays are safer for Sisko and Co. in the long run because they also expedite their path to the end, but the rules as they are described do not support this conclusion. Unless there is some nuance to the dice that Falow conveys to Quark in a way the audience can't see, taking a "double risk, double reward" shortcut would only make the game go faster; it wouldn't affect the final probability of winning, or Quark's expected payout, for either better or worse. (Of course, the audience sees that the outcome isn't entirely random and depends on the ability of the shanghaied crew, but Quark had no way of knowing they were in a rat maze at all, let alone what challenges they were or might be facing from his decisions.)
- "Ass" in Ambassador: All these guys want to do is play games. They might not even be ambassadors. They seem to be just some random people.
- Bad Liar: When Jake mentions that he and Nog were going to watch passengers disembark from a Bajoran transport, Odo guesses that they were going to see the girls. The shy smile on Jake's face and his rather pathetic "No..." are a pretty obvious "Yes".
- Bait-and-Switch: At the end of the second shap, Falow announces in an ominous tone that the pieces will meet... the Chandra! And when Quark asks if this is good or bad, he casually answers, "Neither. Both." As it turns out, the Chandra isn't the sort of scary menace that this seems to imply — she's just a little girl playing a hopping game.
- Calvinball: The players 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.
- Exact Words: Falow describes meeting the Chandra as "mere child's play". That's because Chandra is a child who's playing a singing-and-dancing game.
- Foreign Queasine: From one alien to another - Quark really doesn't like the Wadi's nectar.Falow: Alpha currant nectar. It's priceless.
(Quark takes a swallow and immediately grimaces.)
Quark: One man's priceless is another man's worthless!
- Foreshadowing: The fact that it really is just a game is hinted during the scene where Quark breaks down and begs not to have to sacrifice a piece, as one of the Wadi looks utterly baffled at his outburst. She doesn't realize he thinks he's being forced to kill someone and can't understand why he would have such a reaction.
- Homage: Chula is named in honor of Chutes And Ladders.
- Human Aliens: In spite of being the first diplomatic envoy from an alien race from the Gamma Quadrant, the Wadi appear to be completely human. Their only distinguishing features are their forehead markings (which might be artificial) and the fact that men all seem to have black hair while the women are all redheads. The simplicity of their appearance is almost certainly for budgetary reasons, as there are quite a few Wadi in the episode, and the episode was already way overbudget.
- Ice-Cream Koan: Falow 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.
- 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.
- The Most Dangerous Video Game: Ultimately subverted, as after the Total Party Kill, everyone appears in Quark's completely unscathed.Falow: It's only a game.
- 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.
- Riddle for the Ages: What the hell are klon peags, and what "uses" are they good for?
- 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: FALOW!
- 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 partygoers 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.
- We Have Those, Too: It's not made clear what it is about the Wadi's klon peags that makes them so treasured in their culture, but Quark's opinion of them is clear.Quark: I'm sorry, but I have enough sticks right now.