Basari: Das Kartenspiel – A four-sided board game review

Basari: Das Kartenspiel (which translates to ‘Basari: the card game’) is a 2014 small box version of the Basari board game, released in 1998. As it is the last game in my Top 40 I’ve not reviewed, I wanted to give it some love here. And it is still available (for less than £20) if you do a bit of digging.

Both this card game and the original play in a very similar way. I just prefer this version because you essentially get the same experience in a smaller (double deck of cards-sized) box. In said box you’ll find 88 plastic gems and 60 cards.

While this isn’t a thematic game, the loose idea – traders haggling in a market – works well to convey the game’s mechanisms: simultaneous action selection and haggling/negotiation. Basari: Das Kartenspiel will take 3-5 players less than an hour to play. But it’s definitely at its best with three or four (see below for why). And while the box says ages 10+, 8+ (or even lower) should take to it just fine. As long as they like to haggle…

Teaching Basari: Das Kartenspiel

At the start of the game, each player is given an identical set of three action cards and 12 gems (three in each of four colours). The rest of the gems (and a card explaining their colour hierarchy) are placed in the middle of the table, along with a draw pile of ‘bazaar cards’. The game is played over three identical stages, each split into rounds. To start a round, each player is dealt one bazaar card face up.

Each player now decides which of their three action cards to play this round (all three are available to you every time, regardless what you’ve done in previous rounds). You hope to either (a) draw an extra bazaar card; (b) get victory points; or (c) claim gems. Players choose simultaneously, and reveal their cards together once everyone has decided. What you want to do is choose an action no one else has – this way, you simply get to do it. If two players choose the same one, they have to haggle to decide who gets to do it (with the player backing down getting the consolation of the offered gems from the other). But if three or more players choose the same action, all of them miss out on that round completely…

You do have a steer on what players may choose, thanks to their bazaar card. The points on them range from 4-7, while gems can be any combination of 2-4 in various colours. Cards also show from 1-4 ‘workers’. As the rounds progress, you stack cards showing your total number of workers – because a stage ends when a player has 15+ workers showing. So, looking at your opponent’s cards, you try to guess which action they’ll choose.

Haggling and scoring

Haggling is a simple process, with the two players taking it in turns to either accept the gems offered or to up the offer. A ‘bigger’ offer is simply counted by number of gems. If you offer the same amount of, gems you must offer the highest amount of them in the best colour involved in the offer. In this way, you can actually end up better off than you would’ve by taking what was on the bazaar card. Because during the game, different things will be of different value to different players. It’s a clever yet simple system.

Scoring (via unsupplied pen and paper) is pretty straightforward. Alongside straight points from bazaar cards, any player reaching 15+ workers by the end of the stage gets 12 bonus points. Also at the end of each stage, the player with the most gems in each colour scores (14/12/10/8) points, before putting half their gems of that colour back into the stock. If any colour is tied, you split the points – but only have to put two gems back each. After three stages, the highest score wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: There is a simple joy to Basari: Das Kartenspiel. The rules get out of the way fast and let you get straight to the action. It’s a great late night at a con game, when you’re relaxed and in a great mood. Quick setup, only needs a small table, and isn’t hampered if you’ve had a few adult beverages.
  • The thinker: A fun light game, with a modicum of strategy. But all the analytics in the world can’t help you know what your stupid friends will do next! So while I acknowledge it’s a good game, it isn’t rally for me. Largely because it goes on for a little longer than I’d like for what to me should be a light, fast filler game.
  • The trasher: Oh, I like this one. You can really mess with people’s heads. And even if you’re not in the haggling in a round, you can still trash talk the players that are. I love it when you heckle someone into bidding more than they probably would’ve done! So with the right people, this is a scream. But otherwise, it can be a bit of a drag.
  • The dabbler: As long as I’m in the right mood, I love Basari! Simple, reasonably quick, and also interactive – plus the gems are pretty. Not one for a quiet room when you play with me!

Key observations

You definitely need the right type of players to enjoy Basari: Das Kartenspiel. It is a game where luck can win out over good play. And that is simply not on for some players. The game needs the players to invest in it and to bring some life to the table. So if you don’t have a group who have that in their locker, this may fall very flat. Even some of the more outgoing players I know simply don’t like negotiation in games.

Player count has a big effect too. With three players, there’s the chance you all pick different actions. This is great in one way, as it can speed things up to have good rounds. But this is really a game of interactions. With four, you know things are going to happen. And you have a higher chance of blow outs (with three people missing out). You can also have two haggles going on at once, which is fun. With five, you introduce a new card – it’s weak, but always works (so it doesn’t matter if everyone picks it). This works OK, but feels against the spirit.

If you do look for the game, you may find it easier to get the original Basari. This has a board with a circular track, which directly replaces the bazaar cards. And only plays 3-4 players. But is otherwise the same game. Or you may even find the original game, Edel, Stein & Reich (2003). This I haven’t played, but it runs along the same principals.

Conclusion – Basari: Das Kartenspiel

Basari is one of the first games in my bag when packing for conventions. It doesn’t get played that often, because you really need to know your audience. But if you get it right, it really is one of the most entertaining games I own. And better still, despite being incredibly light on mechanisms, it doesn’t really feel and play like many other games. So for me, this combination makes it a brilliant addition to any gamer’s collection.

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