Chula was a game played by the Wadi race. The game board itself was a large abstract board, which however was portable; once the case containing it opened, the board, in a flash of light, automatically materialized in the room and the players were transported in a virtual world.
There were two levels of participation for players of the game, each represented in a different way. The primary player played the game via a traditional physical apparatus with abstract structure to represent components of the game, including an inverted-pyramid shaped stack of horizontal planes representing each level (or shap), and small figurines representing the active internal players. The board also had a control panel where the primary players could program the hazards and other events indicated by the dice.
The rules are not explained to a first time player, learning them as you go along is part of the game.
The internal players were transported to a virtual world generated by the game where they interacted in the same way that they would physically interact with the real world. The primary player and the internal players could be considered to be on a team together, but the primary player could not communicate with the internal players.
The primary player decided what paths would be available to the internal players and what challenges they would face. He made a wager on the outcome, with challenges of higher difficulty offering a shorter path towards home as well as higher returns. There was also a measure of randomness added by rolling dice, affecting the challenge. The internal players needed to defeat the challenges to progress in the game, moving along a path that was separated by levels called shaps. Along the way they could be harmed or even "die". However, this was only in the world of the game, and when it was over they were returned to the real world unharmed. The goal of the game was to get at least one player to the final shap, which was referred to as "home".
When the Wadi delegation visited Deep Space 9, they discovered that Quark was cheating the dabo board. Falow gave him a chance to play honestly in order to forget this, and allow him to win more of their gems. When Quark accepted, Benjamin Sisko, Jadzia Dax, Kira Nerys, and Julian Bashir were transported in the game as internal players. Their disappearance alerted Jake Sisko and Odo.
George Primmin located an energy flux on the Wadi ship, an intense bipolar current similar to a continuous transporter burst, and speculated it was responsible for the senior staff's disappearance. Odo transported on board the Wadi ship to investigate, but when he reached the source of the flux, he was instantaneously transported back to Quark's.
When thialo occurred to Quark, he thought it was too much to choose whom to sacrifice, believing that his player would die. As a result Falow programmed a random hazard to be decided who would be killed. Sisko, Dax, and Kira were unable to stand and fell into a chasm, thereby being transported back to Quark's. This meant that Quark lost, but he was still interested in discussing a licensing agreement with them. (DS9: "Move Along Home")
- The goal that the internal players must reach
- A level of the game. It usually begins on the second shap; the first is used only by children
- Sacrifice a player to save the others
According to one of the writers of the episode, Jeanne Carrigan-Fauci, the name of the game, "Chula", comes from and is a portmanteau of Chutes and Ladders, as the maze game is a "three-dimensional form" of the game. The writers took inspiration from games from ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, and Elizabethan England. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 38))
The script for the episode describes the appearance of chula as "Falow opens the case and a flash of light obliterates the room. When it clears the dabo table has been replaced by a strange alien game board... there's a central start point from which a winding maze serpentines downward toward the end triangle. There are twelve shaps (levels). Within the board, there are short cuts between shaps, allowing players to move more rapidly to the end. Falow begins to put a variety of strange symbolic pieces (think hotels in Monopoly) at various intervals, elaborately "setting up" the board... there is also an electronic component to the board with switches and blinkies...". (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion - A Series Guide and Script Library)
The four primary game pieces were designed by Ricardo Delgado and manufactured by HMS Creative Productions, Inc. Several smaller pieces not intended to be seen up close were designed and manufactured by HMS Productions, resembling Stonehenge, Vaal from TOS: "The Apple", the Guardian of Forever, and the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 5, p. 112)