There are two levels of participation for players of the game, each represented in a different way. The primary player plays 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 internal players play in a virtual world generated by the game where they interact with the game in the same way that they would physically interact with the real world. The primary player and the internal players can be considered to be on a team together, but the primary player cannot communicate with the internal players.
The primary player decides what paths will be available to the internal players and what challenges they will face. He makes a wager on the outcome, with challenges of higher difficulty offering higher returns. There is also a measure of randomness added by rolling dice, affecting the challenge. The internal players must defeat the challenges to progress in the game, moving along a path that is separated by levels called shaps. Along the way they can be harmed or even "die". However, this is only in the world of the game and when it is over they will be returned to the real world unharmed. The goal of the game is to get at least one player to the final shap, which is referred to as "home".
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. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
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 When it clears the dabo table has been replaced by a strange alien game board...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...".