|From:Rio Grande Cost:$8 ($10 retail) Players: 2-6 Playing Time: 30 minutes Type of game: Card Reviewed by: Ben Baldanza, Issue 5.2 (18), Spring 1998|
Katzenjammer Blues is a simple, fun filler game. The game consists of 90 very nice looking cards, and 24 mice tokens which are the prizes everyone wants. The cards are valued 1 through 5 plus jokers, and have no suits. On each card, a jazz-singing cat is pictured, some with lyrics (in English!). Through the game, you develop melds of cats to catch the mice.
Six cards are dealt to each player and the remaining are placed in a single stack face down. The first player (the "bandleader") begins by turning over cards from the stack, stopping when two of the same value have been turned up or a joker is revealed. At this point, an auction ensues for the face up cards.
Players bid the cards in their hand for the cards on the table. The lowest bid is "one card," followed in order from 1-5, then "two cards," etc. Once passing, a player cannot re-enter for that bid. The high bidder pays by discarding the cards bid and taking the cards won into his hand. All except jokers, that is. Jokers can be used as any value in a bid, but when the bid is won any jokers used are laid in front of the player.
After winning a bid, a player can then meld 4 of a kind, discard the meld, and take a number of mice equal to the card value (4 "3's" gets 3 mice). Joker can be used in the melds, but again are not discarded but instead placed in front of the player. Multiple melds can be played in one turn. The game continues this way until all the mice are captured or the deck runs out, whichever is first. At this point, the player with the most jokers (in front of them and in their hand at the time) must give back five of his mice. This is a very significant penalty and it is hard for the person who has played the most jokers to win except when playing with only two or three players. There is one other way to purge your hand of jokers: after winning an auction, you can meld 4 jokers which earns no mice but ensures you won't be stuck with them at the end.
The game is quick and requires some strategy to win. The most important is obviously the bidding, as you attempt to improve your hand position to get melds which will earn mice. Timing the melds is also important, though, since you lose the four cards and thus shrink your funding for future auctions. Players who meld too soon find themselves desperately needing cards just to compete. Winning a joker as part of the bid also has its consequences, since it helps with both melds and bids but hangs around until the end just in case you took too many. Later in the game, a player with no jokers can safely use one or more if all the other players have used them: only the player with the most loses the five mice at the end (ties: both lose the mice!). Lastly, it must be remembered that to meld you must win the bid; three 5's and a joker when someone captures the last mice are worth nothing and the joker is no more dangerous played than in your hand.
Katzenjammer Blues is a fun filler game which ends or begins an evening well. It's far from the most thoughtful or creative from Herr Knizia's library, but has nice replay value and is well produced. The game needs at least four to work well. More players makes each bid and meld decision that much more critical. Take a few minutes and look at the components before you play: the lyrics are fun, the cards nicely illustrated, and the mice are wearing cool "Mice in Black" sunglasses. It's not a game you'll rush home to play, but one you'll be glad you have on the shelf.