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Katzenjammer Blues

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Doug Adams writes:

Publisher: GoldSieber
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Players: 2-6

Katzenjammer Blues is a cute little card game, released at Nuremburg this year. The idea of this game is each player is trying to earn the most mice by forming the best musical four piece bands of cats, hence the title - Caterwaulling Blues.

The components are typical Knizia minimalism - a deck of 90 cards and 24 mouse chips, or counters. But boy, are these cards and mice nice! These would have to be some of the most colourful cards I've seen, yet colour has no effect on game play! The cards are numbered 1 to 5, and there's fifteen of each type. To make the 90 cards, there are also fifteen Jokers included. Each 'set' of cards has an amusing cartoon of a cat at night playing a musical instrument and wailing a mutated song, such as "Everybody feeds somebody sometime..." or "We are the hooligans of swing..". Allow 5 minutes before the first game for everybody to check out the cards and read the songs!

The game is a bidding game where the stakes are mice. A hand of six cards is dealt to each player by the Bandleader. The Bandleader then turns up two cards and keeps turning up cards until two identical cards are shown, or a Joker is revealed. If a Joker is revealed, then everybody draws an extra card.

The face up cards are the 'kitty' or 'pot'. Bidding begins with players bidding cards from their hand to try and win the pot. Bids are, in increasing order, a single card, two different cards, two of a kind, three different cards, and so on, with two 2's beating two 1's. Once a player passes, they are out of the bidding.

Bidding continues until all but one player have passed. The winner pays the winning bid to the discard pile, claims the pot, and gets the opportunity to present a set of four like cards. If they do this, they can claim mice from the pool equal to the face value of their set. So if a set of four 5's are presented, then the player can claim five mice. The winner of the bid becomes the next Bandleader.

That essentially is the game, which ends when the deck is finished or, far more likely, when all the mice are claimed.

There is an interesting rule, however. The Joker cards are wild, and can be substituted for any card, but at a potential cost. Any Jokers played during the bidding or presenting foursomes are not discarded, but kept face up in front of the player. At the end of the game the player who used the most Jokers must return 5 mice, which will most likely cost them the game.

This last rule adds a lot of bang to this otherwise simple game. Players have to be very careful with their bidding as they may potentially destroy a foursome in paying for the win. If you present a couple of foursomes, they really have to count as your hand will be severely depleted, and therefore so will your bidding power. Cards are hard to get, as you either have to win them in the auction, or draw one each time a Joker is turned up. It's not easy. The game ends very quickly too, so mistakes can be costly.

All in all, it's a great little filler, which plays in about 10 minutes. It's right up there with Fluxx, Der Ausreisser and For Sale as ideal "wait for Fred to turn up" games. Buy it for the artwork alone. Recommended.

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