The Components (Bits):
For a basic card game, this is a class act. Like typical Rio Grande imports, the cards are extremely high quality, and the mouse chits are thick and well illustrated. The box is very compact, and uses the normal opening system of most games rather than the cheap card flap of most American card games.
The Setup and Rules:
The rules are printed on decent semi-gloss paper in full colour, and are concise and easily understood with no translation errors that I can find other than a ambiguously worded sentence. But given this is only one sentence, I can’t fault it much for that. Setup is rather simple, each person is dealt a six card hand, a draw pile is placed face down on the table, and cards are turned over until the same number comes up twice, or a joker shows up.
I have to admit I love the theme of this game. Despite Knizia’s reputation for pasted on and weak themes, I actually think this game has a fun and interesting theme that carries it. Each card has a unique illustration of a cat playing an instrument or singing, and some parody words of a famous song. Something important to note here is that each card has a different illustration, quite impressive when you consider most games use the same overused illustrations for most of the same suits. For example the person that won the previous bid becomes the “Band Leader” and presents the next batch of cards for bidding. When you “Meld”, you meld “Quartets”, which fit into the musical theme of the game. All very fitting, and well done in my opinion!
This is a bidding and melding game, or a Rummy variant with bidding. When the game begins, cards are turning face up from the draw pile until the same card is drawn twice, or a joker is drawn. If a joker is drawn each player immediately takes one card from the draw pile and puts it in his hand. Bidding them commences on the cards on display, and you must use existing cards in your hand to bid on the cards on the table. All bids must either beat the number of cards of the previous players bid, or match the number of cards but beat the number. For example someone can say “One Card”, which could be any number card they want, the next person could say “Two Cards” and would now control the bid. The following player could either say “Three Cards” or “Two 1’s” which would beat the previous bidder. This goes around the table until all players pass, at which point the winner places his bidding cards in the face up discard pile, and retrieves the cards he won. For the next round that player is no the band leader, and flips the next cards for bidding, and bids first. A winning bidder has the option to meld four of the same number cards into a “Quartet”, and claim the number of mice equal to the number on his cards. For example if he melds four 4’s, then he would claim 4 mice, and lay the meld on the table infront of him. Jokers may be used in melds OR for bidding, but the person with the most jokers at the end of the game loses 5 mice. The only way to discard jokers is to meld them into a quartet, and declare them as “Junk” and they are tossed out. However if you use jokers for bidding, then they are left infront of you on the table and will count against your final tally. Hence, the person relying too much on jokers will likely be burned at the end. This continues around the table until the mice are depleted, at which point the winner is established after the jokers are factored and the game is over.
The Depth and Tactics:
With many Knizia games, on the surface they appear fairly basic, but after a few sessions the agonizing decisions and deep gameplay always become evident. Katzenjammers certainly doesn’t break that trend. The gameplay in this game is deceptively simple but as previously mentioned, offers the typical Knizia agonizing decisions at every turn! Do you rely on jokers hoping someone has more at the end, or do you purge them giving up your post powerful tools? Do you use a particular set of cards for bidding, or do you save them for melds? These are difficult decisions that must be carefully considered during a game. Do you bluff, and bid up on cards you don’t want to help deplete the other player’s cards, risking that they might pass and you’d be stuck with them? Do you meld early, losing valuable bidding cards, or do you try and hold out, hoping it won’t be too late? Katzenjammer Blues is loaded with these types of decisions, and is extremely exciting and tactical for a fast playing tiny card game!
Katzenjammer Blues is one of my favourite card games, and perhaps one of my favourite games of all time. With three or four players that have a good concept of the tactics, this game becomes a turbo speed power struggle that defies explanation. The mice go VERY quickly, and the level of tension builds up to a tremendous level as the game rapidly progresses and players begin to form their melds – sometimes as quick as 10 minutes – it is THAT fast. A nice quote I saw on BGG says; “Katzenjammer Blues starts in the middle and ends before you're ready.” That’s a more eloquent way of saying that the game plays in an extremely rapid fashion, and offers some incredibly intense gameplay in a short period of time. There is no other game in my collection quite like this and I absolutely love it, it all comes together to form a very impressive game. It is out of print now, and fairly difficult to find, do yourself a favour and find a copy before it is too late.
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I agree, Robert, KB is an excellent game. You ought to try it with just two players. You'll find it's a very different game than the one you describe. Once the players become familiar with the strategy, bids tend to be very close in value to the offering, so that an incremental, step-by-step approach is necessary. This makes the game extraordinarily tense. Scoring is also delayed, since it decreases your bidding ability so much. I find it to be a very intense, very challenging two-player game. I highly recommend it!