This is the one hundred forty-eighth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred forty-eighth random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is secretly trying to teach us math. It’s Sheepless Nights (Math Cardgame) by Sander Voorn, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

Study math easy with this relaxing and fun cardgame!

How about I tell you how easy it is, Sander Voorn? (OK it’s pretty easy)

Sheepless Nights can be played directly in one’s web browser, no download required. It might require Flash, I’m not sure — I re-enabled Flash in my browser so I could play Stinkoman Level 10 — but it ran fine for me, so I’m sure others could get it working without much trouble too. As advertised, it’s a card game, and its description talks a lot about playing it with your kids to help them learn math. Which is odd, because I couldn’t figure out any way to play it with other people. The browser version instead pitted me against three computer-controlled opponents, with a series of unlockable difficulty levels.

The game itself is simple, but has enough going on to keep it interesting. Each player is trying to get rid of all their cards, most of which are sheep with numbers from 1 to 10. There’s a face up sheep card in the center of the table, and players can get rid of cards on their turn either by playing a sheep card with the same number, or two sheep cards that add up to the number. For example, if there’s an 8 showing, a player might play a 5 and and 3 from their hand. A third option is to use the card on the table and one card from their hand to add up to another card from their hand. For example, with that 8 on the table, they could play a 1 and a 9 from their hand, because 8 + 1 = 9. If there’s no play to be made, then one must draw a card instead.

To spice things up, there are also a bunch of special cards, which can do all sorts of things. Some mess with other players, by forcing them to draw a bunch of cards, or limiting what they can do on their turn. There’s also a special card that acts as a wild, creating new sums that otherwise wouldn’t work, and black sheep cards that are worth a ton of points (everyone is trying to get the lowest score possible) but can be passed to other players in certain circumstances. Only after playing did I realize that collecting all three black sheep cards will instead deduct a big chunk of points from one’s score, so daring players might try to grab them all instead of passing them.

The result is a game that plays quickly, but feels a little luck-based. In my first round, I got down to a single card quickly, but had trouble finding a final match to end the round, before getting hit with special cards that made me draw a ton of new cards and then losing badly when one of my opponents played their last card. Fortunately, each game has four rounds, which evens out some of the randomness a little. Even so, there’s not a ton of strategy involved. Sheepless Nights is more of a fast and loose game where I played the cards I was dealt and waited to see how it would all shake out.

It also struck me as the kind of design that might already exist under another name. It feels like one of those classic card games that splinter into a million different variants. In fact, it’s quite similar to the crazy eights family of games, in particular Uno which has similar special cards. As far as I can tell, however, Sheepless Nights itself is a new design from Sander Voorn, even if it owes some debt to these other games.

One of the main differences from its inspirations is the use of sums. This means that players must always be thinking of different combinations of cards, and I can see how it would encourage kids to learn about addition without really realizing they’re doing it. This also enriches the decision space, with different options for cards to play on most turns, and it’s just as important to decide which cards to hold as which cards to play. It’s fun! I wish I could play it with some real people to see how that would go. It seems like a game that deserves a physical version.

If you don’t mind playing against the computer, however, it’s easy to fire up a game of Sheepless Nights and see what you think. There’s no purchase, just click and go, although you can support the game if you like it.

That’s 148 down, and only 1593 to go!