Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that the path to business prosperity begins with bringing your products before the consumers. Unfortunately, that dastardly Sheriff is standing between you and Nottingham’s buying public. Huh, it looks like he’s in a good mood today… I wonder if we can convince him to look away as I hide this crossbow among the chicken coop… Here’s my review of Sheriff of Nottingham.
Game: Sheriff of Nottingham
Designed: Sergio Halaban, Bryan Pope, Benjamin Pope, and Andre Zatz
Published: Arcane Wonders
Players: 3 – 5 (Best with 5)
Time: 60 minutes
Sheriff of Nottingham is a social deception game set in the medieval city of Nottingham. While Robin Hood and Little John don’t make appearances in this game, their nemesis, the Sheriff, is there to harass you and your fellow shopkeepers in the name of ensuring the sanctity and safety of the wares sold within the city walls. Of course, this “strict” policy might change a little bit if you help grease the Sheriff’s palms, if you know what I mean… No, not that. Get your head out of the gutter!
Each players begins by choosing a market tile and placing it and the matching colored bag in front of them. All cards are shuffled together and placed into a single face-down pile. (Note: when playing a 3-player game, remember to remove all cards with “4+” written on them) Give each player six cards, then create two face-up discard piles with five cards in each. Finally, give each player 50 gold pieces (broken down into 1×20, 5×5’s, and 5×1’s). The player with the most actual money in their pocket begins the game as the Sheriff.
Play is broken into rounds with one of the players setting aside their merchant to play the role of the Sheriff. The game continues with the Sheriff moving clockwise until all players have been the Sheriff twice (three times for a three player game). Each round is broken into five phases: Market, Load Merchant Bag, Declaration, Inspection, and End of Round.
In the Market Phase, all players (except the Sheriff) have the opportunity to exchange up to five of their six cards with cards in either discard pile or the face-down pile. If players want a specific card in the discard pile, they must take it and all cards on top of it. Also, players must take cards from the discard piles before they take any from the face-down pile (to ensure they don’t draw a matching card and get an unfair advantage). Once all players have completed the Market Phase (which can occur simultaneously), play moves to the Load Merchant Bag Phase.
During the LMB Phase, each player places up to five of their cards into the bag of their corresponding color. There is definitely a strategy as to what you load into the bag, but it totally depends on your play style, the style of the current Sheriff, your gaming group, etc. Let’s break down the types of cards you’ll find in the game and try and give you some strategies:
Goods cards are broken down into two main categories: Legal Goods and Contraband. Legal Goods (denoted by the green border) include Bread, Cheese, Apples, and Chickens. Any of these cards that get through the Sheriff are placed face-up at your Market for all to see (which will be important for scoring and strategy later). Contraband has a red border and is always illegal if the Sheriff catches you with it. Of course, these goods are also worth more money if sold at Market. All contraband is placed together in a single face-down pile at the top of your Market if it gets past the Sheriff. This prevents other players from seeing exactly what value you’ve brought through while simultaneously telling them that you’re willing to lie about the contents of your bag.
One strategy for loading your bag includes only placing legal goods of a single type and acting like a completely upstanding citizen. This can be beneficial if you have a large number of that good in your hand. Another strategy I saw during my games from a certain player (*cough* Paul *cough*) was to load your bag completely with contraband and bribing the Sheriff with a reasonably high amount of gold (but still not nearly as high as the total value of the contraband within, giving you a net gain). Mix and match as you desire!
Next is the Declaration Phase. This is one of the few places in the game where you can guarantee that the player is telling the truth (partially). Players snap close their bags and then MUST declare the exact number of cards within the bag AND one legal good (regardless of whether or not it is in the bag). For example, I place four cards in the bag, snap it closed, and say “Four Chickens!”. There may be one chicken, two silk, and a crossbow inside the bag, but I only declare the Legal Good. I may have instead put one chicken, two apples, and a crossbow inside the bag, but will still declare only ONE Legal Good. After declaring the contents of the bag, players hand them to the Sheriff, who begins the Inspection phase.
This is where the real fun and strategy behind the game comes to life. During the Inspection Phase, the Sheriff has the opportunity the threaten and haggle with players over who gets inspected and who gets to pass without hassle. I suggest using one of the recommended rules of adding a timer to this phase of the game, as there is the risk of it dragging on until the sun rises in the morning. Players are able to bargain for the Sheriff to let them through by offering gold, goods from their market, or goods that *might* be in their bag. If the Sheriff accepts their offer, s/he MUST let them pass in exchange for the bribe. However, if the Sheriff chooses to inspect the bag in question, all bribes are considered null.
If the player was truthful in their Declaration, the Sheriff pays them the penalty cost for all of their goods.
“See, I told you there were only four chickens in there!”
However, if there are any contraband OR Legal Goods that were NOT declared (remember those apples I threw in with the chickens earlier?), the Merchant pays the Sheriff the penalty cost for all illegal goods and they are discarded. Luckily, they do get to keep any Legal Goods they did declare.
“Oh… um… how did THAT get in there?!”
Finally comes the End of the Round, in which all players place the goods from their bags (that they were able to keep) next to the appropriate spot on their Market, move the Sheriff token to the next player, and begin again.
At the end of the game, players tally the number of points on their goods (legal and contraband), coins, and get additional points for having the most- or second-most of any of the goods. The player with the highest total score wins.
This is one of the most fun social games I have ever played. Frequent readers of this blog will know how much I enjoy roleplaying games, but I’ve never talked about my general disdain for party games. This is one party game I can get behind! It helped bring friends who don’t roleplay (and in fact balk at the very concept of it) into the fold of taking on character voices and personas all in the name of increasing the fun and experience of the game. The rules are fairly light and stay out of the way of your enjoyment while still providing a deep, rich experience for those who enjoy heavy strategy games. One of the greatest moments of this game is when you watch the “good little shopkeeper” place all five of their cards into the Contraband pile without even a second thought. I’m not sure I’ve laughed this hard at the table in a long time.
All materials in the game are of high quality and seem like they will last for a long time. My only concern is with the velvet bags the game comes with. They feel sturdy, but the plastic snaps hold on VERY strongly, meaning that we were pulling quite hard to open them up. I just fear that one day a bag will rip around the snap, rendering it useless. I haven’t seen this happen nor have I heard of any cases where it has, so maybe my fear is unfounded.
If you enjoy games where you are encouraged to lie to your friends, or you want to bring non-roleplayers into a more interactive gaming experience, this is definitely the game for you.