Sheriff of Nottingham
I saw this game featured recently on “TableTop” and knew that I had to give it a go. In short, it’s a bluffing game with a Robin Hood theme. Each player will take turns being the Sheriff of Nottingham, whose job it is to either inspect or let pass the shipments submitted by the other players. If the Sheriff inspects a shipment with contraband, the submitting player receives a penalty…though if the shipment was legit, the Sheriff ends up paying. So, don your poker face and let’s start smuggling some…I mean, let’s get to the review!
216 Goods Cards, 110 Gold Coins (in four denominations), 1 Sheriff Marker, 5 Merchant Stands, and 5 Merchant Bags
Setup & Gameplay
Editor’s Note: There are some special setup & gameplay rules that you’ll need to account for if you only have three people playing. The below is representative of a four or five player game.
Each player gets a merchant stand & matching bag, along with 50 gold. Players will also decide if they want to play with the royal goods cards (removing them for your first few games is recommended). Each player is dealt six goods cards from the shuffled deck, face-down, to form their starting hand. The deck itself is placed in the middle of the table and two sets of five cards are drawn to form two separate discard piles. The player with the most actual cash on them goes first.
The game is played over a series of rounds. During a single round, each player will act as the sheriff (in turn) while the others act as merchants. There are five phases to a round:
1. Market – Players may set aside up to five cards from their hand and draw new ones from the discard piles (must be done first) and the draw deck. The cards set aside will then go on top of one of the discard piles in the order of the player’s choosing.
2. Load Merchant Bag – Each merchant secretly picks one to five good from their hand and places it into their merchant bag.
3. Declaration – Each merchant, in turn, will tell the sheriff what is in their respective bags (they can lie if they want to). Merchants can only declare one kind of legal good and the quantity declared must match the number of cards in the bag.
4. Inspection – The sheriff will decide which bags to inspect and which ones to let pass. Players can bribe the sheriff by offering gold, legal goods or contraband from their merchant stand, goods in their bag, or promising future favors. Inspecting a bag will cancel the bribe. If the sheriff lets you pass, you’ll place the legal goods face-up and the contraband face-down in your merchant stand. If the sheriff inspects your bag, one of two things will happen:
If you were telling the truth, the sheriff pays you gold equal to the gold values listed on every card in your bag. The goods are added to your merchant stand as normal.
If you were lying, all of the goods you were truthful about are placed into your market stand as normal. Any goods you lied about are placed into a discard pile of the sheriff’s choosing. You’ll also pay the sheriff gold equal to the sum of the gold values on the confiscated cards.
5. End of Round – The role of the sheriff moves clockwise to the next person. If all players have been the sheriff, the round ends. All players will draw cards until they have six in their hand again.
The game ends when each player has been sheriff twice (three times in a three player game). Players tally their final score by accounting for the cards in their merchant stand, any gold they have left, and any bonuses for being King or Queen of a particular type of legal good. Royal goods, while treated as contraband during the game, are added to your legal goods when determining the final score.
Editor’s Note: The above doesn’t cover all of the rules found in the manual, but should give you an idea as to how the game is played. For more information, you can view the rulebook here:
First and foremost, I think the game is suitable for younger kids (ages 10+) despite what it says on the box. The sixty minute average playtime isn’t due to the game being complicated (quite the contrary), it just simply takes a while for everyone to be the sheriff a set number of times. Younger kids may have an issue with bluffing though…let’s face it, some of us adults haven’t even mastered the perfect poker face. Parents who know their kids well will clearly be at an advantage, though the nice thing about this game is that smuggling contraband is totally optional…meaning you don’t have to lie if you don’t want to.
I personally enjoy the game because of the role-playing that can potentially occur if you really take the time to get into it. The “TableTop” video I linked in the opening paragraph is a prime example and employing that kind of attitude makes the game a lot more fun to play. It can also help you to determine if someone is lying…the more you can get them to talk via interrogation and dialogue, the more they might reveal. The ability to bribe further adds to the chaos…after all, you can bribe and still tell the truth, just to throw someone off for the next time you decide to lie. From a parental standpoint, some folks may take issue with the fact that the game is encouraging your kids to lie (and to become better at it). On the other hand, lying is optional and players can most certainly win the game without doing so.
All in all, “Sheriff of Nottingham” is an extremely fun variation of the popular card game “Cheat” (you might know it as “BS” or “I Doubt It”). You could, in theory, play it with two players if you’re willing to bend the rules a bit and accept the fact that not everything will be balanced properly. Ideally though, you’ll want four or five players. The components are well themed and of fairly good quality, so no complaints there. Jen expressed her desire to play again and this says a lot as she’s very picky about the board games she plays. $30.00 (the current price on Amazon as of 2/6/15) is a fair price considering what the game has to offer, though one of the button snaps on the merchant bags came out of the box broken. Luckily, you don’t really need to snap the bags shut…the Sheriff will just need to clearly to state their intentions. This game is an easy recommend to folks with a sense of humor who love to lie through their teeth (or enjoy catching others red-handed).
Final Verdict: 8/10