Sheriff of Nottingham Review

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Posted March 2, 2015 by Crystal Pisano in Nerdy Bits

Designer: Sérgio Halaban, Bryan Pope & André Zatz

Artist: Lorraine Schleter & David Sladek

Publisher: Arcane Wonders

Number of Players: 3-5

Duration: 60 mins

 

Overview

You and your friends are humble merchants just trying to scrape by in the town of Nottingham. Unfortunately for you, Prince John is coming to visit and the Sheriff’s watchful eye is even more discerning than ever. He’s at the gate of the city waiting to greet you and your goods. Legal goods will cause you no trouble, but if you dare smuggle some contraband or royal items through the gate and the Sheriff catches you, he’ll confiscate your wares!

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What a five-player game might look like

Gameplay

In the Sheriff of Nottingham board game, a 2014 release from Arcane Wonders, deception and bribery are often the skills that will get you to victory. Players are all dealt a hand of six goods and can choose to discard up to five of those cards and redraw cards from either the deck or one of two visible discard piles on each turn. Goods consist of three types: legal (apples, cheese, bread, and chickens), contraband (pepper, mead, silk, and crossbows) and special royal contraband that will give you additional bonuses to your legal items at the end of the game.

Every turn, one player takes on the role of the sheriff and all other players secretly place one to five cards from their hand into their merchant bag and snap it closed. They then declare to the sheriff what is in their bag. Players can’t lie about the number of items in their bag but they can lie about the type of goods they are carrying. They can only name a single type of item so they will always be declaring one type such as cheese (which could be a lie) and one amount (which has to be the true number of cards in the bag).

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The dastardly sheriff! He sure looks like he wants to open those bags.

The sheriff can then choose to either let each bag through, or inspect any bags he chooses. Players are allowed to bribe the sheriff with money, items from their market, or items in the bag to convince him not to open their bag. They can even bribe him to open the bags of other players. Once the sheriff opens the snap on a bag or hands it back, all discussion regarding that bag ends. If the Sheriff opens a bag and finds only the legal goods that were declared, he has to pay the bag’s owner the total penalty amount from the bottom of the cards. If he finds any goods that weren’t declared, the bag’s owner loses those items and has to pay the total penalty listed on them.

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On the cards, the number in the gold circle is how much it is worth at the end. The number in the red is the penalty fee.

The role of the sheriff passes clockwise each turn until each player has been the sheriff twice (three times in a three-player game).

Players earn bonus money for having the most or second-most of each legal good at the end of the game, as well as money for any contraband they were able to sneak past the sheriff. The player with the most money wins.

There is a free companion app for iOS/Android that you can download that provides a round timer (to keep the game moving at whatever pace you choose) and also helps with scoring. There is also an optional in-app purchase that will allow you to track your statistics over a number of games.

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Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a casual board game that’s easy to learn and lends itself to hilarious role-playing, this is it. I’ll admit, I can imagine this game being utterly boring and forgettable if played with the wrong group of people. If your friends are strong silent types or incredibly shy, this game won’t play well with them. Sheriff of Nottingham truly shines when everyone gets into the theme of the game and engages in raucous discussion.

I also believe that this game should always be played with five people if possible. The higher player count gives the sheriff more to keep track of each turn, and gives the other players more leverage in defending the contents of their bags because they can try to deflect the sheriff’s attention onto the other players. At my game group, ridiculous accents, bribery upon bribery and oodles of laughter permeated our gameplay. One player began the game by placing a two copper “expedition fee” onto his bag when he slid it over to the sheriff, explaining that he was “in a hurry” and wanted to simply speed the process along. I and the other players immediately called it out as an obvious bribe covering his bag full of contraband but in subsequent rounds found ourselves often putting two copper on our bags as well! Once the precedent had been set, it was too fun not to take advantage of and it gave the sheriff more motivation to not open bags because he was guaranteed to get some money if he let the goods go through. The layers of strategy that can be utilized in creating lies and bribes gives this game it’s heart and is what makes it so much fun to play. Players with keen observation skills will often do well because not everyone is always the best liar.

I also have to compliment the box insert that comes with the game as it not only does a great job of storing the individual components when the box is sitting on your shelf, but the removable parts also allow for easy organization of the cards and bank during the game.

This game is a must-have in any gamer’s collection because it is easy to learn, takes only around an hour to play, and is guaranteed to be a ton of fun with the right people.


About the Author

Crystal Pisano