Have you ever wanted to experience the exhilarating career of a border patrol officer? No? Think of the power and joy you would have making others sweat in front of you as they declare their imported goods under your scrutinizing gaze! If that doesn’t sound persuasive enough, perhaps after playing Sheriff of Nottingham you’ll want to reconsider your career options.
In Sheriff of Nottingham, players are humble merchants, each trying to make an “honest” living by selling goods in the market. But in order to sell their wares, they must first make it through inspection from the Sheriff, who may just decide to take a look inside your bag o’ stuff to determine for himself whether you’re telling the truth, or if you were attempting to pocket some extra coin by smuggling contraband! Sheriff of Nottingham is all about keeping a straight face as you try to convince your fellow players that you’re a truthful law-abiding citizen. This is a great bluffing game in its finest form!
Each turn, one person will be playing as the Sheriff, while everyone else assumes their regular role as merchants bringing goods into the city. In the beginning phase, the merchants can remove cards from their hand of 6 goods and replace them with new items from the market by drawing cards from one of two facedown decks or face-up discard piles.
Each of the different goods has their own value: apples are the most common type in the game and are each only worth 2 coins, while cheese and bread sit at a higher value of 3 coins while chickens are worth the highest at 4 coins each. Contraband on the other hand can fetch a far prettier penny than the legal goods, but you’ll need to be a smooth talker if you want to bring them through without arousing the suspicion of the Sheriff.
After discarding and drawing cards from the market, the merchants will then put up to 5 goods in their individual player bags, either filling it with legal goods, or mixing in some contraband to try and get them past the Sheriff without being caught. When all bags have been loaded, the real fun begins! One by one, each player announces to the Sheriff the type and number of goods they have in their bag.
The heart of this game lies in how you appeal to the Sheriff, as you look him square in the eye and announce the contents of your bag. If things start going south and you sense that the Sheriff is coming onto your wily ways, you can even try to offer a bribe and have him turn a blind eye so that you may hopefully go unpunished. But if the bribe doesn’t work, the Sheriff has the authority to check your bag whether you like it or not!
At this point, there are two outcomes: if the Sheriff discovers that you were bringing contraband and unclaimed goods into the city, you must pay the penalty cost labeled on the cards for each item that was unspoken for. However, if you were telling the truth the Sheriff has to pay YOU for wrongfully mistrusting your genuine honesty. One of my favourite strategies in this game is to fool the Sheriff into thinking that I have contraband only for them to find out after opening my bag that I was telling the truth and delivering all legal goods. This tactic also sets me up for the next turn because the Sheriff will be hesitant to check my bag again for fear of paying another penalty fee!
The game continues until each player has had a chance at being the Sheriff twice (three times if you’re playing with only 3 players). At the end of the game, players will count up the total value of goods and coins they have in their possession and whoever has the most money is the winner. One additional thing to be aware of are the bonuses awarded to the players who have collected the most of each of the legal goods, which can be all the difference in breaking ties for a clean and clear victory!
Despite singing my praises for Sheriff of Nottingham’s gameplay, where the game falls short for me is in its production quality. While technically there isn’t anything wrong with the components, I find that overall the entire game looks and feels average. The paper stock for the cards is standard and has a decent weight to them; the cardboard coins are acceptable in their thickness and the felt bags to store goods are functional. Even the artwork – while straightforward – does little to spark the imagination as you’re sweet-talking the Sheriff about the goods that you want to bring into the market. To be fair, the game’s cost is on the more affordable end of the spectrum, which could justify the decisions surrounding its production. Still, I’m left wanting more from the game.
Sheriff of Nottingham is on the rise to becoming a modern-day classic. It’s quick to teach, simple in its mechanics and can appeal to players of all skill levels, making this an easy recommendation for a casual and enjoyable game to play. Even if you aren’t skilled at bluffing, being honest for the entire game is a viable strategy as you focus your attention on collecting the most legal goods to receive the extra cash bonus.
Sheriff of Nottingham is also guaranteed to bring tons of laughter to the table – whether it’s because you’ve gotten away with smuggling goods illegally or when it’s your turn to become a human lie detector, it’s all so much fun! At the time of this review, an expansion is expected to hit the shelves sometime this year, which will further test your bluffing prowess by providing high-reward incentives for successfully smuggling goods. I’m looking forward to trying it out, as I’m sure it’ll be especially helpful in honing my skills when I submit my application to the border control office!