Tabletop Corner: Sheriff of Nottingham Review

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Do you like to make deals? Bluff? Lie to your friends or even perfect strangers? Well, do I have the game for you!

Sheriff of Nottingham is a game of bluffing and deal-making for 3-5 players. Each round, one player takes the role of the sheriff, performing inspections at the gates of Nottingham. The other players play the role of merchants, bringing their goods inside the town to display in the marketplace. Goods are represented by cards, showing the legal goods of apples, bread, cheese, and chickens. Additionally, there are cards representing contraband goods, such as silk, pepper, mead, and crossbows.

All players have a little bag in which they can place cards. The merchants will pick up to five cards from their hand and place them into their bags, snapping them closed. Then, one at a time, they must look the Sheriff player in the eye, hand them their bag, and declare one legal good and the correct number of cards within their bag. Once all merchants have declared their goods to the Sheriff, the inspection phase begins, where he or she decides whether or not to trust each merchant.

If the Sheriff trusts the merchant, he or she gives back the bag, which is then opened and the merchant reveals any legal goods in the bag and puts them in their stand (whether the goods are what the merchant claimed or not), and any contraband is placed face down in their stand. If the Sheriff doesn’t believe the merchant, then he or she snaps open the bag and looks at the cards inside. If the merchant was truthful, the Sheriff pays that merchant a penalty fee. However, if anything in the bag is different than what was claimed, the merchant gets to keep anything that matches their claim but pays the Sheriff a penalty fee for the goods that were not declared. Once all bags have been dealt with, the role of the Sheriff passes to a new player and a new round begins.

So, the bluffing aspect is rather obvious, but what about the deal-making? Well, during the inspection phase, the merchants can offer the Sheriff just about anything in order to get their bag through without being opened. Alternately, the Sheriff can request whatever in return for letting the bag through. Money, goods from the merchant’s stand, or goods that may or may not be within the bag are perfectly acceptable bribes. A player can even pay the Sheriff to open another player’s bag! Once a deal has been made, it must be honored. Similarly, as soon as a bag has returned to a merchant’s hand or the snap of the bag has been opened, no deal can be made between that player and the Sheriff.

The game is played until each player has been the Sheriff twice (three times in a three player game). Goods are worth different values, and there are also bonuses for each legal good, granting the person with the most of any good the king bonus, and then the queen bonus goes to the player with the next highest number of that good. Add up all these values along with the player’s remaining gold for their final score, highest score wins. The scoring aspect is probably the worst part of the game, but there is a handy and official free app that assists with the scoring and also has a timer for the Sheriff inspection phase to keep the game moving along.

Everyone I have introduced Sheriff of Nottingham to has had a great time with it. Trying to read who is lying to you, hoping you can bluff the Sheriff into not opening your bag, or even bluff them into opening your bag so that you get that sweet, sweet penalty money, it’s all fun! Recently an expansion has been released that adds a sixth player and a number of other modular expansions, such as deputies, a black market, and the Merry Men. I haven’t had the chance to try it yet, so I have no idea if it’s worth the extra investment, but just being able to support a sixth player makes it very appealing.

If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend giving Sheriff of Nottingham a try.