Prince John is in Nottingham and the cities merchants are taking the opportunity to hock their wares during all the commotion. Some of them are even trying to smuggle in illicit goods for a bit of extra profit. Unfortunately, the Sheriff of Nottingham is keeping an eye on everything coming through the front gate confiscating goods and collecting fines from those looking to profit off illegal imports.
To start Sheriff of Nottingham every player takes a Character Board and that character’s matching envelope. One player, designated as the banker, gives everyone 50 coins. All the cards are shuffled and 10 cards are drawn to form two discard piles, both face up. One player takes the Sheriff (don’t worry, everyone will get a turn as the Sheriff) and the game begins.
There are 5 phases to the game:
- Market – Players may discard up to 5 cards from their hand and draw from the deck or either discard pile and draw up to a hand of 6 cards.
- Load Merchant Bag – Players secretly load up to 5 cards in their envelope and snap them shut.
- Declaration – Players give their envelopes to the Sheriff, declaring what’s inside. Players can only declare legal goods and must tell the truth about how many cards are in the envelope. Bribes may also be included on top of the envelope.
- Inspection – At this point, the Sheriff makes a choice to either inspect a player’s envelope or let it pass.
- Pass – The player gets their envelope back, places all the legal goods in the appropriate spot on their Character Board, and places all Contraband face down above their board.
- Inspect – The Sheriff opens the envelope. If the player was telling the truth the Sheriff must pay them a penalty and the player gets their cards back. If the player was lying they must pay the Sheriff a penalty. They get their legal goods back, but their Contraband gets placed into either discard pile by the Sheriff. At any time before the Sheriff opens the envelope a bribe can be made by the player or asked for by the Sheriff. Taking a bride doesn’t guarantee the Sheriff won’t still open the envelope.
- End of Round – The round ends, the Sheriff gets passed to the next player, and play is set up for a new round.
These 4 phases continue until each player has played the Sheriff twice. At the end, points are calculated and the winner is declared.
For more details, including scoring, Contraband items, and Royal Goods, check out the game’s full rules.
Sheriff of Nottingham contains cards, thick cardboard coins, oversized cardboard player boards, a giant Sheriff standee, and 5 envelopes for players to place their deliveries each turn. The box contains an excellent plastic insert used to hold the deck and discard piles as well as compartments to separate the different coin denominations. The quality of all the components is top notch, though the snaps on the envelopes are a bit tight and need care when unfastening, lest you rip the fabric.
If you haven’t played this 2014 game by now (like I hadn’t) then you owe it to yourself to get it to the table. With a set of very simple rules, the game manages to provide an extremely satisfying experience filled with player interaction. While the core rules of the game are relatively simple, they provide flexibility for players to come up with all sorts of different bribes/bluffs to get their goods through the city gates, legal or otherwise. Sheriff of Nottingham is all about knowing your fellow players as it is knowing how to play the game. This creates unique experiences for every different person it’s played with.
For those who already own the game, or people looking for additional goodies right off the back, Arcane Wonders has recently released an expansion called Merry Men. For $24.99 you get the ability to add a 6th player as well as different interchangeable modules to add Robin Hood’s crew, variable city laws, a black market, and deputies to help the Sheriff in his duties. Each module is simple to implement, yet changes the game in ways to keep it interesting even to veteran players.
Whether or not you’re interested in the base game, or adding in the expansion, you can’t go wrong with Sheriff of Nottingham. I’d even suggest players who normally don’t like social-type games to at least give it a shot. Its accessibility helps break boundaries a bit.
A copy of Sheriff of Nottingham and the Merry Men expansion were provided free for review by Arcane Wonders