Players: 3 to 5
Game Length: 60 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 4 or 5 players who want to try to sneak valuable goods past their friends
Sheriff of Nottingham is a bluffing and negotiation game where the players are mostly-honest merchants bringing their goods to market. Unfortunately for them, they need to bring their goods past the Sheriff of Nottingham himself – and if they are bringing in contraband (or indeed anything at all other than what they claimed), the Sheriff will subject them to a fine.
However, the Sheriff is not the most law-abiding of individuals, and the merchants are welcome to try to bribe him with coin or the contents of their packs, if it means sneaking a few indulgences through the gates. On top of that, if the Sheriff inspects a pack and it turns out to contain exactly what the merchant stated, the Sheriff is fined instead. Each player has a chance to be the Sheriff twice before the game comes to an end, and the person with the most money at the end wins.
In each round of Sheriff of Nottingham, players will place up to five goods from their hand into felt bags, sealing them with a satisfying ‘click’. These will be handed to the Sheriff with an announcement of how many of one type of legal good they contain – for example, ‘This bag contains three apples’. The Sheriff then eyeballs the would-be merchants and decides, typically with much deliberation, whether to hand the bag back unmolested or inspect it. The deliberation here is the key – it will give players the chance to wheedle a deal out of the Sheriff, such as promising coin or goods for not opening their bag, or even offering coin to open a different player’s bag. Any deals made are binding, unless they involve future arrangements (such as ‘When I’m Sheriff, I’ll let your bag through for free’).
Once the Sheriff pops the button on the bag, though, it’s all over – no other negotiations can be made. Likewise, once the bag leaves the Sheriff’s hand, the goods are through and the player may remove these goods and place them next to their character sheet. The Sheriff will immediately know how much contraband he’s inadvertently let through, as contraband is added face-down at the top of the player’s character board. This also lets other players know how much trust to put in their fellow merchant when it’s time for them to wear the Sheriff’s spiked gloves.
Sheriff of Nottingham is a fairly light game based on social interaction and the wheeling and dealing between the merchants and Sheriff. Luck can be a major factor in the game, and if you frequently receive large numbers of the same kind of legal good, you can end up winning easily whether the Sheriff opens your bag or not. There is a very large amount of risk on the part of the Sheriff too; if he opens up a large bag of completely legal goods, he’ll be forced to pay out a hefty fee to the merchant, which can lead to the Sheriff simply refusing to open bags, removing the best portion of the game.
Despite this, Sheriff of Nottingham is an excellent social game, and the arguments that you’ll throw around to try to convince the Sheriff to leave your bag alone and open someone else’s will keep you and your friends laughing. If you go in with the right attitude, you’ll be remembering your game of Sheriff of Nottingham for months to come.