Sheriff of Nottingham Review
During times when Robin Hood isn’t running amok, the Sheriff of Nottingham is manning border patrol for Nottinghamshire. Each day, merchants will bring their bags of goods that they intend on selling at their shops, and it’s the Sheriff’s duty to keep contraband out. However, with the right offer, he might let a few slide, open a rival merchant’s bag, or even split contraband with another merchant. As a merchant of Nottinghamshire, can you successfully make it across the border with the most valuable goods?
Players runs their own shops, which are represented by individual player boards. At their shop is all of the legal and illegal goods that have successfully made it across the border. Players also start the game with six cards, which will usually comprise of a mix of legal and illegal goods. All of the cards feature an item value and a penalty value, but more on that in a second. Everyone will also start with the same amount of money.
If you’re not designated as the sheriff, each player will get a chance to go to the market. There, you’ll have the opportunity to discard any cards in your hand in exchange for blind cards in the middle and/or visible cards on discard piles. Once you have your new cards, you place them face-up on the side discard piles so that everyone can see what you got rid of.
After that, it’s time to load your bags with goods. Players can put up to five cards of any kind in their felt bag, though a clean bag is only one that features 1-5 cards of the same legal item. In this case, a bag with three apples is legal, but a bag with one apple and two crossbows is not. Likewise, a bag with legal goods of different types is also classified as an illegal shipment, since you’re only allowed to declare one type of good at the border. Once you snap the bag shut, you’re officially locked into your shipment.
This is where the Sheriff comes in. One of the merchants will act as the Sheriff each round. Each merchant will give the Sheriff their bag and declare what’s in it. Once the Sheriff has the bags, they have the opportunity to inspect any bag they choose. If the Sheriff opens a bag with contraband, they confiscate the bad goods and the merchant pays the Sheriff the total penalty amount listed on the cards. However, if they open a clean bag, the merchant gets all of their goods, plus the Sheriff has to pay them the penalty cost.
Of course, the Sheriff should rely on their instincts when it comes to catching smugglers, but it’s not always that simple. Merchants can spice things up by bribing the Sheriff with money or goods from their bag. Bribes can be offered by merchants to let their own bag go clean, or to get the Sheriff to inspect the bag of another merchant. As a Sheriff, will you be swayed by the bribes of others?
The round ends when the Sheriff has resolved all of the bags, whether they were opened or returned to the player. Whatever merchandise they were able to successfully get through is displayed in their shop. After each player has taken on the role of Sheriff twice, players are paid out based on their merchandise and the merchant with the most money wins.
I love the border patrol concept that this game is built upon. Every aspect of the experience is well thought out in ways that create a lot of inherently fun and hilarious scenarios for both the merchant and Sheriff. Lying is a big part of the game, as successfully smuggling contraband will immediately net you a lot of money, running a clean store can also net you a ton of dough if you can score the bonuses associated with having the most of each legitimate good. The single best part of the game is the tension that comes with the Sheriff snapping open a bag. When you hear that distinct snap, you know that what’s in that bag, legal or otherwise, is going to end poorly for someone and everyone is going to have a laugh over it.
I’ll be the first to admit that I suck at lying, which is why I’m not in a rush to add Sheriff of Nottingham to my collection. Having said that, it’s a tremendous bluffing game that will generate a lot of excitement and silly laughs. For those that thrive on devious play or busting bluffs, this one is bound to be a blast.