Play Time: 60 mins.
Sheriff of Nottingham was released in 2014 from designers
Sérgio Halaban, Bryan Pope, Benjamin Pope, and André Zatz. It was published by Arcane Wonders.
Sheriff of Nottingham tells the familiar story of Prince John’s greed gone too far. He’s charged his Sheriff with taking a good look at every merchant coming in and out of town for goods that he’s deemed illegal – and keeping the best stuff for himself! Most games at this point would have put you in the role of Robin Hood, maybe throw you into some tactical miniatures RPG combat, or even a stealth action game. This is not one of those games…
Sheriff of Nottingham is much more subversive. You’re playing a merchant. You’re not trying to save the realm, you’re just trying to make a living and, obviously, make more than all of the other merchants who chose a primary color that is clearly inferior to yours. To make that money you’re going to have to get as many high-value goods to the market as you can, so by the end of the game, you’ve accumulated the most wealth.
Standing in your way is the nasty old Sheriff of Nottingham, though. He’s big, got a sweet moustache, and generally has an uppity look on his face. He’s going to be taking a look at every bag of goods that each merchant tries to deliver in a turn. He might decide that you look honest and send you on your way. On the other hand, he may very well pop your bag open and see just what you were trying to smuggle in to Nottingham to sell.
In Sheriff of Nottingham, you’ll be playing the part of a merchant most of the time, but you’ll also be rotating as he Sheriff every few turns as well. You can use this time to try and take advantage of what you know about your friends, family, and loved ones to discern whether or not they are being truthful. You can then proceed to find out just how much of a dirty, rotten lying cheat your own child can be.
How does this game of merchants, smuggling, lying and honesty come together?
Gateway Game - Great for BeginnersI want to make special mention of Sheriff of Notingham being a Gateway Game. We here at BoardGameBuds have a soft spot for these games that are usually just a notch in complexity above games like Monopoly or Uno. If you have friends or family who have only been exposed to board games more than 30 years old, a Gateway Game is the perfect place to start them off and introduce them to something more modern.
Sheriff of Nottingham’s primary components are cards, coins, and merchant bags. The cards are excellent, printed with a great quality, and have so far held up to a vigorous amount of shuffling that’s required in a game like this. They are visually appealing while at the same time quickly convey the value of the good, as well as the penalty value if you’re caught smuggling the good illegally.
The coins definitely suffice. There does seem to be quite a few of the higher value coins in the game: 50s and 20s, when we very rarely if ever had need of more than one 20 each. I’m guessing the highe value coins are just used during the summary of the game when adding up all of the goods’ values and wanting something physical to count with. Already I can feel myself wanting to talk about Splendor’s tokens again here, but I’ll resist! For the price point, Sheriff of Nottingham’s coins are just right!
The summary phase brings up another really great “component” – and that is the companion App that’s available for Android and Apple. The base version of this app is free and I would HIGHLY recommend picking it up when you’re going to play this game. The scoring phase can really drag out an otherwise quick experience and the app makes it very easy, and fast. The publishers did a great job with including this app as a way to enhance their base product – and other developers and publishers should take notice!!
Sheriff of Nottingham’s last major component are these little bags. You will be carrying your goods in here during every round, and they’ve got a little snap on the back that shuts it. The rules state that the Sheriff can pretty much do whatever he wants with the bag while inspecting, but the moment that snap is opened – the decision is made. It’s a cool little feature, and there have been plenty of dramatic pauses right before that little snap is heard around our table.
The instructions in Sheriff of Nottingham leave me a little bit torn. First let’s start with the good:
The visuals in the manual, similar to the visuals on the cards, are all very well done – and they are abound in the instructions. I think they’re all used rather well in expressing the rules and visual flow of the page to get the individual instructions across to the players. I also like that there are liberal use of examples to convey the feeling of Sheriff of Nottingham along with just the basic rules of play. So much of this game’s fun is driven from the interaction between the players, so trying to evoke some of that in the rules is a great idea!
On the other hand, the setup of the game begins on page 4 of the manual and then continues to the end of the game on page 12. The presentation of the manual, in my opinion, makes the game seem more complicated than it is. That appearance of complication can come off as intimidating, especially when considering this as a Gateway Game for those that are new to modern tabletop gaming. Now that we’ve played more than a few games of it, we can introduce it to new players in just a few minutes – but at first glance the manual doesn’t convey that feeling effectively.
Sheriff of Nottingham’s gameplay is actually very simple in theory, but rather intricate and remarkably fun in practice. It focuses on hand management, set collection, as well as deception and bluffing.
The primary objective is to have the most amount of gold at the end of the game. This means all of the gold in your hand, as well as the gold value of all the goods you have successfully moved from your hand into your merchant stand. Sheriff of Nottingham also has aspects of set collection whereby having the highest amount of a legal good at the end of the game rewards a player with a big bonus, and there is a bonus for the runner-up as well. This occurs for each of the legal goods.
You also can add in the value of your contraband goods that you were able to successfully smuggle in! These are kept face-down until the end, so other players will know you smuggled something – but not know how much you’ll have. This element of surprise helps keep the game going right down to the wire in many cases.
To get to the point of having a lot of goods in Sheriff of Nottingham requires hand management. The basic premise is that every turn you can only declare ONE type of LEGAL good, and only up to 5 of them. The rules are clear that you cannot lie about the amount of cards in your bag.
The other rule that your hand size is limited to 6, with a chance to draw once per round. Draws can be made from either of two discard piles, or one face-down pile. You can draw from one, two, or all three – but once you start drawing from the face-down deck, you can’t go back to the discard pile. It is in combining the hand-size and draw mechanic that you are left with the basic dilemma that drives every turn in the game: How to get the most value from your hand into your merchant stand.
This is the point where the game goes from “okay, I get it” to “brilliant”. Let’s take a look at a discard setup and two possible starting hands to show an example:
The lady in Purple here has a hand with 4 legal cheese cards, and 2 legal apple cards. Since 5 is the maximum amount we can declare to the Sheriff, it’s a very easy decision to discard one-two apples, grab one cheese and then a card from the draw deck. If you can manage to send 5 legal goods of the same type through in every round, this game would be incredibly easy.
Our blue Baker, however, has a much harder and more realistic mess of a hand to deal with – Two legal apples, a legal chicken, a legal cheese and two contraband cards. He’s also hired a terrible photographer who doesn’t understand how to properly manage light sources yet!
For the Baker, he knows he has to come up with some way to get more than 2 apples into his merchant stand. Each player will only have a few chances (6 turns in a 3-4 player game) to move goods. He could take a risk and discard the other 4, and grab 4 random cards from the deck – but even if this leaves him with 3 apples, he’s going to have to make a bold move. He’s going to lie.
The Baker takes those two apples, and two contraband that he picked up, stuffs them in his blue bag and passes it to the Sheriff – declaring “4 apples, Sheriff” – and the real game begins.
From here another player, as the Sheriff, has to determine whether the Baker is lying or not. All kinds of crazy moves can happen here. The Sheriff can demand a bribe from one or all players. Another player can bribe the Sheriff to open the Baker’s bag. The Baker can make a deal with the Sheriff to let him through and give him items from his bag.
Rather quickly, the Sheriff of Nottingham will have to decide who is telling the truth, and who is lying. If the Sheriff was right, the offending smuggler owes the Sheriff some money. If the smuggler was, in fact, declaring goods honestly then the Sheriff gives THEM some money.
It’s a great system of gameplay, that rewards bluffing and timing, along with being as efficient as possible with your hand while keeping an eye on the other players’ set collection.
The one area that suffers is the out-of-the-box scoring. For a game that can play in such a brisk way, scoring the game is an absolute slog at the end. The free companion app, as I mentioned above, fixes this issue. The other complaint that some of our Buds have is that sometimes the games feel just a little bit short – but personally I think it’s just right, as one bad turn could put someone far enough behind that the other players only need to remain conservative. For whatever reason, our group flies through Sheriff of Nottingham games much faster than the listed 60 minutes – that’s probably just because we all think everyone else is a dirty liar, and don’t want to hear their excuses.
Sheriff of Nottingham wants you to play it, and usually wants to be played a few times in a row. After our first session once we picked up the app, we’ve played his at a minimum of two times any time the box is opened up – and occasionally 3-4 times. sealed this game as a great experience in our group – but before using that we found that it very easily lost momentum for further plays.
I would say that personally the drive to play more of it past the 10 play mark diminished. It’s still an incredibly easy choice to bring out in a small group or introduce as a Gateway game, but ultimately it does start to feel “same-y” after a while.
Sheriff of Nottingham hits a perfect stride in the department of feeling, and it brings out a lot of fun in almost any group. Even new gamers will start to make surprising bluffs and lies and catch you off-guard, while narrowing their own eyes in your direction when you claim to be innocently bringing 5 chickens into the market. Suuuuuuuuure you are.
The sneaking, the bribing, the bluffing, the yelling, the accusations, and the corroborating. These are verbs that seem to pop up in every game – and then they all culminate in those last-ditch efforts you’ll make of trying to smuggle contraband in during the last turn. Sheriff of Nottingham rewards the player that is unpredictable and can make their opponents THINK they are lying, or think they are telling the truth.
It’s possibly just the short time between our review of Splendor and this, but in many ways Sheriff of Nottingham seems like the flip side of Splendor’s coin. Both are excellent examples of gateway games, but while Splendor’s game-play is much more a cerebral experience, and the payoff minimal – Sheriff of Nottingham grows from quiet beginnings to outright raucous endings. They both are incredibly fun and satisfying in their own way, but she sheer amount of crazy emotion that can come out of a game of Sheriff of Nottingham is not to be missed!
Sheriff of Nottingham is another Excellent example of a boardgame, as well as a great starting point as a Gateway Game for your friends that may prefer a more interactive, and raucous game full of bluffing and deceit!