Author Topic: Sheriff of Nottingham - review  (Read 4221 times)

Offline thodekey

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Sheriff of Nottingham - review
« on: June 19, 2017, 03:56:59 PM »
Earlier this year -on a weekend with friends- I was lucky to be introduced to the cardgame Sheriff of Nottingham.  After playing it on several occasions afterwords, I just had to have my own version and since then, I introduced it on my turn in different groups of friends.  Last weekend, for example, I was invited for a poker weekend among friends.  After playing a tournament with 5 people and (too) fast increasing blinds, we just ended up too early to go home.  So I threw in the Sheriff and -spoiler alert- although those guys are quite poker fanatics, they ended up saying in the end they preferred playing "Sheriff of Nottingham" instead of poker.   Mission accomplished!  The analogy with poker isn't that odd: bluffing is a substantial element in the game but Sheriff brings it to another level and it adds more elements like bribing and smuggling, which I haven't seen a lot in any other games. (although I'm not a game expert, to be honest)

The Concept

Sheriff of Nottingham is a 3-5 person card game in which each of you is a merchant trying to deliver your bag of goods into the city of Nottingham.  For this, you must get past the greedy Sheriff, who must decide which merchants' bags to inspect and which to let by.  The tricky part is: you can only declare legal goods to the Sheriff while the big money is earned by smuggling contraband into the city past the Sheriff.
Every player takes turns assuming the role of Sheriff.

The Contents of the box

The game includes:
- a tray with 216 Goods Cards: 144 Legal Goods (green cards with Apples, Cheese, Bread or Chickens), 60 Contraband (red cards with Pepper, Mead, Silk and Crossbows) and 12 Royal Goods (red cards with a gold banner and Sheriff's badge on the bottom, including special Apples, Cheese, Bread and Chickens)
- a tray with Gold Coins
- 1 Sheriff Marker
- 5 Merchant Stands
- 5 Merchant Bags

The Rules & Mechanics

Each player starts the game with a Merchant Stand, a Merchant Bag, 50 gold coins and six cards face down.
The game is played clockwise over a series of rounds in which every player has to be the Sheriff twice (or three times in a 3-player game).  Each round is divided into 5 phases:

1. Market: in this phase, each merchant may discard unwanted cards and draw new ones, hoping to get a set of goods to take to the market.  For each card you discard, you can draw a card from 1 or more piles of the card tray: 1 draw pile in the middle with the cards face down (so the other players cannot see what you draw) & 2 discards piles with the cards face up (where the other players can see what you take).  In the end you must always end up with 6 cards in your hand.

2. Load merchant bag: in this phase, you place the goods cards that you want to take to the market in your merchant bag.  You can place 1-5 Goods into your merchant bag.  When that is done, you close the bag and place it in front of you and turn to the Sheriff

3. Declaration: in this phase, you must look the Sheriff into the eyes and declare what goods you are delivering to the market but...:
- you can only declare Legal Goods, never smuggling in Contraband, means you will have to lie to the Sheriff
- you can only declare one kind of smuggling in a mix of Goods, means you will have to lie to the Sheriff
- you must declare only the exact number of cards in your Merchant Bag.  So, you cannot lie about the number of cards.

4. Inspection: Now the Sheriff can choose to inspect one or several Merchant Bags or let them pass.  If you inspect a Bag and discover that its owner lied about its contents, you will collect a fine.  If you inspect a Bag and its owner was telling the truth, he can charge the Sheriff a penalty.
As a Sheriff, you may choose to threaten the owners of the bags with an inspection, hoping to get a hint of what's inside or to solicit a bribe.  The merchants can also offer you bribes to avoid inspection, or even to convince you to inspect another merchant's bag.  All players can participate in all negotiations for this entire phase, but the Sheriff has the final say when the negotiating is over.
When the Sheriff has decided, there are several options:
1. the Sheriff lets you pass (because you bribed him or offered something in return): you must now show the cards in your bags to the other players.  All Legal Goods are placed in the matching spaces of your Merchant Stand face up.  All Contraband and Royal Goods are kept secret.  Those cards are kept face down at the top of your Merchant Stand.
2. the Sheriff inspects your bag and you were lying: any goods that you did declare truthfully, are placed in your Merchant Stand face up;  any goods that you did not truthfully declare are confiscated -whether they are Legal Goods or Contraband.  The Sheriff takes all of those Goods and places them on one of the discard piles, in any order he chooses.  You must pay a fine to the Sheriff for all confiscated goods.  The fine is equal to the penalty shown at the bottom of each card.
3. the Sheriff inspects your bag and you were telling the truth: the Sheriff must pay you Gold equal to the penalty on every Legal Good in your bag.

5. End of Round:. The round is over, the Sherrif Marker is passed to next the player.  Now all players draw cards from the draw pile until they have again six cards in hand.  Then the next round begins with Phase 1, the Market Phase.
If all players have been Sheriff twice (or three times in a 3-player game), the game ends immediately.

Winning the game

When the game is ended, each player reveals their Contraband Cards and count up their scores.  You earn points equal to:
- the value of all Goods in your Merchant Stand (shown on top of each card)
- any Gold coins you have left or that you have earned by accepting bribes
- any bonuses you have earned for being the "King" (owning the most of a type of Legal Goods) or "Queen" (owning the second most of a type of Legal Goods) of a type of Good.
The player with the most points wins!


As the first game of The Dice Tower Essentials Line, it didn't disappoint me at all.  The bluffing and bribing aspect is so fresh & fun and the more you play the game, the more complex strategies starts running through each player's brain:
- do you built up the reputation of an honest merchant and smuggle your contraband when no one is expecting it or are you acting suspicious and maybe offering the Sheriff a small bribe for a bag with all legal goods in the hope he will not accept your bribe but instead inspect your bag for which you will receive a nice fine? 
And as a Sheriff, do you go for the conscientious inspection hoping to catch all the smugglers and the penalties with it and thus, risking the fines you'll have to pay, or do you make an art of negotiating and taking bribes, risking the merchants get away with too many Contraband, or do you make and take promises and alliances for the next rounds, which can come in handy for your next turn as Merchant if....if...if that player keeps it's promise (which he is not obliged to do according the rules)

In my humble opinion, that -excuse me the word- "" aspect makes this game the game it is: a negotiating card game which you can play as hard or "meta" as you want.  For me, the most fun was to observe how other players get fast absorbed into the bribing and bluffing mechanics role-playing "the poor baker with 7 children who must smuggle in some contraband to survive but willing to pay a little bribe for it"

If you are convinced, don't hesitate to download the free App for the game: it contains a handy point counter and winner-noticer contains hilarious audio comments you can drop in during the game.

Any negative points?

Well, if you don't like the negotiating or lying aspect, you'd better spend your money on something else.  In Europe, the average price of 39€ for the game is not cheap. 
Then there is the problem with the bags: although the artwork is quite nice, the bags' closures just aren't made for a lot of...euh...opening and closing.  After a couple of games, 2 bags don't close anymore, loosing the notorious "click" when the decision is made to open a bag.  So, in fact, now we don't close the bags anymore with the closure. 

That said, the rest of the artwork is nice and solid, the rulebook is very clear and the game itself is easy to introduce to new players, yet containing enough levels and mechanics to play for a lot of times.  I recommend to play the game with 4 or even better 5 players because then the interaction -or should i say struggle?- between the players and Sheriff is at its best.

And last but not least: in september 2017, the first expansion (in fact, one box with 5 expansions) is expected to be released, including a 6th-player (hmmm, where have I heard that one before?) and 5 ways to encourage even more lying, bribing and smuggling and hey...don't we just all enjoy that from time to time...better keep it for a game then for real life...right?

« Last Edit: January 02, 2018, 02:26:19 AM by thodekey »

Offline Decar

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Re: Sheriff of Nottingham - review
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2017, 12:17:22 AM »
Thanks for the write up thodekey - It's good to see something beating poker at the very least  :(y)

Offline ooh_jim

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Re: Sheriff of Nottingham - review
« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2017, 02:15:58 PM »
Big fan of Sheriff of Nottingham, but man am I terrible at it.

Offline thodekey

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Re: Sheriff of Nottingham - review
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2017, 12:36:05 AM »
Thanks for the write up thodekey - It's good to see something beating poker at the very least  :(y)

You're welcome Decar!

Hope you'll be able to give the game a try.  I'm not a hater of poker but this one is waaaaaaaay better.

Offline thodekey

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Re: Sheriff of Nottingham - review
« Reply #4 on: July 04, 2017, 03:00:17 AM »
Big fan of Sheriff of Nottingham, but man am I terrible at it.

Great to hear you like it too a lot...!
For the record: i'm not playing that great either...but the real fun is just in playing it and observing the others in their own struggles and cunning plans.  Can't wait for the big expansion to be released soon.

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