I’m usually skeptical of the games you buy from the “board game” section at the supermarket. Generally speaking, I’m not going to want to play any of the ten different Monopoly skins sitting next to the dog food. Last weekend, however, I spotted Sheriff of Nottingham by Arcane Wonders on the shelf at the supermarket, and I remember hearing from a few gamer friends of mine that it’s quite a solid game. Having never actually played it, I picked it up based on the few positive reviews I’d heard, and boy am I glad I did! Maybe my supermarket is wising up to the hobby board game industry (they’ve started carrying Catan as well)!
At it’s core, Sheriff of Nottingham is a bluffing game. Each player takes the role of a merchant, trying to get their goods past the city gates, hoping the Sheriff of Nottingham doesn’t inspect… and confuscate anything.
The game has players rotate as the Sheriff, allowing each player to be the Sheriff for two rounds (or three rounds, if you’re playing with three players). During each round, the non-Sheriff players have to stock their hands with the right kinds of goods (cards), secretly load up their merchant bag with whatever goods they want to sneak into the market, declare the goods that are in their bag to the sheriff (either telling the truth… or bluffing), and then hope the sheriff doesn’t inspect their bag…
If the sheriff inspects your bag, and you were telling the truth about the goods you were bringing into the market, then the sheriff has to pay you for troubling you. However, if the sheriff inspects your bag and it turns out that you were lying about the goods in the bag, then he confuscates anything you were lying about and collects a fine.
The key cog in the game’s mechanics, however, is the rule that you can only declare one type of legal good – be it apples, bread, chickens, or cheese. You can’t declare multiple types of goods. And you can’t declare a contraband good – pepper, mead, silk, or crossbows. So if you want to play the game as truthfully as possible, then it’s all about set collection – trying to build a hand with lots of the same type of legal good, and passing those through the gate and past the sheriff. But where would the fun in that be?
In order to really rake in the big bucks, you have to bluff and bribe your way to the top. Filling your merchant bag with goods of different types, and even valuable contraband goods, is the easiest way to earn a lot of coins. However, you’ll need to use your skills of bluffing in order to get them past the sheriff. A solid poker face comes in handy for this game. Also, if the sheriff isn’t buying your bluff and he threatens to inspect your bag, then you can bribe him with coins or goods to avoid inspection.
Like a lot of other bluffing games, Sheriff of Nottingham is the most fun when everyone playing knows each other fairly well. It’s difficult for me to say how fun it would be playing with people you don’t know too well because, 1) bribing and lying to strangers can be a bit awkward, and 2) it’s difficult to read a stranger’s poker face. Then again, bribing and lying to your close friends and family members might just lead to bad blood… knowing how competitive my friends and family can get, we might have to limit the amount of Sheriff of Nottingham we play in one night… haha!
There’s a lot of nuanced strategy to the game, aside from the bluffing and bribing aspect. For example, you can stack your hand at the start of each round; doing so allows you to pull cards out from a face-up discard pile, giving the other players a chance to see–and possibly remember–what cards you have in your hand. If someone saw you pull out two pieces of cheese and a crossbow from the discard pile, and you later declare that you have five apples in your bag… they might just raise a red flag and convince the sheriff to inspect your bag.
All in all, I’m thrilled I found this gem. It lives up to the hype and positive reviews it’s garnered over the past couple years, and I will definitely be pulling it out during game nights with the family. What better excuse to bribe, cheat, and lie to your family members, amirite? 😛
Until next time, gang. Keep it plucky,