In Sheriff of Nottingham, you get to test your bluffing, persuading, and bribing skills as an honest merchant making a not-so-honest living. The Sheriff is in charge of the customs and gets to inspect the merchant’s bags for contraband, and it’s up to you to find a way to get around it!
Brief Overview of Sheriff of Nottingham
At its core, Sheriff of Nottingham combines social deduction with basic point-gathering mechanics to create a different experience than typical hidden traitor games. I will be reviewing the 2nd edition that has updated rules and adds a 6th merchant, black market, and Sheriff’s deputies.
Three to six players take on the roles of merchants, with each of them acting as the Sheriff for one round. The merchants try to get to the Nottingham market to sell their goods but to make the most profit, they can smuggle contraband.
The Sheriff is tasked with inspecting the bags to hinder smugglers or accept bribes to increase their wealth. However, if they decide to check the wares of a legitimate trader, they’ll have to pay a penalty. This can lead to interesting interactions between players where everyone plays mind games with the Sheriff.
Unboxing Sheriff of Nottingham
The game includes the following components:
- 204 Goods cards
- 12 Royal Goods cards
- 1 Sheriff standee
- 2 Deputy standees
- 6 Black market cards
- 6 Deputy cards
- 1 Booty tile
- 133 Gold coins
- 6 Merchant stands
- 6 Merchant bags
- 1 Rulebook
Sheriff of Nottingham has quite a charming and colorful art style. Captured in a dastardly pose, the Sheriff is asking to be hated, the goods are well-illustrated, and it feels like every merchant has a mysterious past.
There’s a debate among the fans of the game whether the art style changes are for the better or worse. The visual simplification and more contrasting colors seem like they cater to a younger audience, but this comes down to personal preference.
Predominantly made out of cardboard and paper, components are durable and feel right in the hands. Cards won’t split or chip which is important considering how often you’ll be placing them in and out of the pouches.
As for the pouches, the fabric itself is fine, but the button does have some quality issues. Some owners have ripped the entire button off as they tried to open the pouch, leaving a hole in the top cover. Unless you’re careful, or good with a sewing kit, I recommend not clipping the button, and instead just fold the top cover down.
How to Play Sheriff of Nottingham
The best way to summarize what this game is all about is to compare it to poker. If you’re playing it safe, you’ll make small profits, but that might not be enough to win. Take too many risks, and people will quickly learn your patterns and how to read your bluffs.
Have each player take a merchant stand card and a matching bag, then select the banker for the session. They’ll distribute 50 gold to each player, and handle transactions throughout the game.
Shuffle the Goods deck and deal out six cards to each player. The player with the most real money in their pockets gets to be the first Sheriff. For 3 and 6 player games, check the rulebook for additional steps.
Rounds consist of five phases where players perform their roles. Once all of the phases have been completed, the Sheriff standee moves to the player on the left.
The acting Sheriff picks the first player, with the game progressing clockwise. Merchants can discard up to five cards face up, then draw from the Goods deck until they have six cards. The Sheriff needs to pay close attention to the discarded cards as they could provide insight into the merchant’s intentions.
Load Merchant Bag
During this phase, merchants place 1 to 5 Goods cards into their bags while making sure nobody can see them. Once a player seals and puts their bag in front of them, the choice is locked in.
Starting with the player to the Sheriff’s left, each player has to make eye contact with the Sheriff and declare what they’ve brought in their bag. They have to declare the exact number of cards, but only 1 legal type of goods.
For example, you’ve placed 3 apples and 1 chicken in your bag. You have to declare 4 goods, but can only declare 1 type, so you’ll declare apples. Anything that isn’t an apple can be confiscated and result in a penalty. We’ll go into more details on how that works in the next section.
This is where all the bargaining, bluffing, persuading, and bribing happens. Everyone participates in the discussion, offering the Sheriff benefits to look the other way and not check their bag, or to point the finger at someone else’s bag. Merchants need to weigh the risk of getting caught against the amount they could offer as a bribe for a safe passage.
The Sheriff on the other hand benefits from finding smuggled goods, or from taking bribes, but if the goods are as declared, then they’ll have to pay the fine to the merchant. However, merchants can purposefully act suspiciously, even offering bribes to bait the Sheriff into inspecting their bag filled only with declared goods.
End of Round
The Sheriff standee moves to the left, and all players draw cards until they have 6 (last round’s Sheriff should already have them). If the draw pile runs out, shuffle the discard pile and use it instead, otherwise, you can start the next round.
Winning the Game
Once every player acted as Sheriff 3 times in a 3-player session, or 2 times in a four to five-player session, the game ends immediately. Everyone discards their hand before summing up the value of their goods, gold coins, and King and Queen Bonus. The player with the most points wins!
Your First Game of Sheriff of Nottingham
Sheriff of Nottingham is all about your manipulation skills and strategy. Even if you’re a first-time player, as long as you know what you’re doing, you can have an advantage over the other players because they haven’t seen your tells yet.
Weigh the risks of getting caught versus the reward, but also consider the motives of the current Sheriff. Bringing 2-3 contrabands while not offering a bribe and bluffing that it’s all as declared can work, but everyone sees your bag of goods at the end of the round. Players will need to change up their tactics otherwise they’ll be called out immediately.
When you get caught, you’ll have to pay the fine on contraband goods, but you’ll keep the ones you’ve honestly declared. The reward for sold goods is typically lower than the fine so that you can slip in something illegal, and if you get caught, at least you’ll break even.
However, if you have a lot of the same product, try getting the Sheriff to inspect your bag. Not only will you get to keep all the cards, but the Sheriff will have to compensate with a penalty for each one.
Bribe agreements have to be kept, but the unofficial do not. If you persuade the Sheriff to let you pass on the premise of letting them pass on your turn, you can go back on that deal and catch him with a bag full of contraband. However, they could trick you and only bring declared goods which will not only ruin your reputation but also cost you.
Pros & Cons
- Intuitive gameplay
- Highly replayable
The fact that anyone can quickly pick up on the mechanics and play the game is one of the strongest suits of Sheriff of Nottingham. Everyone knows what poker is about, and just having that connection to another game is enough to be a competent player.
Sheriff of Nottingham does a great job of mixing party and board game elements which makes it more approachable to people who’ve never played board games. It also works well as a family game, as long as you’re fine with kids learning how to lie and be deceitful. I think it’s a great way to teach them how to spot lies and figure out when they’re being manipulated.
As it doesn’t depend on scenarios or any optimal strategy, you can replay Sheriff of Nottingham as many times as you’d like without it losing its charm. Playing with the same group can lead to stagnant gameplay, but more often it pushes people into playing complex mind games as their every move could be predicted.
- Questionable artwork changes
- Box size
I’m not really sure if this can be taken as a con, but the artwork of the 2nd edition has been completely changed from the original. Fans have been split since the art reveal, as the 2nd edition is unquestionably a better deal, but many prefer the original art design. As it’s not integral to the gameplay, there’s no reason to stress over it.
Considering the size of the components, the box has no reason to be as large as it is. We all know that the game board and miniatures are what dictates the size of the box, and Sheriff of Nottingham doesn’t include either. If you end up buying it, better make some space on your board game shelf.
Versions & Expansions
Sheriff of Nottingham (First Edition)
The original Sheriff of Nottingham comes with the standard rules that you know and love, but it also has far superior artwork (just my opinion).
- 1st game in the new, exclusive, Dice Tower Essentials line of...
- A Social game of bluffing, bribery and negotiation
- A fun and engaging game that is sure to keep everyone guessing,...
Merry Men (First Edition Expansion)
Merry Men adds several new rules that allow for an extra player (up to six) from the original first edition. It also includes new smuggled goods, extra bonus powers, and a deputy variant that replaces the Sheriff with two of his deputies.
- Sheriff of Nottingham Merry Men is a collection of expansions for...
- The 6th player expansion, where the honorable Sheriff has hired...
- The black market, where demand for contraband is high, and so are...
Sheriff of Nottingham is an extremely fun social deduction game with additional mechanics that make it more than just a party game. The Sheriff is the common enemy for the merchants, however, they can not only trick him but also manipulate him to set back other merchants.
Compared to the other games in the genre, Sheriff of Nottingham has enough going on to make it stand out. The game manages to stay fresh throughout the session because players aren’t eliminated after each round.
However, this does not mean that the arguments won’t be just as heated, as everyone tries to come up on top. For this reason, it’s best to play Sheriff of Nottingham with a group that knows how to handle these situations.
Having beef with other players is part of the game, especially in the form of an eye for an eye. So long as nobody gets actually upset and forms a grudge, the game should continue to be entertaining until the very end.
I’ve had a lot of fun with Sheriff of Nottingham, and honestly, because no real money is involved, I prefer it much more than poker. Since there’s no player elimination, even when I was really far behind, a few smart moves managed to get me back into the competition.
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this review and that it helped you make an informed choice on whether or not to buy Sheriff of Nottingham. If you did get it, tell us about your most risky moves in the comments below!