Bluff With Honesty! Sheriff of Nottingham Review

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Hey all you board game fans! I hope you’re all excited, because this board game is one I hold close to my heart as one of the most accommodating bluffing games I’ve ever played – Sheriff of Nottingham.

Sheriff of Nottingham is a three to five player game recently published in 2014 by Arcane Wonders, and is designed by Sergio Halaban and Andre Zatz. This board game revolves around selling both legal goods and contraband to market, earning money in the form of cardboard currency. Once each player’s turn they play the role of Sheriff – dedicated to inspecting goods that may or may not contain contraband. Contraband in Sheriff is very important. When successfully snuck through, it is worth double the amount of a legal card. At the end of two rounds, the person who accumulates the most amount of coins wins the game.

Going back to the introduction, you may be wondering “how can a bluffing game cater to players when an individual not adept at bluffing has to lie in order to claim victory?” This rhetorical question raises a good point and will be explained in the latter part of the review. Let’s get started!

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Components:

  • 216 Playing Cards
    • 144 legal goods
    • 60 contraband
    • 12 Royal goods
  • 5 Clip Felt Bags
  • 5 Merchant Cardboard Stands
  • 110 cardboard coins
    • 39 (1 copper coins)
    • 49 (5 silver coins)
    • 17 (20 silver coins)
    • 12 (50 gold coins)
  • 1 Cardboard Sheriff Marker
  • Rulebook

These are the game components included with Sheriff of Nottingham. We’ll have a brief run-down of what type of game components are out there and what they represent within a game of Sheriff. The playing cards are divided into two main categories: legal goods, and contraband, with a side category for royal goods.

The main types of legal goods and contraband

The main types of legal goods and contraband

 

The types of royal goods

The types of royal goods

In the middle, we have the type of card listed. On the top right corner we have how much the type of card is worth when totalled up at the end of the game within a merchant stand. On the bottom right we have the penalty cost. Royal goods have similar names to legal goods, except they are counted as contraband and are worth more in both their cost and penalties.

The felt bags are where you place the goods that you want to sell to market. The contents of that bag will be checked by the sheriff. The colour of your bag coordinates with the merchant stand you choose and helps identify a player’s bag from another. The merchant cardboard stands are chosen by each player and they are where you place the goods that you brought to market and which have passed inspection by the sheriff.

The coins represent the currency in Sheriff of Nottingham. The Sheriff marker is used to show which player is currently enacting the role of sheriff. Now that we’ve covered the basics, we can go ahead to the nitty-gritty of a regular game by explaining how it’s set up, and use example scenarios to demonstrate the mechanics of playing Sheriff of Nottingham.


Setting up the Game
If it’s your first time playing, I would leave out royal goods entirely because those cards can create confusion towards counting up points at the end of the game. To start off with, everyone gets one 50 gold coin as a base currency. One player is assigned the role of banker to help exchange coins when needed.  After choosing a merchant stand with a corresponding bag, shuffle all the playing cards together and deal six cards to each player.The rest of the playing cards reside in the middle as a draw pile. Then, turn over 10 cards from the draw pile and split them into two discard piles. These discard piles always remain face-up which is important information to have on hand and will be explained in the next section. To decide who goes first, each player checks their wallet to see how much cash they have on hand compared to everyone else and the highest starts first.

How to play
Sheriff of Nottingham is played with rounds corresponding to the number of players. Each round, one person is appointed as Sheriff and once a round is over, that person passes that role on to the player to their left. Once each person has played the role of Sheriff twice the game ends. Each round is divided into phases that have to be played in this order:

  1. Market
  2. Load Bag
  3. Declare
  4. Inspect

To make this a more fun and interactive experience for you readers, I’ll go through these steps by mimicking a regular four player game of Sheriff of Nottingham, substituting imaginary players and scenarios. Let the game begin!



Market Phase
Player A, B, C, and D gather round the side as merchants to come try their luck selling their goods in the city. Player D has the most amount of notes out of everyone, so gets to go first and assume the role of sheriff.

Since Player C is to the sheriff’s left, C looks at their hand and chooses three out of six cards and discards them into one of the two discard piles. Before C goes to refill their hand to six by drawing from the draw pile, Player B lets C know that drawing from the discard is allowed. However, B warns that the cards drawn must come from the discard before taking cards from the draw pile. Player C nods and does their turn, passing it onto B who is on C’s left. Following a clockwise rotation, the turn is passed onto player A who decides to keep their hand as is.

I mentioned earlier that the two discard piles remain face up for the entirety of the game. This means all the cards in play that were discarded and drawn from the discard pile become open knowledge to all the players in the room. With that, Player D smiles confidently and takes note of what other players have discarded, drawn and kept in their opening hands. This is when loading the merchant bag phase comes in.


Load Bag
Players A, B, and C start pondering on what cards to place into their bags. C looks quite nervous since its their first time playing the game and they can’t decide on what to place in their bag. C isn’t big on strategy or bluffing games and only came under encouragement from B. C remembers B telling them before the game that you can only place up to 5 cards at a time in a bag. C settles on being honest since C can’t pull a good poker face and puts the three chickens drawn from the previous phase. One by one, all the players hand their bags over to the Sheriff for the declaration phase.


Declare
Now this is where the fun really begins! D looks over at all the players finishing loading their merchant bag. C goes to hand their bag first and declares they have 3 chickens. D looks questionably at C and asks if they are sure its only 3 chickens they have in the bag. D knows that you can only declare the exact amount of any one kind of legal good in the game and wants to make sure C isn’t lying. As D looks at C for an answer, C starts to become uneasy and repeats that it’s only three chickens. D then asks if C wants to bribe them with coins or future favours to let the bag slide into market. C decides to decline the offer and tells D that any promises of future favours are non binding and D can just go back on their word. D then makes their choice and this follows on to the last phase of the round.


Inspection
The inspection phase is the final phase of the round and it’s where D makes their choice of inspecting the bags or letting them all go. D has a hunch that C might not be telling the truth based on C’s uneasy behaviour. D knows once they decide to open a player’s bag they can’t change their mind. To D’s dismay as they opened C’s bag, there are three chickens. D gets punished for their prediction and has to pay the penalty cost of all three chickens.

If C had lied and D finds contraband hidden in their bag, C would have to pay the penalty cost to D and have their contraband confiscated. Likewise, if D had found a legal card that C did not declare, that would have been confiscated and paid for as well.

As the game ends, the total score of each player is added up. This is done through seeing who has the most legal card types out of all the players. Say C has the most chickens out of everyone. C would get ten bonus points with the second highest earning five points. If the title for most cards is tied, the points get split evenly. These points get added up with players’ coins to determine the winner.


Final Verdict
Believe it or not, this story summed up most of the games I’ve had. I would often try my hardest to remain honest and always hand in bags that were filled with exactly what I declared. Often, this led to my bag getting checked since I get as nervous as C but this is why I enjoy playing Sheriff of Nottingham. Being an expert tactician or lying to gain an advantage can give you the upper hand but not necessarily win you the game if you constantly get caught.This opens up the spontaneous  development of creative strategies and not solely rely on deception. An example would be a player trying to sway the Sheriff  to let their five supposed chickens go through when the player was telling the truth. Likewise, you could place five contraband in a bag figuring no one would risk paying the penalty to check.

For this reason, I would recommend Sheriff to anyone that does not normally enjoy the deceptive style of board games. To see some games in action, I found this video you can check out which was what compelled me to go and purchase Sheriff of Nottingham.

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