Title: Sheriff of Nottingham
Sheriff of Nottingham was the talk of GenCon 2014. Tom Vasel from Dice Tower went to Arcane Wonders to try to reprint some of his absolute favorite games ever. These games are now known as The Dice Tower Essentials and are published by Arcane Wonders. The first of these games is Sheriff of Nottingham, which has its roots in the German game Hart an der Grenze. It was rethemed as Robin Hood and then became Sheriff of Nottingham for it’s 2014 reprinting. A unique and brilliant game that has been all the rage among gamers. So much so that when I played the game at N.E.W. Gameapalooza in Oshkosh, I had requests to borrow it (at the con) for personal playing. It has only just been released for purchase by the public, but was a sellout, stalk-to-purchase game at GenCon.
Designer: Sérgio Halaban, Bryan Pope, André Zatz
Published by: Arcane Wonders
Year Published: 2014 Rough Game Time: 60+ mins
Players: 3-5 Suggested Ages: 13+
Type: Bluffing, Hand-Management, Some Roleplaying
What’s the Story, Morning Glory?
You are merchants who have heard that Prince John is coming to Nottingham! Whenever the Prince comes to town, there is a flood of income to be had. It’s time to get your goods to the market within the city gate and sell some of those high priced goods that are favorable to customers, legal or illegal. Yet. . . there is one thing standing in your way: the Sheriff of Nottingham. He is holding routine checks at the gate for illegal contraband coming into the city. You now need to make a choice: bring in legal goods and earn all your money the fair way or smuggle in your illegal high value goods with your legal ones. Can you bluff your way to making an extreme profit or is the Sheriff on to you?
What’s in the Box?
- 216 Goods Cards
- 110 Gold Coins
- 29 1-gold coins
- 42 5-gold coins
- 17 20 – gold coins
- 12 50 – gold coins
- 1 Sheriff marker
- 5 Merchant Boards (Merchant Stands)
- 5 Merchant Bags (yellow, red, purple, green, blue)
- Rules Book
Promos – There are some promos that you can try to find for the game that are fun little additions. They were available get GenCon2014, but you might be able to find them online to purchase.
- Royal Summons
- Feast Plate
- Arcane Scrolls
- Brimstone Oil
- Olive Oil
- Strawberry Mead
- Golden Silk
- Dragon Pepper
- Heavy Crossbows
How To Play or Not to Play, That is the Question
- Each player chooses a Merchant Stand and chooses the matching colored bag.
- A banker should be nominated who will handle the money at the end. They will also give each player 50 gold (1-20 gold piece, 5-5 gold pieces, 5-1 gold pieces).
- Shuffle all the cards together.
- Deal 6 cards to each player, face down.
- Put the deck in the middle for a draw pile. Then draw 5 cards and discard them to a stack on the left. Draw another 5 cards and discard them to a stack on the right. You should have 3 stacks, a draw in the middle and two discards on the sides (see instructions for images if unsure).
- The person with the most actual cash on their person will start with the Sheriff.
- There are five phases to each round before the Sheriff passes to the next player.
- First, the Sheriff sits back and watches and does not take a merchant turn while they are acting sheriff.
- Phase 1: Market
- From your hand of six you discard cards and take others from either the discard pile or the draw pile.
- You can discard up to 5 cards, but you must discard at least 1 card. Place these face DOWN on the table in front of you.
- Draw your cards from the discard pile first. You have to draw from the top of one of the stacks, not whatever cards you want.
- If you only want a few from the discard, take those and then draw from the draw pile.
- Or you can draw just from the draw pile.
- After you have selected your cards, put the cards you placed face down on the discard pile in any order that you want.
- Each player does this on their turn. Be wary of drawing from the discard pile, because everyone can see what you take.
- Phase 2: Load Merchant Bag
- Look at your cards and decide what you are going to put into the bag. You can put up to give cards in the bag and you must at least put one card in the bag.
- Be careful not to let anyone, especially the Sheriff, see what and how many you are putting in. Keep it as secret as possible.
- Once you snap your bag shut, you cannot reopen it, so remember what you put in the bag.
- Phase 3: Declare Your Goods
- During this phase you must look the Sheriff in the eye and tell them what goods you have in your bag.
- The Sheriff does not look in the bag during this round. You are only declaring and handing over your bag.
- When you declare you can only declare 1 legal item, but you must declare the exact number of cards in your bag.
- Example: Declare – “I have four chickens.” But inside the bag, you have 1 chicken, 2 apples, and 1 Crossbow.
- After declaring it is time for the Sheriff to inspect your bag or let you pass.
- Phase 4: Inspection
- The Sheriff must now address each player in any order they want. The Sheriff can intimidate or threaten to open a bag. Players can offer bribes to avoid the Sheriff opening the bag. Bribes can be gold, legal goods currently in your merchant stand, contraband from your merchant stand, goods in your bag (legal of contraband), or a promise of a future favor (see Honor Among Thieves in the rule book for a neat little player choice).
- Once the Sheriff makes his decision, he cannot change it. So no taking a bribe and then still opening the bag.
- The Sheriff can negotiate the offer to get what they want, but once the Sheriff agrees, he needs to turn the bag and let you pass.
- If the Sheriff does not accept any bribes or a proper deal cannot be struck, the Sheriff opens the bag.
- Once the bag has been opened, the following scenarios can happen:
- All the goods match exactly what you declared (Example: 4 chickens). The Sheriff must pay you the price in the bottom right corner of the card out of that player’s money for the inconvenience.
- Some of the goods match what was declared, but some are contraband or legal goods that are not part of your declaration (Example: Declare – “I have 4 chickens.” In the bag you have 1 chicken, 2 apples, and 1 crossbow). The legal declared goods go to your stand (so the 1 chicken), but you must pay the sheriff for the contraband and undeclared legal goods. The price is in the lower right hand corner in red. The Sheriff then puts the contraband and undeclared legal goods on the discard pile in the order they choose.
- All the goods are contraband and none were legally declared, then you must pay the Sheriff for all the items and they are all discarded by the Sheriff.
- All cards should be emptied from the bags at this point and goods put on your merchant stand. Contraband stays unrevealed (face down) at the top of the merchant stand.
- Note: If you have no more money to pay, then you start paying with goods to match the price. See directions.
- Phase 5: End of Round
- If all players have been Sheriff twice, end the game here.
- All players draw up to six cards into their hand. (Hand limit 6.)
- Pass the Sheriff to the player on the left. Start at Phase 1.
There are two variations to how to end, depending on the number of people playing. If you’re playing with 4-5 players, each person should play the sheriff twice and then game ends. If you’re playing with 3 players, each player needs to be the sheriff three times and then the game ends.
Reveal your illegal goods and collect money for all of your goods, legal and illegal.
Tally up the points for who had the most legal items and present the King and Queen’s favors. If there is a tie for either the King’s or Queen’s favor, there are split rules. The King’s favor adds the King’s and Queen’s points for the item and split the points for the amount of the tie, rounding down. If this happens, then there is no place for Queen’s favor. So if 3 people tie for the most chickens, you would take the King’s favor points, 10, and the Queen’s favor points, 5, and add them, 15. Then divide by 3. Each person would get 5 points.
If there is a tie for Queen’s favor, divide the points among the number tied for the Queen and round down.
Count points for coins you collected from your legal and illegal items, include favor coins and leftover coins. The person with the highest points at the end wins.
If there is a tie, the player with the most legal goods wins. If there is still a tie, the player with the most Contraband wins.
Rules Weren’t Meant to Be Broken (Or Were They?)
If you run out of cards, reshuffle the discards into a pile, but leave the top 5 cards of each discard on the table.
The biggest rule to remember, and one I screwed up when I first taught the game, is that you DO NOT hand out money throughout the game. What you have is what you have. When we played it, we had an endless amount of money, so we were willing to gamble, but when we tallied up the points, it didn’t make sense that we had to count the gold AND the goods again. So just remember not to hand out money during the game. What you start with is what you get for all your dealings.
When the Sheriff pays out for looking, it does not come out of the bank. It comes out of your own money. So wager wisely.
Don’t forget to look them in the eyes! Bribe after everyone has declared, but you need to look the Sheriff in the eyes. It’s the hardest part of the whole game! Don’t not do it.
Best Played Under These Conditions
This game is best played with 4-5 people. The more people, the better. The more fun you’ll have and the more gameplay you get out of the game, because you have more turns. Playing with fewer people causes there to be alternate rules and while the game is still a great deal of awesome, having more players to interact with is really what sets the game up to blow your bluffing mind!
The game could be fun for young people, but I would gauge whether you feel the young people you are playing with can handle the rules or if they’re going to go off the rails. I’m not going to say don’t go under 10, but I think Middle School is a good age for kids and their ability to comprehend the game. If you have a gaming household, this game might work well for younger players, as they have been raised on the teat of tabletop gaming.
The level of your ability to bluff has, honestly, no bearing on this. I am a terrible bluffer and would fail at poker, but I did well with this game. It’s about being consistent with your bluffs and paying attention to the people around you while you play.
Spice Up Your Game
The most obvious way to spice up to the game play is to have a Medieval Times FEAST! A giant mug of Mead with your roasted half chicken, roasted ribs and roasted or grilled half potatoes. Maybe get some rustic peasant bread to serve on the side. Eliminate all utensils and eat with only your fingers and a knife! If you’ve ever been to the actual dinner theater, think of what you enjoyed about their meal and time there and have at it! Make it a special night.
Let’s say you’ve decided to go the all-out-route, then you could roleplay your characters. When you choose your character boards, decide to be in character. If you are the breadsmith, organize your story around the breadsmith. Give them a reason to want to smuggle certain items or if they wager, what kind of story are they going to spin based on their background. Add in some fun accents, too.
If you’re not looking to make a whole night of it, but want some sort of playful snacks, I suggest making a little snack platter or, as the game calls it, a Feast Plate, with cheeses (see the cards for different types of cheese), apples (see cards for different types of apples), and breads (see cards for different types of bread. There are also some alcoholic beverages to select from, too. These items are easy to eat with utensils, so you don’t get your cards dirty, and still add some atmosphere to the game.
Finally, I have to put in the plug for some sort of marathon movie night to accompany this particular game. I grew up LOVING Robin Hood and, thanks to Kevin Costner, had one of my first big movie star crushes at the age of 10. So whether you’re a fan of Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner, Cary Elwes, or Russell Crowe, why not watch the evolution of Robin Hood with your friends and lambast the heck out of the actors who play the Sheriff. I, though, especially loved the Disney version of Robin Hood. Something about Robin Hood as a fox had the character firing on every cylinder for my 6-year-old self.
If you’ve said “TO HELL” with the movies, check out BBC’s Robin Hood and experience the short-lived drama. See Keith Allen (Lily Allen’s dad) as the Sheriff and see the most modern spin on the historical tale of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Over the years I wonder if culture has gotten away from giving to the poor and has focused more on thwarting the establishment. A deep discussion point for the after-gaming experience when you’re all lounging around, finishing your Mead.
I’ll be honest. . . I was dubious of this game at first. I can be easily turned off by heavily-buzzed games, because don’t want to follow th eherd of sheeple that say something is good or bad. I like the decide for myself whether a game is worth it or not. Luckily, I have a husband who very much wanted the game at GenCon and was able to get a copy. I played it and was in love! I’ve played the game a few times now with varying degrees of friends and strangers and no matter what the mix was, the game was fun. Sure people have their quirks and can change up the game, but it sure is a great deal of fun for all those involved.
The artwork is unique and vibrant. Lorraine Schleter created the game components and developed the card art. These items have such a visual depth with great attention to detail. You could actually study the cards, but don’t get caught looking for too long. David Sladek is credited with the character art, as well as the box art and, once again, they are visually stunning. Schleter and Sladek blended their visions succinctly and create a visually stunning and gorgeously crafted game.
Sheriff of Nottingham really is a smash-hit game with great replay value. It has enough mental engagement to keep you going, but enough laughs for it to be a lighter game for your heavier evenings. Great for laughs, but it really hones your bluffing. It is a must have for your game collection or game club or gaming get-together, especially during these busy holiday seasons.