Sheriff of Nottingham Review

13 Juni 2017

The story of the heroic outlaw, Robin Hood, tells of one man’s attempt to bring down tyranny and rescue those who are victims of it. While Robin Hood’s exploits and those of his band of followers are well-known, there is another tale that is seldom told. The merchants that seemingly went about their business everyday at the market were also waging their own war against the unjust laws set by the Sheriff. Now you can join the struggle and make some money in the process.

Sheriff of Nottingham, designed by Sérgio Halaban, Bryan Pope, Benjamin Pope, André Zatz, and published by Arcane Wonders, is comprised of 144 Legal Goods cards, 60 Contraband cards, 12 Royal Goods cards, 110 Gold Coin tokens (in the values of 1, 5, 20, and 50 gold coins), 1 Sheriff marker, 5 Merchant Stand boards, and 5 Merchant bags. The game’s component quality is excellent. The gold coins, Merchant Stand boards, and Sheriff marker are made of thick cardboard, the Merchant bags are made of thick material, and the cards are made of out durable cardstock. Simply excellent.

Preparing to Go to Market

To set up the game, first give each player 1 Merchant Stand and 1 matching colored Merchant bag, which are placed in front of the player. There are no differences between the different merchants in the game other than the artwork that portrays them. Feel free to have players select the merchant they want or randomly deal them out. Any remaining Merchant Stands and Merchant bags not used go back in the box.

Second, place the gold coins in a pile (or a cup). This is the Bank for the duration of the game. Have one player take on the INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT role (no, not really) of the Banker . The Banker will be responsible for exchanging money and taking money, helping the game move along. The Banker should give each player (including themselves) 50 gold coins. The Banker should make certain not to “accidentally” mix their money with the Bank’s money. (Cyrus gives certain players a knowing look…you know who you are…)

Third, remove the Royal Goods cards and place them in the game box. These cards are used in a game variant. See “Game Variants” for additional details. Take the remaining Legal Goods and Contraband cards and remove any card that shows “4+” in the lower-left corner of the card’s face if playing with only 3 players. Shuffle the remaining cards together. This is the Goods draw deck for the duration of the game. Deal each player 6 cards from the Goods draw deck, face-down. Players should look at these cards, but keep them hidden from opponents. The Goods deck is then placed to one side of the game playing area, face-down.

Fourth, reveal the top 5 cards from the Goods draw deck and place them to the left of the Goods draw deck, face-up. This is the FIRST discard pile. Draw another 5 cards from the Goods draw deck and place them face-up to the right of the Goods draw deck to create the SECOND discard pile.

That’s it for game set up. Determine who will be the Sheriff first, give them the Sheriff marker, and begin.

Goods, Gold, Lies, and Bribes

As a merchant, the player is attempting to smuggle goods into the market to sell. Not all the goods are considered legal, however. The Legal Goods cards (always in green) represent the chickens, cheese, bread, and apples that do not raise any suspicion. The Contraband cards (always in red) represent the goods that the Sheriff has declared to be illegal. Both cards list the good’s value on the open and black market. Both cards also list the penalty which is used to determine how much gold a player must pay if penalized with a fine.


Gold is exchanged regularly in the game, both to pay fines and to bribe the Sheriff. In this game, bluffing and lying is perfectly acceptable, but there are limits to what a player can and cannot say. Players must declare a certain number of facts, but that’s it. Everything else is fair game. Table talk is encouraged, as is subtle manipulation.

When deals are made, they should be honored if they can be resolved immediately between the Merchant and Sheriff player. This includes exchanging of gold, cards, and information. Players can promise special favors later in the game, but these are not binding. Nothing in the rules ever forces a player to fulfill their promises or accept bribes. Additionally, promises of certain goods that might or might not be collected by the Merchant in their stand or in their bag could be used as bribes. If it turns out the card in question doesn’t exist, then the player is not obligated to provide it. Such is the slippery slope of doing business with a corrupt Sheriff and a rebel Merchant!

Of Subterfuge and Sales

Sheriff of Nottingham is played in rounds and turns. During each round, a player will take their turn with one player always acting as the Sheriff for the round and the other players acting as the Merchants. A typical game round, which is divided into phases, is summarized here.

Phase 1: A Trip to the Local Market

Starting with the player to the left of the Sheriff and continuing in clockwise order, each player will look through their hand and discard any cards they do not want (maximum of 5 cards). These cards are placed face-down. The player then draws back up to a total of 6 cards in their hand.

The player can draw from either discard pile and the draw deck, but they must do so in a specific order. Any player can at any time look through the discard piles, but cannot rearrange the order of the cards. If the player wants the 3rd card down in the discard pile, they must take the top 2 cards above it, as well. If the player takes a card from the draw deck, they can no longer collect cards from the discard piles.

Caution should be taken here. Drawing cards from the discard piles allows the player some semblance of control over what cards they are collecting, but the Sheriff can see what cards are being taken. The draw pile, on the other hand, gives the player complete privacy, but at the cost of not having any control of what they collect.

Finally, after the player’s hand is back up to 6 cards, the cards the player placed face down are now placed on one of the discard piles in any order the player likes. When placed, the cards should be face-up. Expect other players to look at the discard pile almost immediately.

When the player is done, the next player in turn order sequence takes their turn. When all the players except the Sheriff have had a turn in this phase, the next phase begins.

Phase 2: Load Merchant Bags

All the players now place 1 to 5 cards into their Merchant bag, taking care to be as secretive as they can about the number and type of cards they are using. The Sheriff may look intently at the other players, but cannot directly interfere or ask questions.

Players should also avoid letting opponents see what they are putting into their bags. A player’s opponent might offer information to the Sheriff in exchange for certain favors, or worse yet, they might remember what the player collected when it’s their turn to be the Sheriff.

When the player is done, they snap their Merchant bag closed and set it down in front of them, indicating they are done with the actions for this phase. When all players have completed their selection, the next phase begins.

Phase 3: Declaration of Goods

Starting with the player to the the Sheriff’s left and continuing in turn order sequence, each player informs the Sheriff what’s in their bag.

Sort of.

The goal here is to outwit the Sheriff by spinning full and half-truths. The Sheriff cannot look into the player’s Merchant bag during this phase, meaning the Sheriff has no real way of knowing if the player is telling the truth or not. While fibbing is permissible, and in my cases required, players have to follow 3 simple rules when declaring goods.

The exact number of cards in the Merchant bag must be declared (if you put in 4 cards, you have to tell the Sheriff there are 4 cards in the bag regardless if the goods are legal or not)
Only Legal Goods cards can be declared
Only one type of Legal Good card can be declared (for example, if you had chickens and cheese, you could only declare one of them)
After the player has declared the supposed contents of their Merchant bag, they hand it to the Sheriff. When playing with Child Geeks, we let them hold their bags after declaring their goods to help the game move along faster and reduce the amount of reaching across the table.

Phase 4: Inspection

Now the Sheriff gets to have some fun. They have been sitting quietly and watching for the round attempting to determine who is attempting to break the law. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if a player is attempting to cheat the Sheriff or not because the Sheriff almost always attempts to cheat all the players.

The Sheriff can now inspect (open) any Merchant bag they like or none at all. Before they open a Merchant bag they can “threaten” the bag’s owner which is normally followed by a bribe.

And here is where things get interesting.

A bribe can be anything of value within the context of the game. The player can offer the Sheriff gold coins, previously collected Legal and Contraband goods from their Merchant Stand board, future favors, and my personal favorite, information about other players. The Sheriff is also welcome to negotiate, change the bribe, ask for more, and even ask for something specific.

Passing the Sheriff’s Inspection

If a bribe is agreed upon, whatever goods, gold coins, information, and services that were part of the bargain now trade hands or are kept for later use. The Merchant bag is then returned to the player, which should not be opened by the Sheriff. The player then opens their Merchant bag and reveals the cards to all the players at the table.

All Legal Goods cards are placed face-up next to the player’s Merchant Stand board. These cards are public knowledge and can be looked at by any opponent anytime during the game. The player announces the number and type of each Legal Goods cards they have in their bag.
All Contraband cards are kept face-down and placed next to the player’s Merchant Stand board. These cards are kept private and cannot be looked at by anyone but the player who owns them. Only the number of Contraband cards smuggled past the Sheriff must are declared. The type remains a hidden secret until the end of the game.

Detained by the Sheriff

If a bribe is not agreed upon or offered, the Sheriff takes the player’s Merchant bag and may open it. A player can also decide to not accept the terms of a bribe, most likely due to the Sheriff asking too much, in which case the Merchant bag is kept by the Sheriff and inspected.

If the Sheriff should find that the player was telling the truth about what was in their Merchant bag (exactly the same number and type of cards declared), the Sheriff must pay the player the total penalty value of all the Legal Goods cards in gold coins and return the Merchant bag. The Legal Goods cards are then declared by the player and placed face-up by their Merchant Stand board.

However, if the Sheriff should find that the player lied, the following occurs:

All declared goods are given back to the player and are placed face-up next to their Merchant Stand board.
All goods not declared are confiscated by the Sheriff and the player must pay the total penalty value for all the confiscated goods in gold coins to the Sheriff
The Sheriff places all the confiscated cards on one discard pile in any order they like
If the player runs out of gold coins they must pay their fines using collected Legal Goods cards attached to their Merchant Stand board. The Legal Goods card’s listed value is equal to the same amount of gold coins. If the player doesn’t have Legal Goods cards, but does have Contraband cards, the Contraband cards must be used instead. If the player runs out of gold coins, Legal Goods cards, and Contraband cards, they are considered bankrupt and all fines and debts are canceled. The player can now go about the process of building up their wealth.

This phase continues until the Sheriff has had an opportunity to hassle each player in turn.

Phase 5: End of the Round

The Sheriff marker is now passed to the next player in turn order sequence and a new round begins. All players now draw back up to 6 cards in their hand, except for the Sheriff who should already have 6 cards from the previous round.

Closing the Market

The game ends when all of the players have had a chance to be the Sheriff twice (or 3 times in the case of a three-player game). When the final round ends, all players discard any remaining cards in their hand. Only those by the player’s Merchant Stand boards are counted for points.

Each player now reveals their Contraband and adds the total number of points earned by adding each Contraband card’s gold coin value (not the penalty value). Then the player does the same for their Legal Goods. Finally, the player adds the total value of any gold coins they still have.

But we are not done yet.

The players now organize their cards to see who has the most cheese, apples, bread, and chickens. The players who have the most and the second most of each type earn bonus points which are added to their total score. The title of “King” and “Queen” are given to each player who has the most for each category. Yes, you can be the “King of Chickens”.

The player with the most points wins the game.

Game Variants

A few game variants are provided for those who like to add a little variety to their game play. Each is summarized here.

Royal Goods

The Legal Goods and Contraband are of fair quality and are considered by the general populace to be more than tolerable. There are a number of goods, however, that the Sheriff has declared to be of extreme value and are also on the list of illegal items to sell. These are referred to as the Royal Goods. When setting up the game, add the Royal Goods cards with the rest of the cards. During the game, they considered a Contraband card, but when the game comes to a conclusion, they are so very, very much more. When determining the “King” and “Queen” bonus, the Royal Goods cards are added to the Legal Goods cards, adding 2 or 3 additional goods of that type.