Every so often a game comes along that you can show to serious gamers and non-gamers alike and it is a hit with both. It somehow manages to attract everyone to the table with its presence and keeps them there with its gameplay. Also offers very few rules but just enough to keep everyone focused on their objective.
It makes people laugh and shout and they keep on talking about the game long after it has been put away. Some games will even keep the attention of those people that say they don't enjoy playing games. Sheriff of Nottingham (2nd edition) is one of those rare beasts.
Sheriff of Nottingham 2nd edition printing is perfect for a game night or family meet up. You can play a game with the younger members of your family mixed in with the adults and more often than not the kids will win. The reason the kids will win is in the gameplay which is all about lying and manipulation and kids are great at that.
To setup the game you shuffle the cards made up of 4 types of legal goods and several types of contraband goods. Give everyone a player board (merchant stand) and matching merchant bag and a starting amount of 50 gold.
Deal 6 cards to each player which they keep hidden from everyone else. One player is chosen to be the Sheriff of Nottingham 1st and the game is ready. Please now prepare to be lied to, manipulated, not trusted and accused of several wrongdoings.
There are 5 phases to each round.
Market is where you discard cards from your hand, which go in a face-up discard pile and take new cards from the face-down deck. The aim of this is to obtain more of the same sets such as 4 apples or 3 cheeses. This has a push your luck element to the game as you may obtain all new contraband cards.
Loading the Merchant Bag is where you decide what goods you would like to get past the sheriff and this is where you can be very clever and sneaky with your choices. You have to place between 1 and 5 goods in the bag (from your hand) and you could be an honest merchant and just place 3 chickens and close your bag.
Or you could put 2 chickens and a crossbow (contraband) in your bag. Whatever your choice once you close the bag you may not change your mind and open the bag again.
Declaration (let the lying commence), each player in turn must disclose to the Sheriff what is in their bag. You must tell the truth about the exact number of goods in the bag and you can only declare one type of legal goods such as 3 chickens, however, if you only had 1 chicken, 1 bottle of wine and 1 crossbow you would still declare 3 chickens.
The rules say to look directly at the sheriff while you make your declaration which makes for some fantastic 'innocent butter wouldn't melt' face pulling.
The Sherriff now decides which, if any, merchant bags they wish to inspect. During this phase, you can offer bribes to the sheriff to not open your bag or to open all other player's bags or maybe gang up with several players to bribe the sheriff to open your nan's bag because she has been lying all night and getting away with it. Bribes can be made up of gold or goods on your merchant stand or goods in your bag or even the promise of future favours.
If the Sheriff lets you pass you open the bag yourself and disclose to all players what goods you had and then display these around your merchants stand with all goods face up except the contraband (which you keep a secret when opening your bag).
However, if the sheriff decides to open your bag, then they will inspect your goods and then money will be exchanged between the two players as follows. If the merchant was lying, then all goods that were not disclosed will be placed in the discard pile and the merchant will have to pay the Sheriff a fee indicated in red on the goods.
If the merchant was telling the truth, then the Sheriff will have to pay the merchant the red fee on all of the cards.
Once all bags have either been opened by the merchant or the Sheriff then play continues to the next round. The Sheriff is passed to the next player and all players obtain new cards bringing their totals to 6 again.
In a 3-player game, each player will be the Sheriff 3 times, 2 times for a 4 to 5 player and there are slightly different rules for a 6-player game. Once everyone has been the sheriff the correct number of times the game ends. Scores are calculated using your gold, values of legal and contraband goods and bonus gold is given to the players who have the most or 2nd most of the legal goods.
Everyone Has Fun
At the end of Sherif of Nottingham, all players will be smiling and laughing about how they can't trust each other anymore and the winner will be sitting proudly, but it doesn't really matter who won as everyone would have had a great time.
I have never had a bad game of this and it has been taught to family, friends, gamers and non-gamers alike. I would always recommend this as a 'gateway' game to people new to the hobby as the simple ruleset, great components, player interaction and simple scoring help make it a massive hit.
The game is for 3 to 6 players, but I would be inclined to stick to the higher player counts. The box says it takes 60 minutes to play which is about right. It also says is suitable for ages 14 plus, but I would assume this is because of the small coins rather than the complexity. With assistance, you could easily play this with younger players.