One of the main reasons I play games is to win, to get one up on the suckers sat at my table. Only joking, I play for the experience, the journey, the banter and the fun (and to WIN). Different games achieve this is different ways, Ponzi Scheme ramps up the tension with player interaction and the stress of trying to make your money last. Happy Salmon by making you shout your head off and prance around like fools. And Sheriff of Nottingham by letting you all lie and deceive each other, but also give you a turn at really power.
Sheriff of Nottingham
This is a game of deceit and trust, or mistrust, make no bones about it. Each round players take turns to 'be' the nefarious Sheriff. Practically, this means you are the one who gets to put pressure on the traders of Nottingham, reading their body language for signs of deceit. Every player gets six goods cards, some coins and a felt pouch. At the start of a round each player may discard openly some of their cards to take the same amount back from either of two discard piles or the draw pile.
Then each non-Sheriff player loads up their bags with good. Goods card are either red or green. Red goods are contraband like pepper and weapons, green goods are legal goods like bread and cheese. You will load you bag with up to five goods but there are certain rules. What ever you place in the bag, you must declare them all to be the same type of good, it must be a legal good and you cannot lie about the number of cards. So say I put three apples and one cheese in the bag, I must say something like 'four apples'. You could say 'four cheese' too but it probably won't be a great move.
Once you have clipped your bag shut and made your announcement, you pass it to the Sheriff.
Sheriff of Rottingham
The Sheriff player will then decide one by one whose bag to inspect and whose not to inspect. Of course if you don't want the Sheriff to look in your bag you could always offer them some goods, some gold, or a non binding future promise of not searching their bag when you are Sheriff. If the Sheriff finds contraband or undeclared legal goods you must pay them compensation, however if the Sheriff finds exactly what you said was in the bag then they must pay you compensation.
This clever little interplay leads to some memorable situations. You promised not to search Sophie's bag if she didn't search yours, so that means it might be worth searching right? Or will she know that you know this and tell the truth. Or will she know that you know she knows this and err... do something. And this is not just happening between you and one other person but ideally three other people. What about bribing the Sheriff to open someone else's bag? Mwhaaahahahaha!
So Sheriff of Nottingham is a lot of fun, but it isn't without niggles. The game plays best with more people but this also makes the game take a lot longer than it should. Without the added expansion that varies things this is really noticeable and dare I say it the last few turns can drag a bit.
Games like this need to be short sharp hits of fun, not lengthy arbitrations. On top of this, Sheriff of Nottingham is essentially a very mean set collection game. You are looking to smuggle in as much of each type of good as possible to earn the most gold, and tripping others up is a massive part of this. This can lead to the dreaded 'ganging up on one player' but mostly it is the presumed leader so that is okay!
Lastly in the cons, people can take a while to work out the relative value of things. If you are explaining to a newcomer be sure to explain exactly how much compensation they are likely to pay if caught so you don't have people offering 20 gold when they only would have paid two in compensation.
Ultimately, Sheriff of Nottingham is an easy teach and with a group who play quickly it packs in a lot of fun and banter. Add some of the modules from the recent Merry Men Expansion (a must have if you are already a fan) and you have a great game on your hands.