A pleasant day for merchants selling apples, cheese, bread and chickens at the market turns into an event filled with corruption, bribes, and deceit. Merchant beware: a simple day at the market can come with a few knives in the back!
As a lover of all things medieval, I was immediately drawn to Sheriff of Nottingham as soon as I had heard about it. The game itself has a very strong theme of medieval England, and I was ecstatic to experience a game that is not only well developed and packed with laughs among friends but also holds a massive replay value.
In Sheriff of Nottingham, players assume the roles of simple merchants filling their bags with up to five goods to sell at their sales stand at the local market. The players take turns being the sheriff himself—the greedy, money-driven miser who acts as the security for the market. It is the sheriff’s job to inspect each merchant’s bag of goods to make sure that they are only bringing one type of legal good (bread, cheese, chickens, or apples) and confiscating and fining the merchant for any contraband or any other previously undeclared legal good in their bag. But the sheriff player has to be careful: if they open a bag of goods that turns out to be legit, they have to pay the merchant for wasting their time! Merchants may also bribe the sheriff with gold to look the other way.
Once a merchant is let into the fair, they unload their bag of goods (including contraband, if they were clever enough to sneak any in). Once everyone has been the sheriff twice, the game is over, and the merchant who has the highest value between goods and gold wins.
This game becomes immensely fun in the declaration round, in which the merchants are allowed to only declare that they are bringing in one type of legal good to the market. A risky merchant may fill their bag with only valuable contraband and attempt to lie their way past the sheriff or part with as little gold as possible. Other merchants can also bring the sheriff to open another merchant’s bag as well—but upsetting a merchant in a previous round might come to haunt you once they become the sheriff! The political dynamic set in this game causes some players to try to get inside their opponents’ heads, trying to guess what is in their bags; others may offer intentionally insulting bribes in order to trick the sheriff into opening their bags and paying the toll. With a nearly endless amount of mind games to be had, Sheriff of Nottingham is certainly a game that will never truly have the same experience each time you play it!
Keep in mind this game is more fun when everyone can think deceptively, so it might be harder for little ones to keep up with the older players. The replay value alone will make the price tag ($34.99, but you can often find it for less) even smaller. The game is very easy to learn but challenging to master, as the play group in the game will affect how you play it. I would strongly recommend Sheriff of Nottingham for anyone who is looking to start or expand their collection—simply a must-have!