‘Sheriff of Nottingham’ board game review
By Ed Appleby, Illustrator
Who can resist a good bribe? It’s the only way to get me to clean my room, even to this very day. So who wouldn’t want to play a game that combines all the satisfaction of bribery with the excitement of sneaking over the border with an apple in your backpack?
Sheriff of Nottingham (2014) is a bluffing card game for three to five players designed by Sérgio Halaban and André Zatz and published by Arcane Wonders. In the game, people play as characters—who are totally not Robin Hood and his Merry Men—bringing goods to a market faire to celebrate the arrival of Prince John. Players take turns as the sheriff, inspecting other players’ bags to make sure they have what they declared and are not bringing in any contraband. The player with the most profit at the end of the game wins.
Bribery is the name of the game here: If the sheriff catches any contraband or undeclared goods, the player must pay a fine to the sheriff and have the goods taken. If the player is carrying what they say, the sheriff has to pay the penalty instead. In most cases, players actively bribe the sheriff into looking the other way, ending in a win-win situation where the player gets their goods to market and the sheriff gets to line their pocket with coin. Bribes don’t always have to be in coin, they can be goods, contraband, or favours for later in the game. The last game I played, of 24 bags of goods that came into the market, only 1 was actually inspected.
This game lives and dies by the psychology of bribing and mitigating your losses, but the math swiftly disappears into the fun of playing the characters and wheeling and dealing with the sheriff. It is definitely more of a social game than a strategy game, and the final score can come down to a single coin. Be cautious, though; one bad deal can set you behind the other players very fast.
I had a lot of fun playing the game. The five stages in each round and unorthodox gameplay may intimidate some people before they pick it up, but it won’t take long for any player to start enjoying themselves. The game design is beautiful and durable, though the snaps on the goods bags can be a little hard to get open.
I would highly recommend this game to anyone within a very comfortable group, where feelings won’t be hurt by a little dirty dealing.