Back in early 2014 the Dice Tower team put on a 24 hour marathon of board gaming for our viewing pleasure, and a good laugh it was too. One of the highlights for me was an old game called Robin Hood. It was a game of pure bluffing, lying and deception that resulted in one of the funniest gaming events I’d ever watched with roleplaying, laughter and arguing in spades. Unfortunately, it was written in Portuguese and it was impossible to find a copy of this game anywhere… Until now!
Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower has recently started a new line of games called Dice Tower Essentials where he seeks to bring back old games that he considers absolute gems in the hobby. Sheriff of Nottingham is the first game to feature in this new line and it’s a full re-skin of the original Robin Hood with rule tweaks and an improvement in component quality.
When I first heard of this, I was on a whole new level of excitement. Sheriff of Nottingham has the potential to fit exactly where I like in the realm of bluffing and negotiation games and if you listen to my show and read my reviews, you’ll know that this is a genre that I’m a big fan of. Annoyingly due to distractions I missed the first print run and have had to wait until 2015 to get my copy! But now that I have it, has it been worth the wait? Or will this join the pile of games that failed to live up to the hype in 2014?
Designer: Sergio Halaban / Bryan Pope / Andre Zatz
Publisher: Arcane Wonders
# of Players: 3-5
Play Time: 60 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 211 / 7.67
Trying To Keep A Straight Face
Sheriff of Nottingham puts you in the shoes of a merchant trying to make the most money by selling goods at your market stand. Goods consist of legal (apples, cheese, bread and chickens) and contraband (silk, pepper, mead and crossbows) types. Contraband is worth more than legal good, but the problem is that before you can get to the market, you have to declare your goods to the Sheriff and contraband is illegal.
Each player takes it in turns to be the Sheriff. At the of start a round, the merchants discard and redraw cards from the deck or discard piles (the latter first) to maintain a hand size of six. After this is done, they place between 1 and 5 cards of their choice in their market pouch and declare to the Sheriff what they are bringing to the market. They must however stick to three rules when making their declaration:
- They have to declare the correct number of goods in the bag (1-5 cards)
- They have to declare only legal goods (well, duh!)
- They have to declare only one type of good (apple, cheese, etc.)
The Sheriff then has the choice of whether to let the merchant through by giving them back their bag or opening them up to inspect the goods. Bribes can be offered for gold and goods and so begins the round of negotiation.
If the Sheriff opens your pouch and you were telling the truth, he has to pay you a penalty (shown on the cards) for inconveniencing you. However, if you were lying in any way, then you have to pay a penalty to the Sheriff for lying to the law.
The next player then becomes the Sheriff and the game continues until each player has been the Sheriff 2 or 3 times, depending on the number of players. All the money and goods are then totalled up and a final King & Queen gold bonus is awarded to players who have accumulated the greatest number of a particular good.
To assist with this, some of the contraband goods are luxury food items sought by Prince John which are illegal to merchants, but if you sneak them through successfully, they count as multiples of legal goods for the purposes of the King & Queen bonus. Naturally the player with the most gold is the winner.
Shedding Its Skin For A Shiny New Look
Arcane Wonders have gone to town with the components. The rulebook is colourful and really easy to follow and teach to new players. The box contains an insert which is actually useful, holding all the money and cards easily even when sleeved in the Premium Mayday sleeves that I use. The artwork on the player boards and cards is nothing short of outstanding with vibrant colour and detail throughout maintaining a look reminiscent of something out of a Pixar production. It almost makes you hungry just looking at the food pictures, chickens included!
The pouches for storing the cards for the Sheriff have also had the same attention to detail in that they fit sleeved cards as well and open by way of one of those popper shutter…things… I’m not an expert on arts and craft! They’re fairly sturdy, although I would exercise a little caution when handling them as sometimes you can feel like you’re going to rip the thing off even though you won’t!
It’s most definitely a significant upgrade from the original version and you can tell that Tom Vasel has had a hand in advising the publishers on this.
“Four Of The Finest Chickens Sir!”
As you can see from the rules explanation, the game is very simple to grasp and each round plays out the same, so even non-gamers are going to pick this up pretty quickly. The heart of Sheriff of Nottingham is obviously in the declaring and inspection phases where the players negotiate with the Sheriff for letting their goods through and it’s easily the biggest highlight. Staring the Sheriff in the eye and lying to his face about your bag is as good as it gets, but you even try to coax him into opening your bag and paying you for the inconvenience. In fact, it’s equally possible to win this game by not lying at all as well as sneaking contraband through, which you wouldn’t normally expect, but it’s always more rewarding to hear the curses from the Sheriff after you open your bag and reveal that you just screwed him over.
The negotiation part also lends itself to some hilarious role-play from the players involved. Each merchant has its own player board with a large portrait of their character. There is no differentiation other than cosmetics, but their cartoony appearance allows for some of the funniest banter heard in a negotiation game. The blue player, who is clearly modelled on a baker, for example can’t help but incorporate a baker’s mentality when declaring bread to the Sheriff and then refutes any other player’s declaration of bread stating that it’s horrible and low quality merchandise! This of course depends on your group and we’ll get on to that later, but when you have players egging others on or joining in the role-play, it’s just fun in a box from that point on – all you need is a Sheriff’s hat to wear!
Sheriff of Nottingham allows for 3-5 players, although clearly it’s best with 4 or 5. With 5 players the game takes longer, but never exceeds 90 minutes even with the most indecisive of players, but you have a variety of players and banter going around. With 4, you’ll have a reasonable variety, but the number of times you play as the Sheriff doesn’t change so that cuts a significant chunk off the playing time. Actually, it’s refreshing to have a game that works this well with 5 players as it’s a common group size from experience and most games can’t handle 5 without a serious detriment to gameplay.
Those who don’t like Sheriff of Nottingham tend to have one common complaint and that’s the game falling flat in their group. This is a social game through and through and as such it has the inherent flaw of the genre in that the personalities of the group are going to greatly affect your experience.
But I’ve grown to discount this argument as this can be said about all bluffing/negotiation games from Cosmic Encounter to Nothing Personal and I put this down as a flaw of the group, not the game. I’ve noticed on some games that introverted people tend to not get into the bribery parts and simply sit back and let the Sheriff decide whether to open the case or not. On the flip side they don’t even give the players time to make bribes and just open a case straight away. This can be a slight spoiler for me.
I would say however that in this genre, you have to pick your groups anyway. I wouldn’t play Sheriff of Nottingham with a group of 18XX gamers for example. However, I know people who I’ve played this game with and I’m brought to tears of the laughter by the fun that ensues. However, if I’m playing against more introverted players, I usually always tell the truth because, more often than not, those players end up paying me as a result. To be fair though, I can also turn this argument on its head by stating the same for other genre’s as well. Would you play a strategic Euro game with a group prone to Analysis Paralysis? Of course not, it would spoil the experience, but I don’t mark the game down for choosing a bad group.
Verdict on Sheriff of Nottingham
If you’ve been listening to my podcast recently you will have heard of this game and my brief viewpoints on it. That’s because it featured on Episode 27 in my Top Ten of 2014 list at No 2. Had I played it sooner it would have also featured highly in my contribution to the GamesQuest Top Ten list as well – it’s a crime that it didn’t make the high section of the list in favour of some “lesser” titles in my opinion but that’s a topic for another day.
And that’s because it deserves the spot. Sheriff of Nottingham is the raw emotion of laughter packaged in a shiny box. Ever since I saw the original, I’ve been hopeful that this would measure up to my expectations and it does not disappoint. It’s really easy to teach and play and it barely clocks in at 60-90 minutes even with the maximum player count.
It is very group dependent though, that cannot be denied, but then so is any game in this genre and anyone who enjoys bluffing/negotiation games is going to get a kick out of this especially if they go the full mile and start roleplaying the characters for extra laughs.
Combine laughter with solid components, great artwork, one of the first good inserts I’ve seen in months and simple rules and you’ve got a game that not only brings Arcane Wonders back into the public eye, but also marks a triumphant beginning for the Dice Tower Essentials line.
You Will Like This Game If:
- You are a fan of the genre – this game is one of the best examples out there.
- You don’t want complication – the rules are very simple even with variants.
- You like roleplaying your games – you can’t help it here, it’s like an addiction!
You Will Not Like This Game If:
- Your gaming group doesn’t get into social games – it is very group dependant.
- You feel that 60-90 minutes is still too long for a bluffing game.
- You’re restricted to 3 or less players regularly – it’s far better with 4 or 5.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.