Mercantilism thrives on the belief of profitable trading. It’s essentially the heart of capitalism. Provide people with the goods they want without saturating the market and you’re sales are sure to be successful, but sometimes people want things, illegal things, that aren’t easy to obtain. This creates a black market. There’s a substantial profit to be made off the black market, but there’s always a risk associated with the reward. The question is: if you’re going to sell something illegally what are you willing to do to avoid getting caught? Can you get through via a simple lie, or will you resort to bribery or favors? How much are you willing to give up to avoid penalty? This combination of risk versus reward is what thrives at the heart of the card game, Sheriff of Nottingham.
Sheriff of Nottingham pits 3-5 people against one another as they assume the role of merchants. Each merchant has certain goods that are each assigned a gold value. These goods can be legal goods like bread, cheese, apples, and chickens, or the goods can be higher value items of contraband that will net a hefty profit if they are smuggled successfully into the kingdom. Each turn the merchants all sort their goods into their merchant bag and declare the contents of the bag to the sheriff, but there is a catch: only one type of good can be declared.
"The question is: if you’re going to sell something illegally what are you willing to do to avoid getting caught? Can you get through via a simple lie, or will you resort to bribery or favors?"
For example: a merchant has four items in his or her bag, the items consist of 3 pieces of bread and an apple. The merchant can only claim to have one type of item, so in this example let’s just say that they insist upon only having 4 pieces of bread. The sheriff then takes his or her time judging the players reactions without looking at the items of the bag and attempts to weed out the liars and the truth-tellers. As the sheriff browbeats the merchants it’s up to the merchants to successfully weasel their way out of the situation by either lying brilliantly, offering up bribes, or offering favors. The bribes and favors can be absolutely anything you want them to be, so it’s always best to use your imagination. This is one of the key elements that makes this game so much fun to play. But, if a player isn’t successful and a sheriff decides to look into their bag anyways the merchants must pay a penalty for each type of good in the bag that isn’t the one that was declared. Contraband is immediately confiscated.
"I was amazed to see what roles players assumed while playing, what angles they took to avoid giving away tells and the strategies that people used."
Depending on the amount of players, the game ends after each player has had either two or three chances to be the sheriff. The amount of goods are then counted up and the player with the most gold at the end of the game wins. It’s a simple concept, but the level of bribery and corruption that exists at the heart of it makes the game one of the best bits of fun I’ve had with friends since my first encounter with Cards Against Humanity.
One of the points about this game that surprised me the most was the amount of role-playing that comes through. I was amazed to see what roles players assumed while playing, what angles they took to avoid giving away tells and the strategies that people used. Some people lied every turn but told the truth at critical moments, other’s just resorted to straight-up bribery. Some sheriffs were hard-hitting straight-arrows that wouldn’t submit to corruption and immediately inspected those that they felt were fibbing, while others exploited their temporary position of power for the highest payoffs. The game was constantly changing and new strategies were being crafted with each turn creating an interesting and entertaining dynamic each and every time the role of sheriff was passed on.
"Arcane Wonders has created something very special with Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s a game that’s simple to learn, but hard to master and ultimately depends on your ability to respond, and lie, under pressure."
The Sheriff of Nottingham retails around $35, so what do you get for that price point? Well, the game contains a total of 216 playing cards, five felt merchant bags, five cardboard merchant stands, 110 cardboard coins, and one sheriff marker. Each of these components are crafted with very durable materials and are printed in high quality with absolutely stunning Disney-like artwork. The price is reasonable for the value of the items contained, but when you take time to factor in the fun and the replayability of a game like this you can be more than sure you’re getting quite a bit of bang-for-your-buck.
Arcane Wonders has created something very special with Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s a game that’s simple to learn, but hard to master and ultimately depends on your ability to respond, and lie, under pressure. Your success hinges on that fact, and the fun hinges on how high you’re willing the raise the stakes. Though I do wish that this game could be played with just two people, Sheriff of Nottingham is sure to be a blast for any group of three or more.
Review by: Palmer Sturman | Published by: Arcane Wonders