What: a tense mercantile race that tests your greed and your honesty
Players: 2 -5
Time: 45 minutes
People: Super simple and super accessible for kids, friends or families
Available: on Amazon here
Why we recommend it
Bizarrely, Sheriff of Nottingham is a game described by a resident Best Player and the host of our podcast as a ‘cheese shifting simulator’. While this is plainly ridiculous and terribly off the mark, there might be a shred of accuracy to the description.
Sheriff of Nottingham was actually among the very first games that Best Play’s founders played together. It’s one of those games that reveals a lot about a person’s character, from the brave but snakey Glenn to the mischievous, naughty Marcus. Step aside Myers and Briggs, I know more than you could ever know about a person based purely on this block of cheese they tried to smuggle down their pants.
Play begins with a handful of goods for each merchant. These include perfectly legitimate produce, such as apples, cheese and bread. Some of them, however, are classified as illegal contraband. These are things like crossbows, mead and … erm, pepper, for some reason.
Merchants are then given the chance to shift a load of these goods into the market. After a quick reshuffle of their stash, they each select which goods to stuff into their sack. Next, they look the designated Sheriff directly in the eye and declare ‘three apples’, or whatever it is they’re claiming to have. The only rule here is that it must be a single amount of a homogenous product, so two chickens or five breads for example.
One player, the yellow merchant, hands over her bag to the Sheriff and calmly states that it contains four cheeses.
The Sheriff’s job is that of a customs officer. Is it really four cheese? Twirling the delicate sack in his fingertips, the Sheriff motions to unbuckle the bag’s clip.
“No!” cries the would-be cheese monger. “I’ll pay you four coins if you look the other way!”
She fears the Sheriff’s scrutinising eye. If he opens the bag and finds anything other than four cheeses, the smuggler could face big penalties and would lose her illegal stock.
“How about six coins? Looks like you don’t have much of a choice here” the Sheriff darts back.
The merchant seems troubled by this. “Hmmm. I’m not going up to six, it’s just not worth it for me”.
This exchange might continue for a few minutes, causing the now-greedy Sheriff to inspect the other merchant’s bags as they mull over the decision as to what to do about the yellow trader. He opens one belonging to the purple merchant, and successfully finds a barrel of mead hidden in amongst a pile of bread. The smuggler must pay him a hefty fine for his transgressions. A second merchant, the blue player, is allowed to pass on into the market untouched, and carefully unloads his regulation loaves of bread into his stall.
Confidence boosted by a successful inspection and his decision to allow the honest trader to go about his business, the Sheriff returns to the yellow merchant’s bag.
“So you’ll go no higher than four coins for me to look the other way?”, the Sheriff enquires. He reasons that there must be some illegitimate goods within, hence the bribe. But why wouldn’t the yellow player go up to six? Because there’s only one or two crossbows, or because the whole thing is a bluff?
The Sheriff decides to open the bag. The moment his fingers reach the clasp, the trader interjects once more. “Damn it, OK. Six coins. Just please don’t open it.”
The Sheriff decides to open the bag anyway, ready to cash in on the illicit stacks of crossbows within.
It’s all cheese, just like the merchant said it was. The bribe was a ruse; a ploy to convince the greedy Sheriff to open the bag. Now, of course, he must pay her 9 coins for the trouble he’s given her by inspecting her perfectly legal items.
The round ends, and the Sheriff marker shifts along to the next player. This time, the yellow merchant assumes the role of the Sheriff, and the others must once again attempt to smuggle goods into the market. The original Sheriff becomes a regular trader much like the others. This time, there’s history to be considered as the merchants slide their chosen goods to pass through the watchful glare of the yellow trader: their new Sheriff.
This scenario illustrates the nature of play in Sheriff of Nottingham, a role-switching game of risk and reward. It’s possible to play entirely legitimately, yet the allure of lucrative smuggling missions may well prove too much for some players. This game welcomes the shrewd and the sneaky, but leaves space for the cautious and the honest.
It’s a clever, simple and accessible mechanic that suits both family get-togethers with game-resistant mothers as well as menu items in a longer games night among more serious gamers.
It comes heartily recommended by Best Play, and you can pick up a copy on Amazon here.