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How to play Sheriff of Nottingham

This rule guide hopes to provide an easy and fast way to learn how to play Sheriff of Nottingham board game. I hate trying to find my way around a rulebook. I wrote this rules reference guide to help you get straight to the essential instructions and points to get started.

If you are after an overview of the game Sheriff of Nottingham, I have written a quick summary of what the game is about, what makes it fun and provide links to videos here.

What is the Sheriff of Nottingham game about?

  • Players are merchants,  who on each turn, attempt to bring their goods to the market for trading
  • They take turns to be the sheriff who inspects the merchant’s bags
  • Players who are merchants must persuade the sheriff to let their goods through
  • Players gain wealth by getting their goods into the market
  • Player with the most wealth wins

How to setup the game Sheriff of Nottingham?

Each player takes a Merchant bag and stand of matching colour. One player is chosen to be banker and distributes 50 gold to each player (including him or herself).

In the Basic Game setup,

  • remove Royal Goods cards (12 cards and return to box)
  • shuffle remaining cards and deal 6 to each player
  • leftover cards are placed in draw pile

Create 2 discard piles by drawing 5 cards from draw pile to form 1st discard pile and drawing 5 cards again to form 2nd discard pile.

Finally, randomly select a player as the sheriff

Step by Step The Sheriff of Nottingham Game Rules

  • Game is played over a series of rounds. Each round has 5 phases:

Phase 1: Market

The player who is sheriff does not take part in this phase.

Starting from the player on the left of the sheriff, in a clockwise manner, each player takes a turn to:

  1. Put up to 5 cards from their hand face down
  2. Draw cards one at a time from either discard pile or the draw pile or both
  3. Any player can view the cards in the discard piles at any time
  4. A player must draw from the discard pile first, before drawing from the draw pile
  5. Each time a player draws from the discard pile, they must allow other players (including SHERIFF!) to view it
  6. Draw till they have 6 cards on hand
    1. Once the player has 6 cards, the cards faced down (in step 1) are placed face up (in any order) on either discard pile (choose one)

If discard pile is empty, it remains empty until a player discards cards into it.

Phase 2: Load Merchant Bag

  • All merchant players place the goods (cards) they want to take to the market AT THE SAME TIME
  • Merchant bag has to have at least 1 good and not more than 5 goods (cards)
  • Don’t let others or the SHERIFF see what you put in your bag
  • Once decided, snap and close bag. No change of mind is allowed!

Phase 3: Declaration

Starting from the player on the left of the sheriff, each player must:

  • Tell the sheriff what goods they are bringing to the market by:
    • stating the number of goods (cards) in the bag (this has to match the number of goods in the bag)
    • declaring one kind of LEGAL good in the bag (you can lie here and have other types of goods in your bag)
    • note: players can only declare a LEGAL good to the sheriff
  • Once declared, the player hands the bag to the sheriff
  • The sheriff is not allowed to look into the bag yet

Phase 4: Sheriff Inspection

In this phase, Sheriff decides whether to inspect a bag and catch a lying merchant

Sheriff can:

  • inspect any number of bags
  • choose not to inspect any bags

What happens when a sheriff inspects:

  • Catch a lying player who has CONTRABAND (illegal) goods (cards) and the player has to pay the sheriff a fine
  • If the player was honest, the sheriff has to pay the player a penalty

Influence Sheriff by Bribing or Negotiating

  • Merchants (players) can offer bribes to avoid inspection or to encourage sheriff to inspect other merchants
  • Everyone can negotiate and counter offer bribes / Sheriff has the final say
  • The bribe can be anything (except for cards in players hands) and any combination:
    • Gold / Goods (Legal and Contraband) / Future favours / Goods in your bag
    • Future favours that involve actions in future rounds are not binding – so beware!

Sheriff’s decides what to do with bribes and bags

  • For each bag, sheriff chooses the following
    • if offered a bribe, decide whether to accept
      • if accepted, return the bag to merchant owner and perform any actions in the round that were agreed in the deal
      • if rejected, choose to unsnap and inspect the bag
    • if not offered a bribe, choose to inspect or not inspect

If sheriff lets a player’s bag pass:

  • Legal goods placed on matching spaces on Merchant Stand. (All players can see these cards)
  • Keep contraband goods (cards) secret. Keep face down on top of Merchant Stand

If sheriff inspects a player’s bag:

  • If the player was telling the truth:
    • Sheriff pays Gold equal to the Penalty on every legal good in the bag
    • Legal goods are placed on player’s Merchant Stand
  • If the player was lying:
    • Truthfully declared goods are allowed into the market and placed on player’s Merchant Stand
    • Goods not declared (legal or contraband) are confiscated and placed on any discard pile and in any order
    • The player pays fine for confiscated goods (equal to penalty found at the bottom of each card)

Phase 5: End of Round

If all players have been sheriff twice (or 3 times in 3 player game), the game ends IMMEDIATELY.

If the game has not ended,

  1. Pass Sheriff Marker to the player on the left. That player will be sheriff in next round
  2. All players draw cards from the DRAW PILE until they have 6 cards in hand
  3. The sheriff should already have 6 cards and hence, does not need to draw
  4. End the round and start the next round.

How do you win?

At the end of the last round (every player has been sheriff twice or 3 times for 3 player game),

  1. Discard all cards on hand (these cards have no points)
  2. Reveal Contraband cards and count total score. Total score equals:
    • value of all goods on Merchant Stand (legal and contraband)
    • gold coins
    • bonuses for being \’king\’ or \’queen\’ for a type of good
      • player who has delivered the most or second most of a type of good gets bonuses
        Bonus table for King and Queen of type of good - Sheriff of Nottingham
      • tie for King, add King and Queen bonuses together and split among the tied players (round down). No bonuses for second
      • if tied for Queen bonuses. Divide it among tied players (round down)
  3. Player with most points wins

Useful References

Gold and Penalty value of goods - Sheriff of Nottingham

What are the Optional Rules for Sheriff of Nottingham?

Royal Goods Cards

Add these cards when you have gotten used to the game.

4+ marked cards are only used for 4 or more players and are removed from 3 player games.

Rules for Royal Goods Cards:

  • treated like contraband
  • when inspected, they are confiscated and one pays the fine listed on the card
  • if they make it through to the market, they are placed face down on the Merchant Stand
  • at the end of the game, added to the legal goods and are worth the amount listed on the card
Royal Cards - Optional rules for Sheriff of Nottingham

Video Walkthrough

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