Sheriff of Nottingham – Rules and Instructions

Sheriff of Nottingham is a fun, bluffing game, perfect for parties and noisy get-togethers with family! It involves a lot of negotiation, bribery, and a fair amount of lying.

Sheriff of Nottingham allows wannabe merchants to attempt to smuggle contraband goods under the nose of the greedy Sheriff. 

It’s a popular game with players and has been nominated for several awards over the years, winning the Best International Game category in the Boardgames Australia Awards 2015.

This Sheriff of Nottingham rules and instructions guide will cover the following:

  • What is Sheriff of Nottingham?
  • What you’ll need to play Sheriff of Nottingham
  • Sheriff of Nottingham Rules
  • How to play Sheriff of Nottingham (video tutorial)
  • FAQs

Now let’s take a look at how to play Sheriff of Nottingham!

What is Sheriff of Nottingham?

Sheriff of Nottingham Board Game Info image

Sheriff of Nottingham is a fiercely competitive bluffing game for up to 5 players in which players must sneak contraband goods past the watchful Sheriff.

Number of Players: 3-5

Ages: 14+

Difficulty: Easy

Length Of Play: 60 mins

Category: Family, party, bluffing, negotiation, hand management, card drafting

Similar To: Coup, Spy Alley, One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Main Objective: Gain the most wealth by smuggling goods and contraband past the Sheriff

Why We Love It: We love the silly negotiations and the laughter this game provokes!

What You’ll Need to Play Sheriff of Nottingham

Everything you need to play Sheriff of Nottingham is in this box set:

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The box set contains the following:

  • 216 Goods cards, including 144 Legal Goods (Green), 60 Contraband (Red), and 12 Royal Goods (Red with a gold banner)
  • 110 Gold coins
  • 1 Sheriff marker
  • 5 Merchant Stands
  • 5 Merchant Bags
  • Bank Tray
  • Card Tray
  • The rulebook
Sheriff of Nottingham box contents image

Sheriff of Nottingham Rules and Gameplay

Let’s take a look at how to play Sheriff of Nottingham:

Game Setup

Give each player the following items:

  • A Merchant Stand
  • A Merchant Bag (this has to be the same color as the Merchant Stand)
  • 1 x Silver 20 coin, 
  • 5 x Grey 5 coins, 
  • 5 x Bronze 1 coins
  • 6 random Goods cards

One player should act as the banker, and should therefore have access to the Bank Tray with the remaining gold to manage the coins.

Sheriff of Nottingham Game Setup image

Shuffle the Goods cards, then place them in the center section of the Card Tray, face-down.

Note: If you’re playing this for the first time, you might want to play it in a slightly easier mode. You can do this by removing the Royal Goods cards (there are 12 of them altogether), then shuffling the remaining Goods cards and using those instead.

Turn over 5 cards from the draw pile to form a ‘Discard’ pile. Place these cards face-up on the left-hand side of the Card Tray.

Draw five more cards and place them face-up on the right-hand side of the Card Tray to form a second discard pile.

Then you can decide who goes first. This player will get to have the Sheriff Token.

Turn Order

There are 5 phases in each round. Let’s explore each one!

Phase 1: Market

In the Market phase, players should discard unwanted cards and gain new ones. The idea here is to build up a good range of goods to try to take to market. You may discard up to 5 cards and draw back up to 6 cards.

Interestingly, you can draw both from the draw pile AND the discard piles. However, you have to draw them one at a time in whichever order they were placed.

Bear in mind that if you decide to draw cards from the discard pile, the Sheriff will be watching you closely. If you plan to bluff, they might catch you out!

Phase 2: Load Merchant Bag

Once every player (except the Sheriff) has had a turn drawing and discarding cards, the game moves on to the next phase. 

Place the goods you want to take to market into your merchant bag. 

You can place 1-5 goods in your bag, but be careful not to show the other players (particularly the Sheriff) the goods you’re placing in the bag!

Sheriff of Nottingham Merchant Bag image

Phase 3: Declaration

Now it’s bluffing time. Each player takes turns to declare to the Sheriff what goods they are taking to market. You can choose to tell the truth, or you can choose to lie. Bear in mind, if you need to smuggle through contraband, lying is going to be the only option!

How successful you are at this will depend on your deception skills (and how well your friends know you). You can check out our Spyfall rules guide to see what we mean – the core skills between these two games are similar.

The Sheriff is not allowed to open the bags at this stage. When making a declaration, players must:

  • Declare legal goods only (you can’t announce that you have mead in your bag, for example)
  • Only declare one kind of good (for example, you can’t declare that you’re bringing in 3 apples and 1 chicken)
  • Only declare the exact number of cards you have in your merchant bag (e.g you can’t say you’re bringing across 4 cards when you have 5)

Phase 4: Inspection

Now, the Sheriff comes into play. The Sheriff can decide to inspect some or all of the bags (they can even decide not to inspect any of them). You can, before opening a bag, threaten that player.

In response, players can offer the following items as bribes:

  • Gold
  • Legal or Contraband goods in the player’s Merchant Stand
  • Goods in the player’s bag (legal or contraband)
  • Promises of future favors (for example, they may say ‘If you don’t look in my bag now, I’ll give you half of the gold I get in the next round.’
Sheriff of Nottingham Inspection image

If the Sheriff lets a player pass, that player must show their cards to the other players, with some conditions. 

Legal Goods are placed in the Merchant Stand (face up) so everyone can see. Contraband items must be kept hidden, face down. Players must reveal the number of cards, but not their type.

If the Sheriff decides to inspect the bag, the outcome depends on the cards inside! 

If players were telling the truth, the Sheriff must pay the player gold equal to the Penalty on every Legal Good in the bag. Then the player gets to keep their goods and add them to the Merchant Stand as usual.

If the player was lying, the following happens:

  • Truthfully declared Legal Goods will be allowed into the market
  • Goods the player did not declare will be confiscated. The Sheriff player takes these cards and places them, in any order of their choosing, in one of the discard pile
  • The player who lied must pay a fine to the Sheriff for the confiscated goods. The fine is equal to the Penalty shown on each card.

This is the fun part of the game, and it usually produces a lot of laughter! 

Phase 5: End of Round

Now it’s time to end the round. The Sheriff token is passed on to the player to their left, and each player draws cards until they have 6 in their hand again. Then it starts over again until each player has been the Sheriff twice.

More Rules Around Bluffing

There are a few more things to consider when players are trying to strike a deal with the Sheriff. 

For example, future favors do not have to be honored. Players can promise to give the Sheriff a certain amount of gold, for example, and then go back on that promise later on with no consequences. 

The Sheriff player needs to consider whether or not they trust that person!

If a player offers the Sheriff some of the goods in their bag, they only need to give the Sheriff the goods that they promised. 

For example, they could say, ‘I’ve got 4 mead in my bag, and I’ll give you 2 of them if you let me through.’ 

They could then reveal that they don’t have any mead in their bag, and there will be no consequences for that.

Out of Gold?

If a player has run out of gold, they do have some options. For example, if the player needs to pay a penalty but they don’t have the required gold, they can pay using the equivalent value of goods from their Merchant Stand. They can also pay using contraband of the same value.

If a player has exhausted all their goods to pay debts, the remaining debt is canceled, giving poor players a chance to catch up.

3-Player Variant

There is a 3-player variant. The game is pretty much the same. Before shuffling the Goods card in the setup phase, remove all cards that have the 4+ icon from the deck. This includes:

  • 36 Bread cards
  • 4 Pepper cards
  • 5 Mead cards
  • 3 Silk cards

If players are choosing to use the Royal Goods, but they want to play in 3-player mode, they must also remove:

  • 1 Bleu Cheese
  • 1 Royal Rooster
  • 2 Rye Bread

Each player must be the Sheriff 3 times to end the game.

Sheriff of Nottingham Scoring

Now players can count up their scores! They can count:

  • The value of their Goods (both Legal and Contraband) in their Merchant Stand
  • Any gold coins you have
  • Any bonuses for being the King or Queen of a certain type of good.

If 2 players tie, the player with the most Legal goods wins. If there is still a tie, the player with the most Contraband goods wins.

Kings and Queens

Players will get a bonus for collecting the most, and second-most, cards of each type:

  • Apples – 1st Place 20 Points, 2nd Place 10 points
  • Cheese – 1st Place 15 Points, 2nd Place 10 points
  • Bread – 1st Place 15 points, 2nd Place 10 Points
  • Chickens – 1st Place 10 Points, 2nd Place 5 Points

If players are tied for 1st place, they share the points (for example, if 2 players have the same number of apples, they each get 10 points).

To give an example:

Player 1 has a total of 36 points for their Legal goods. They have 20 points for their Contraband goods. They have 35 gold in their hand. They gained the most Bread, which makes them the Bread King, for an additional 15 points. 

They also had the second-most amount of cheese, which makes them the Cheese Queen. This gives them 10 points.

That means Player 1 will add together the following: 36 + 20 + 35 + 15 + 10 = 116 points.

Video Tutorial for Sheriff of Nottingham

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Sheriff of Nottingham

How many rounds are in the Sheriff of Nottingham?

It depends on the number of players. Each player must be the Sheriff two times (or three times in a 3-player game). For example, a 4-player game will have 8 rounds.

What kind of game is the Sheriff of Nottingham?

It’s mainly a bluffing game, and it’s fun to play with family and friends. It’s an excellent social game (check out our Code Names rules guide for a similar party-style game).

Is Sheriff of Nottingham suitable for kids?

It depends on the child, but the guidelines suggest that this game is good for people aged 14 and up. Some community players feel that children aged 10 and over may be able to play Sheriff of Nottingham, but it depends on how experienced they are at playing board games and following rules.

Other Similar Games to Sheriff of Nottingham (Our Guides)

If you’ve enjoyed Sheriff of Nottingham, you could try out some other bluffing and deduction games too. Check out our guides for more negotiation-based games:

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Read all the articles (6) written by Megan Bidmead