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Bluff your way past the Sheriff of Nottingham

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Oy gov’nuh, what’s in the bag?

Board games can do a lot to create a sense of immersion by having you role play as a character. We’ve played lots of games like that! For the latest episode of our Overboard series, we played Sheriff of Nottingham. This may be the only board game that lets you role pay as an incredulous medieval inspector while shouting at your friends, “WHAT’S IN THE BAG?”

In this game, players are trying to get as much merchandise past the titular Sheriff of Nottingham. They can use bluffing, bribing, and even genuine honesty to accomplish that task. Players can bring legal merchandise into their market stall, but if they’re willing to take a risk, they can also bring in some valuable (and illegal) contraband.

Here’s how it’s played:

Each round, one player gets to be the sheriff, while everyone else puts no more than five cards from their hand into their bags. These are the goods they’re trying to get past the sheriff. Then, one at time, the sheriff asks what’s in a player’s bag. The player responds by telling them the type of card they have (bread, chicken, apple or cheese) and how many. Players can’t claim to have more than one type of card or contraband in the bag.

Here’s where the bluffing comes in. While player’s can’t lie about how many cards are in the bag, they can lie about what type. So if they say “four bread,” the bag could actually contain two bread, a chicken, and a contraband.

The sheriff must decide whether or not to inspect the player’s bag. If they find any cards that aren’t supposed to be there, the player must pay the sheriff a fine for each one. The fines for contraband are especially high. However, if the player was being honest, it’s the sheriff who must pay a fine for each card in the bag.

Making things even trickier, players are allowed to bribe the sheriff. So not only can you bribe the sheriff to leave your bag unopened, the other players can also bribe the sheriff to open the bag. You can even offer cards from your bag as part of a bribe.

While this game is mostly about bluffing, there are ways to gather some limited information about the other players’ hands. Whenever cards are discarded, they’re placed face up into one of two discard piles. Players can draw from these discard piles when they refill their hands after a round, but they risk letting everyone know what sort of cards they have.

At the end of the game, the winner is determined based on the value of all the cards players managed to get into their market stall, any money they have leftover, and whatever bonuses they received. These bonuses are awarded to players for having the most apples, chickens, bread, and cheese cards at the end of the game, so it helps to specialize.

Of course, this can also be another way to mislead your fellow players. Would someone going after the cheese bonus really have four apples in their bag? Or is that just what they want you to think? Like any bluffing game, Sheriff of Nottingham is about taking risks. And shouting at your friends with bad Renaissance Faire accents.

If you want more board game playthroughs, check out our Overboard playlist. Make sure you subscribe to Polygon on YouTube to keep up with the next one!