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Subject: Nottingham: A very friendly cardgame rss

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Emile de Maat
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Nottingham is not a game about Robin Hood, as its name would suggest. It is about the Sheriff of Nottingham, who needs more money to buy another term in office. His deputies (the players) are sent out to collect overdue taxes. The one who collects the most will be rewarded with a promotion, so the deputies do not only collect taxes from the inhabitants of Nottingham, but they also rob each other to get the best result.

Game Components
The game consists of two decks of nicely illustrated cards, some wooden pawns and a small gameboard, depicting the forest of Nottingham and the Sheriff’s path through the forest. The cards do not have any text. Instead, they have an icon depicting the corresponding action. Thus, the game is language independent. Our game group had some confusion concerning two similar icons, but there were no major problems.

Gameplay
Each turn, you draw and reveal the top card from the stack. Now, you may choose to keep this card or to exchange it with another player, using the method described by the card. After that, you can play one card combination to score points. If you do score points, the Sheriff hands out favours to those players that do have few cards in hand.

Each card has a value and an action (cards with the same value also have the same action). Three of the cards are cards that allow stealing. You can pick one card from another player, either at random, at your choice or at your choice with your victim showing his entire hand to all players.
One cards allows trading, with the other player determining himself what card he gives to you, and another is an auction, with all other players offering you one or two cards for the card you’ve drawn.
The other two card types “delay” their action. One of them is an ambush, which delays the trade until someone tries to score points (see below). Under certain circumstances, this will trigger your ambush, and you may than trade your card with one of the scoring cards (probably making his combination invalid, forcing him to take his cards back).
The last card is a protection card, which protects you from robberies. If someone tries to rob you, you can give them this card to prevent them from taking some other card.
As said, these actions are used to exchange the card you’ve just drawn, so the person you take a card from gets the card you drew from the stack.

Trading cards for victory points can be done if you have three (or more) cards of the same type. You score as many points as that card type is worth.
In addition, there are four special assignments, which give you a fixed number of points for a special, big combination of cards (three pairs, four pairs, five of the same, and one of each). Each assignment can only be fulfilled by two players, and is worth fewer points if it has been completed by two players instead of by only one player.
Each time someone scores points, the Sheriff advances one space on his trip through the forest (depicted on a game board). Each square shows a number. If a player has a number of cards less or equal to the number on the square the Sheriff just entered, he receives a card.

The game ends when all special assignments have been completed, or when the Sheriff completes his trip (i.e. has moved a certain number of spaces).

Theme
The first thing you notice about this game is that the theme is rather thin. The story about the Sheriff wanting to get more money to buy another year in office is rather weak to begin with. But, as you play the game, you do not take any actions as a deputy (probably, the drawing of a card from the stack counts as “collecting taxes”). Instead, you feel like a trader. Even when you rob someone, you give him a card in return. A trade them would fit this game better.

Mechanics and such
The game is very good in limiting bad luck for a player. Since you always get a card in return when one is taken from you, you never lose cards because of an opponent’s action. This also means that you will not fall too far behind because several players choose you as a victim for their actions. In addition, the special assignments make it possible to trade in your cards for points even if you do not manage to collect three cards of the same value.

The Sheriff’s favour was a rule that surprised me at first. This is the rule that awards a card to all players with a low number of cards after someone has scored. This rule rewards the players that already are lucky, since they’ve managed to score points (and thus discard cards). The players that have too many cards are often those who have had fewer opportunities to score. It seems they had double bad luck: no score, and no bonus card. However, this becomes less of an issue because of the special assignments, which does permit them to score (so, no double bad luck).
Instead, this rule seems rather important for the game. It motivates people to play cards instead of waiting (for a bigger combination, or for other people to trigger an ambush). It also gives you something more to think about, since these bonus cards are an important way of getting ahead of other players,
Finally, this rule makes that players do not have few cards for long, so you are seldom waiting for long before you can try for new combinations.

The ambushes seem to be needlessly complex. They are fun, but they add little to the game. Since you always get a card in return for the one you loose, you do not run that much risk (especially since they do not work against the special assignments, the big combo’s). The rulebook advices you to play a fourth card to be sure your combination will hold, but unless playing that combination will give you a lot of bonus cards from the Sheriff’s favour, it hardly seems worth paying the extra card.

Opinion
Nottingham has been a positive surprise for me. (Of course, I did not expect it to be much, but still). It turned out to be a rather pleasant game, which I would enjoy playing more often. It is a filler game, however, and I will prefer playing a more substantial game if I’ve got the option. But for a filler, it is good. I think this is mostly the case because the actions keep things happening. Each action changes something, and there is something happening all of the time. You’re not simply drawing cards until you’ve got a combination.
In addition, it is rather friendly: nobody loses cards, and early bad luck is often compensated by the special assignments, which prevents people from falling behind in score early on.

However, I expect that this game may be too friendly and (perhaps) tame for some players. This is not a cutthroat game at all; you will not be able to come up with a devious move that will score you big points and/or devastate your opponents… Inflicting a small setback is all you can hope for. If you were hoping for some fighting, this is not the game for you.
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