A round of play is dived up into five phases: Market, Load Merchant Bag, Declaration, Inspection, End of Round. At the beginning of each round a player will be chosen to act as the “Sheriff” and will only participate in the “Inspection” phase.
During the Market phase players may discard any unwanted cards and pick up new cards to replenish your hand back up to the six-card requirement. This usually includes legal goods, but may also include any contraband or Royal Good cards.
During the Bag phase the players will put their selected cards (up to five) into their merchant bags. The bags act as a veil of secrecy to hide their true contents from the other players and the Sheriff.
During the Declaration phase, players must announce to everyone what exactly is in their bags. This sounds simple but is actually a very important step. Players must announce only ONE good in their bag and it must be a legal one, in addition the amount that they state must also be the same amount of total cards they placed in their bag. Meaning if you placed four cards in your bag and only two of them are legal goods, you must lie and state that all four of them are the same. Even if all of your goods are legal but are of different types, you must also lie and say they are all the same.
During the Inspection phase the Sheriff is tasked with trying to determine whose bag to inspect based on the Declaration phase. All players are subject to searching if the Sheriff desires, however there is a catch. Players may offer the Sheriff a deal in order to not be searched, this could include a bribe or promise of goods in the future. If the Sheriff takes the bribe then the player is required to fulfill it and then allowed through. If the Sheriff decides to search the bag and finds out the player was lying, they must pay the indicated fine for the illegal or undeclared goods. If they Sheriff was wrong then they must pay the price to the player.
At the End of Round phase players take out their cards and reveal to the other players and Sheriff what was actually in their bags. Sometimes the Sheriff will realize that he should have searched someone he didn’t once he sees the results.