Dale Yu: Review of Tiffin



  • Designers: Jonathan Hager and Rael Dornfest
  • Publisher: Rio Grande Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: ~40 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with preview copy provided by Rio Grande Games


I have personally been fascinated by the dabbawalla system in Mumbai ever since I saw a PBS documentary on it many many years ago.  While I cannot find the link to the actual full documentary, here are a few links on YouTube that might shed some light on it…


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YSwy081K1Y  (in case you speak Spanish)

This system essentially is a lunch delivery service where an entire army of people manage to collect tiffins, or little metal lunch boxes, from people’s homes and then get them delivered into the city to the right person for a nice homecooked lunch.  The scale and scope of this system is mind-boggling, and the error rate is so low that it should put USPS, FedEx and UPS to shame – as well as the baggage systems of the airline industry! (Of course, I never quite figured out why the working folks can’t just carry their lunchbox with them as they head to work – but if they did, then this entire industry of lunch delivery wouldn’t exist!)  In Tiffin (the game), players act as the delivery personnel, and they will earn money by their participation in the tiffin deliveries.

In the game, players are dealt a hand of 4 Delivery cards – there come in 4 colors (and a grey wild color), with values varying from 1 to 4.   The remainder of the Delivery cards is formed into a deck and then a row of six of these cards is laid out on the table.  Each player is also given a pair of special cards: a Flat tire and a Shortcut card (more on these later).  There is a second deck of cards, the Route cards.  These are mixed and flipped – as the cards are double sided – and then three are laid out on the table.  The Route cards are of four possible colors – denoted by the color text on the card. The remainder forms a deck next to this row.  Finally, the third set of cards, the Tiffin delivery tracking cards are arranged in ascending order and stacked on the table.  To complete setup, place the Competitor card on the board and place a neutral wooden cube on the “0” space on this card.

A start player is chosen at random, and play goes clockwise around the table.  On a player’s turn, he takes exactly one action from among three choices: Place a tiffin, Draft two cards, Play a card.

Place a Tiffin – on each of the three Route cards available in the display, there are three tiffin spaces on the bottom (and a bunch of travel spaces at the top of the card).  To place a tiffin, the player takes one of their colored cubes and places it on the leftmost available tiffin space on the UNSTARTED route card of their choice.  An unstarted route card is one that does not yet have any movement cubes placed in the top portion of the card.  There are scoring values listed underneath each tiffin – the card will score points as listed under the rightmost occupied tiffin space.

you can see the tiffin spaces here at the bottom of each route tile

you can see the tiffin spaces here at the bottom of each route tile

Draft two cards – the player can take 2 cards from the display, the top of the deck, or both.  As a faceup card is drawn, it is immediately replaced from the deck.  Additionally, if there are two value “1” cards in the faceup display, the PAIR of “1” cards may be selected and only counts as a single card drawn. After drawing cards, the player is limited to a hand size of seven cards.

Play a card –  the player can take a Delivery card from his hand and play it to the table.  Now, the player can add a number of movement cubes equal to the number on the card to any route card which matches the color played.  These movement cubes go on the top portion of the card starting in the top row on the left.  There is a restriction that the route card must be active; that is that it has the specified minimum number of tiffins played to it; the current minimum tiffin count can be found on the top card of the Tiffin Tracking pile.

Here are all of the yellow cards

Here are all of the yellow cards

Note that each of the different card ranks has a special ability associated with it:

1- play with any number of 1 cards on routes of their colors OR play a single “1” card and then draft a card from the display

2- Play with another 2 card on the same of different route of their color

3- optionally place a tiffin on the same route card before placing movement cubes as long as the route is unstarted AND the card would reach the minimum needed to start after placement

4- may play as a 2 of any color

On any turn, a player may use ONLY one special ability.

Additionally, two cards of the same rank can be played together as a wild card of that rank for any color.  That is, a Red 3 and a Green 3 can be played as a Blue 3 – and the player would still get the special ability associated with the “3” card.  There are also a number of grey cards in the deck, and these cards can be played on any color Route.

The 5 different color of cards

The 5 different color of cards

The player could also opt to play either of his special cards that he was given at the start of the game.  The Flat Tire card increases the length of a route – it is played next to one of the route cards on the board, and this route now has two more spaces to be filled in order to be complete.  The Shortcut card is the opposite, and when it is placed next to a route card, that Route now needs two fewer cards to be completed.

Finally, note that some of the player cards have the Competitor symbol on them (this is a silhouette of a head and shoulders).  Each time that a card is played with the symbol on it, a cube is added to the Competitor card.  Whenever a cube is placed on the numbered space that matches the number of players in the game, the game is halted for the Competitor to play.

The new top card from the Delivery deck is flipped up.  All route cards that match this color will be affected.  If the flipped over card was grey, then ALL cards will be affected.  If the same colored route is not yet active, the Competitor places a neutral cube on the next available tiffin space.  If the same colored route is active, then the Competitor places a number of neutral cubes in the movement area equal to the number on the card.  If no Route cards match the color of the flipped card, nothing happens.  Once the first flipped card is resolved, flip a second Delivery card and do the same.  The Competitor card is then reset to zero; there may still be more cubes to be placed on the Competitor card after resetting depending on how many symbols were played by the active player.

Scoring a card – whenever a card has all of its movement spaces filled, the card is complete and it is immediately scored.  There are two different types of scoring that occur: a Route fee and a Delivery Fee.

The Route Fee awards points to the players who have contributed the most to the completion of the route.  Players count how many cubes they have contributed to the movement of the card.  Be sure to count the number of Competitor cubes as well!  The players with the most, second and third most cubes played score points equal to those listed underneath the rightmost occupied tiffin space.  If there is a tie for rank, the player whose color appears first on the card breaks the tie.  If the competitor is in one of the scoring positions, no points are awarded, but the Competitor does keep other players for scoring for that rank.

The Delivery Fee is determined by the Tiffin Tracking card.  Looking at the card on the top of the deck, each tiffin cube on the delivered card scores points equal to that listed on the card.  As the card is scored, discard the top card of the tracking deck to reveal the next card.  You can now see the scoring value for tiffins for the next delivered card as well as the new minimum tiffin count to start a Route.

The Tiffin Tracking Cards

The Tiffin Tracking Cards

Discard the scored route and replace it with the top card from the Route deck.  If you are unable to draw a new card to replace the scored card, the game ends.  When this happens, fill the remaining spaces on the two remaining route cards with neutral Competitor cubes, and then you score the two remaining routes.  The player who has the most points wins the game.

My thoughts on the game

Tiffin is a challenging drafting/area control game which I have known about for maybe two years or so.  As a disclaimer, I was asked to help playtest this in various stages of the game (as evidenced by the rulebook), and the final result is a well tuned and balanced game.  Like many compelling games, you generally want to do more things each turn that you are capable of doing.  So – you’re constantly facing the decision of figuring out which of two or three good moves is really your best move.

Early in the game, you want to be placing more cubes onto the route cards for movement as the bonuses for movement are often higher than the tiffin delivery fee (At the start of the game, the delivery fee is only 2 points per Tiffin) – however, this score maxes out at 8 points per Tiffin on tracking card #7.

The scoring in general also ramps up as the game moves forward.  In the early rounds, cards can start with only a single tiffin on them – as a result, many of the early cards only score the single or double values for the routes.  By the end of the game, cards cannot start without a full complement of 3 tiffins, which therefore means that the routes will also score the max trebled scores.

I like the fact that each of the different ranks offers a special ability – this gives you a lot of flexibility in trying to come up with your best move. A well timed “4” card can let you sneak in 2 cubes on any card, and you might be able to surprise your opponents with a sudden majority or scoring trigger.  If you have a handful of “1”s, you might be able to pepper the board with cubes.

You can rarely be entirely comfortable with your situation on a card until it is scored – this is because of the Competitor. The competitor icon shows up on two-thirds of the card, so you should expect plenty of neutral colored cubes to be placed on the cards, and it can be quite painful to be edged out for a position by the Competitor at the last minute.

The components of the game are well done.  The game itself comes in the small size Rio Grande box (think Race for the Galaxy), and the route tiles are made of thick sturdy cardboard.  The artwork helps transport you to Mumbai as you play the game.  My only quibble with the components are the player aid cards.  These cards have black text written on a dark grey background – and I find this color combination hard to read.  The good news is – the rules to the game are fairly easy to grasp and remember – and most players do not need the aid card after about the midway point of the first game – so in the end, the legibility of the card may be a moot issue.

The player aids under very bright lighting

The player aids under very bright lighting

Tiffin presents you with a challenging game that should play right around 30-40 minutes once you are familiar with the rules.  It is an excellent game for the super-filler category.   It was great to see this game evolve from its earliest iteration, and  the end result is well worth playing.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Karen M: I picked up a copy of this at Origins knowing nothing about it. I was totally drawn by the theme. I first became aware of the dabbawallas in Mumbai via the delightful film “The Lunchbox” which I highly recommend. In any case, the game is an interesting mix of pick up and deliver and area control. The only complaint I have is that I wish there was some variability in the Tiffin Tracking Pile but that wouldn’t make sense with the theme. I’ve only played a couple of times and I’m concerned the game will be too “samey” after a few games. Time will tell.

Mary Prasad (one play): I don’t typically like area control games but this one is light enough and short enough that it doesn’t feel like a constant oppressive struggle (which is how I feel about many in that genre). The card abilities make the game interesting – giving you more choices. The special player cards are helpful to get a route you really want as long as you work out the timing. It’s helpful to note what cards your opponents are collecting as well. Now for the downsides… the tiffin boards flip so your game may not have many of one color but more of another color, while the number of colored (drafted) cards remains the same. This can create a problem if you collected cards of the shorted color, and although you may use 2 of the same number as a wild of that number, it isn’t as efficient. (I would be tempted to choose the sides to take this random element out, i.e. choose more equal numbers of colors.)  I wouldn’t recommend playing with more than 3… the 4 player is a bit too chaotic (unless you like that sort of thing). The score track is problematic (snaking) – too easy to bump and hard to follow or see if you are across the table. As a more minor note, the artwork is too dark – I would have liked to see more bright colors. India is a country of vivid colors, e.g. the traditional wedding dress is red – white is reserved for mourning. They even have a celebration, Holi, a Spring festival of colors: a free-for-all where people color each other with colored powders and water.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Karen M, Lorna, Mary P.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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