Dale Yu: Quick look at 2 games from MindWare – Gembatan and Sapphiro

This summer, I was given the opportunity to play a few of the new strategy games being sold by Mindware.  From their website – “MindWare is the award-winning creator, manufacturer and distributor of Brainy Toys for Kids of All Ages. Founded in 1990, the company started out with a small retail store in Minneapolis, evolving into a direct-to-consumer catalog and website business, as well as a wholesale business. Our diverse product line includes educational toys, games, brainteasers, creative play activities, building sets, coloring books and more. “  While this sort of game is maybe a little out of the Opinionated Gamers wheelhouse, I wanted to see what their new line of strategy games was all about; in part to see how the games played as well as to help build my internal database of possible suggestions when people ask me the inevitable question: “What game should I buy XXX for their birthday/Christmas present?”   Both of these games were played with my regular gaming group, and they went over fine – though they would definitely be better suited for a more casual gaming group or family activity. Both are available from


  • Designer: Don Reid
  • Publisher: Mindware
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Played twice with review copy provided by Mindware

In Gembatan, players are playing tiles to the board hoping to place gems in such a way as to score the most points.  The tiles have cutouts in one or more sides of them; when placed next to another tile, they will form holes which are then filled in by gems.  There are borders around each of the cutouts which tell you what type of gem fits in that hole (i.e. the gem must match the colors of each side respectively). 

At the start of the game, players each draw a hand of 4 tiles as well as 4 gems at random.  These remain faceup in front of the player. One tile is drawn at random and placed on the table to start the game.  On a turn, you must either play tile(s) from your hand or pass and draw new tiles/gems.  When you play a tile to the board, you must be able to create a socket with another tile AND be able to fill in at least one socket for each new tile played.  Both the tile and the gem must come from your personal supply.  Socket and gems are often made up of two colors, and your gem must match the color of each side.

Each time you add a gem to the board, you automatically score one point.  Then you look at the diagonal chains that your newly placed gem is a part of, and if there are 3 or more gems which share a color of your newly placed gem, you score one point per gem in that line.  Make sure that you look at both colors of the gem you placed as you could score for both.    You may continue placing gems until you either cannot or do not want to play another.  Remember that you must be able to place a gem for each tile played.    If you are able to play all 4 of your gems on a turn, you score a Gembatan which is worth an additional 4 points.

If you cannot or choose not to play, you can discard any/all gems and tiles from your hand and then draw up to a full hand of 4 gems and 4 tiles.  Note, that if you played a Gembatan on a previous turn, you have no choice but to draw on your next turn as you will be unable to legally play a tile as you have no gems left!

The play goes clockwise around the table until all the gems are gone and then one player either runs out of gems or no one can play any longer.  Each player then deducts one point for each gem they have left at the end, and the player with the most points wins.

Gembatan is a light strategy game where you try your best to either set up a Gembatan turn and/or creating long diagonal chains of gems to score points.  I suppose that there is some room for defensive play as you can see what tiles/gems are held by your opponents, but we generally concentrated on our own stuff.

The board, as it is being created and populated, is visually appealing, and I like the unique molded vac tray which nicely holds all the components for both storage as well as play.  I do think I am a bit spoiled by Eurogames, and I wish there had been an included scoreboard and markers – as I find that games which require pen and paper to score end up with one player knowing what the score is and everyone else guessing at it and only asking intermittently for an update.

For grade school kids and casual family gamers this is a very approachable game. The rules are easy to digest fitting on four small pages, and there are plenty of nice illustrations and examples to answer any questions.  This could be a good starting place for someone to get into games that are more complex than rolling and moving.


  • Designer: Peggy Brown
  • Publisher: Mindware
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 6+
  • Time: 15-20 minutes
  • Played twice with review copy provided by Mindware

From the back of the box: “Dazzling gems are the focus of your quest in Sapphiro. Play your diamond tiles to capture rubies, emeralds, and other valuable jewels by matching colors and surrounding the gems. Be careful not to leave a quick or easy way for your opponents to do the same. Be the first to collect one jewel of each color to win.”

In this game, an oversized board is made from 4 interlocking wooden pieces.  There are an array of round spots where 30 gems are randomly distributed.  Between each of these are trapezoidal spaces which are exactly the right size to hold the colored game tiles.  Each player draws a hand of 6 tiles and stands them on edge so their opponents cannot see them.

On a turn, you place one of your tiles on the board so that the two halves of the tile match the colors of the two gems on either side of it.  If you have placed the sixth and final tile around a gem, you collect that gem.  Once you play, you draw a new tile to bring your hand back up to 6.

Play continues around the board until one player has collected one of each of the six colors of gems – that player wins immediately!

The game is extremely simple, and the rules can be taught in about 15 seconds.  Early on in the game, play occurs extremely quickly as there isn’t much difference in where you play as no gem is close to being filled in – thus, players quickly scan the board, find a match, plunk down their tile and draw a new one.  As the game passes the midpoint, then it slows down a bit as now you may have to consider your different options so that you don’t leave an easy gem for your opponents to take OR you try to set yourself up to get a gem on your next turn.

The trajectory of the game is very much like the pen and paper game from your childhood of Dots and Boxes.  There are very few results at the start of the game, and then suddenly the game hits a critical point and then it seems like there is scoring on nearly every turn thereafter.  The same happens here as players tend not to want to let an gem be captured easily; and as a result, many gems have 4 or 5 spots filled around them before the first gem  is collected.  However, this first gem often starts a cascade allowing many gems to then be collected.

The rules say that this is a game for 6+, and I think this is fair.  There is not a lot of strategy here for adults, but this could be a great starter game for advanced planning or simply to help with pattern development and color matching.  It also has the benefit of being beautiful on the table while being played.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

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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