Review by David Lent
Photosynthesis is a refreshing board game for 2-4 players from Blue Orange Games. In this game, players attempt to grow trees from seedlings to fully grown in the richest soil. The sun changes position each round and trees gain light points for collecting the sun’s rays. However, trees cast shadows and can block other trees from getting any sunlight. Points can be used to purchase seeds, plant seeds or increase the size of trees. When a tree reaches its maximum size, it can be cashed in for victory points. The better the soil it grew in, the more victory points you will receive.
The components in Photosynthesis are all top notch. There is a mounted map, small, medium and large trees, player boards, English and French rules and various tokens.
The trees come in four different colors for the different players. They have to be put together, but it is really easy to do since they are made of only two pieces. The different sizes of trees have different effects on shadows and placing seeds. A tree casts a shadow that blocks sunlight from trees of the same size or lower, but how far the shadow is cast is determined by the tree size. Small trees cast shadows 1 space, medium trees cast it 2 spaces and large trees cast a shadow 3 spaces. Seeds can be planted within one space of a small tree, within 2 spaces of a medium tree or within 3 spaces of a large tree. In addition, large trees can be cashed in for victory points. It is very important to grow your trees to the largest size.
Photosynthesis’s rulebook is full color and only 4 pages long. It’s very well written and has good pictures. I didn’t find any mistakes in the rules and didn’t have to go online to clarify any rules. This shows that Photosynthesis was properly play-tested before release.
The game is setup by each player picking a color and filling their player board with the appropriate trees and seeds. The leftover trees and seeds of their color are then put in their available area. All the victory point tokens are put in stacks according to the number of leaves on them in descending order. The youngest player is given the first player token. Next, each player places one of their small trees on the external edge of the board. Taking turns again, each player places a second tree. Finally, the sun segment is placed on its starting position of the board.
In the basic game, the game is played until the sun has orbited the board 3 times. It takes 6 rounds for each orbit to occur. Each round has two phases, the photosynthesis phase and the life cycle phase.
During the photosynthesis phase, the sun is moved to its next position on the board (except during the first turn) by the player with the first player token. Players get light points for each of their trees that is not covered in a shadow. Small trees get 1 point, medium trees get 2 points and large trees get 3 points. Each player records their light points on their player board.
The lifecycle phase allows players to spend their light points. This phase is done in clockwise order starting with the player with the first player token. The four possible actions are buying, planting a seed, growing a tree or collecting.
Buying allows players to use their light points to buy trees or seeds from their player board and place them in their available area. They must purchase the seeds from the least to most expensive on their card.
Planting a seed allows a player to spend one light point to take a seed from their available area and place it on the map within one space of one of their small trees or within 2 spaces of one of their medium trees or 3 spaces from one of their large trees. It’s a good idea to consider placing your seed on a space with more leaves since the victory points are higher for those.
Growing a tree allows you to replace one of your trees with a larger one from your available area. To go from a seed to a small tree costs 1 light point. Going from a small to medium tree costs 2 lights points and going from medium to large costs 3 light points. The tree you are replacing your tree with must come from the available area and not from your player board. Nothing can go directly from the player board to the map. The replaced tree goes back to your player board if there is room for it. Otherwise, it is removed from the game.
Collecting is the phase where you can pay 4 light points to remove a large tree and collect the scoring token for the type of soil it was in. This is where you get the bulk of the victory points in this game.
When the sun has made 3 complete revolutions, the game ends. Each player counts the victory points on their scoring tokens and gets 1 additional victory point for every 3 unused light points. The player with the most points wins and in the case of a tie the player with the most seeds and trees on the board wins. In the extremely unlikely case that there is still a tie, both players win.
Photosynthesis is a fantastic game. It uses a theme that no other board game has ever used and my play-testers and I loved it. This is saying a lot, since the play-testers I used usually prefer wargames. It’s very easy to learn and there is sufficient strategy to keep the game interesting. The revolving sun means the shadows are different every round and you have to plan ahead. What’s really great about this game is a player who is not doing so well in the first half of the game can catch up in the second half and possibly win. This is because once a player has upgraded all their medium trees to large ones and cashed them in, they have to go back to planting seeds and upgrading their small trees giving their opponents a chance to catch up. This is one of the best games I’ve played in a while and I find it to be a great value for a game with a $44.99 retail price.
Buy your own copy here.
See the components in the unboxing video below: