A seed is planted, a young tree sprouts, its roots start to crawl deeper into the earth, its branches begin to reach toward the sky…then it gets crowded out by surrounding bigger trees and dies. =-( Your job is to be those bigger trees by hungrily soaking up the lion’s share of sunlight at the expense of other trees around you!
As the name implies, you play as a species of tree trying to absorb the most sun in a forest. You’ll plant seeds then grow your trees from small to large. When at their peak, you sacrifice the largest trees for points. Just be sure to watch out for the shadows from competing trees (including your own!) as the sun rotates around the board! You’ll need to skillfully place trees in key positions to maximize consistent sun exposure.
Now, normally, I would not think twice about a board game about trees. No offense to the many arborists out there, but trees do not particularly excite me. However, I couldn’t ignore the incredible amount of hype surrounding Photosynthesis. And the game lives up to its reputation!
It may take you a bit to wrap your head around the spacial strategy involved in this one. It’s a unique take on a simple, natural process. Think of the classic Stratego game where you set up your pieces linearly with a front, back, and sides to your positioning. Now, flip that on its head with a rotating, fluctuating landscape constantly changing your strategic advantages! While trees don’t move, the sun sure does! And if you don’t account for it, you’ll get burned time and time again.
While Photosynthesis is a purely competitive game, it gives the feel of a long-standing, slow-paced experience taking place over many years and decades. The actual gameplay is quick, but it feels like you’re watching a forest actually unfold before your eyes. It’s fun to see kids get excited about this (“We get to build our own forest?? Cool!”).
The game starts nice and sweet with cute little trees in the outer ring, but this facade doesn’t last long as players “race” for the coveted, high-value center spots of the forest. You’ll typically find a couple of players barreling towards the center while one or two stay back to control the outer rings (and cast shadows over those in the center!). It’s a very fun give-and-take, spacial control process.
Tips & Tricks
- Think ahead, but don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. You’ll find that as good as your plans are, they will often get messed up by other players (sound familiar? That’s called life). I found that to think 2-3 turns ahead is ideal. Less than that is too reactive. More than that seems like a pointless expense of brain energy.
- The worst thing you can do is to cast shade over your own trees. The sun has six spots in its rotation. So, if you set up your trees in a straight line, you could reap many rewards for 4 of the 6 sun spots, but you’ll be hosed for the two phases when the sun is at the end of your line. You’ll want to find those sweet spots where you stagger your trees to maximize exposure to the sun.
Scoring & Wrap-up
Overall, I give Photosynthesis a 7 out of 10 for the following reasons:
- The gameplay is unique and natural.
- The artwork and colors are stunning!
- Kids with not much strategic foresight can do really well. For good or bad, there is a strong element of “luck” or reliance on other players’ decisions.
- Everything makes natural sense. There are no random, head-scratcher gameplay components which make you think, “Now, why would it be like that?”
- It will make you want to go outside and plant a tree! Go nature!
- A small cheat sheet of rules and reminders for the first couple of times playing would have been helpful. We found ourselves needing to refer to the rules quite a bit for small things…a perfect use case for a mini cheat sheet!
- This isn’t a game that I want to play over and over again in a short amount of time. It’s a solid one which I would consistently pull out for a game or two every month or so. Every game shelf should include a hefty set of these types of games.
Following the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy crucial to survival, Blue Orange Games takes a process natural and common a trillion times over and converts it into a unique and engrossing board game. We were skeptical at first but were quickly consumed by its vibrant colors, strategic gameplay, and even its “green” feel!
Disclaimer: I received this game for free in exchange for my review, but believe me, I post authentic reviews every time and will be brazenly blunt if needs be.