Game : Photosynthesis

, in Board Games

Photosynthesis Box Art
Published By Blue Orange Games
Enough with all the cut throat brinksmanship in board games! Lets play a nice game where trees grow peacefully in harmony with nature. What could be more relaxing?

Just look at that box art and soak up the tranquillity.

Then forget all that, because Photosynthesis is a brutal game that will turn even the biggest tree-loving hippy into an Machiavellian arboreal warmonger.

It turns out tree aren't as peaceful as they look.

The currency of Photosynthesis is sunlight. You collect drops of sunlight by placing seeds in advantageous locations and maturing them into trees. These actions drain your store of light but having trees on the board is the only way to collect more.

Each round, the sun moves to a different corner of the hexagonal board, shining life-giving radiance across play from a different direction. And this is the steel heart at the center of Photosynthesis’ cosy wooden shell because trees closest to the sun block light from reaching those immediately behind them. Larger trees cast even longer shadows.

If your trees are in shadow then you can only watch as other players soak up that glorious golden light. All is not lost though, next round the sun will be shining from a different and perhaps more advantageous position.

*Photosynthesis* game in progress. The sun is shining from the opposite side of the board towards the camera.
Photosynthesis game in progress. The sun is shining from the opposite side of the board towards the camera.

The board is quite small so competition for the best spots is fearsome. The spaces towards the center of the glen are worth more but more likely to be shady. Position is doubly important since you can only cast seeds a certain distance from your existing trees.

Points are scored by maturing trees to a size where they fall over and die. This frees up their space on the board so it is vitally important that this is timed just right so your opponents cannot take advantage of the gap in the canopy. Having to remove trees from the board to score points is a neat mechanic that ensures that other players get a chance to see the sky but feels a little out of place when everything else about the game is about growing.

There are few things I really like about Photosynthesis. The first is obviously the look of the game. It really is gorgeous to look at and play, with many trees ironically felled to make Photosynthesis' high quality cardboard pieces.

And the game is easy enough to play as well. There are so many constraints on the actions you can take (lack of sunlight being the biggest) that each turn you usually only have a few options available to you. This avoids the choice paralysis that plagues many games. Each turn is quick and simple.

The shadow mechanic is thematic and fun. There is nothing more satisfying than growing your trees just one step higher than your neighbors to deprive them of sunlight. And there is nothing more hilarious than when you realize you have just put all your own trees in shadow once the sun moves to its next position.

On the minus side, Photosynthesis is perhaps just too analytical for my tastes. With no hidden information the player with the greatest ability to look ahead will probably win. Everything plays out in a very chess-like fashion with the outcome decided by choices made many turns before. This is not a game where players of different skill levels can compete, small decisions made in the first few turns will have a big impact on the outcome.

Whether you like that sort of thing is up to you. I enjoyed Photosynthesis but the next time somebody suggests it I will make like a tree and play something else.