Biology class just got a lot more interesting! A board game that requires you to harness energy from sunlight and use it to grow seedlings into a beautiful forest: Photosynthesis.
How does it work?
2 to 4 players are each given a tableau with a grid for keeping track of their light points and a staging area for seeds and trees of small, medium, and full grown heights. You also have seeds and trees from off the board that are available to be placed at the beginning of the game.
Similarily to real life, your trees in Photosythesis grow with the help of a revolving sun. On the outside of the hexagonal game board, a cresent sun moves to a new corner each round. After three full revolutions, the game ends. During a round, two phases take place: (1.) The Photosynthesis Phase (collecting light points) (2) The Life Cycle Phase (growing or harvesting using light points).
On any given turn, the sun’s rays reach out in straight lines to hit the trees. The picture above perfectly illustrates this. Players gain points when the rays hit their trees. 1 point per small tree, 2 points per medium tree and 3 per large. No points are given for seedlings.
Another smart real-life-to-board element is that trees cast shadows! And the taller the tree, the longer its shadow! A small tree behind another will not receive any light and produce no light points for the player. If the rays hit a large tree, it’s shadow is cast over 3 spaces behind it. However, a large tree behind a small tree can still earn points. I just love how smart this game is!
Light points are used to buy new trees off the player board. Smaller sized trees on the game board can be replaced by a tree one size bigger. Seedlings can be bought and placed a certain number of spaces from other trees. However, you can only do one action per turn on any cell on the board. Buying takes further planning since you cannot grow a seedling directly into a mighty oak tree. Nature takes time!
You are only allowed two large trees on the board at a time. So, players can spend 4 light points to “end the life-cycle” (we <3 trees) of their large trees. Depending on how close to the centre they were planted, they earn more points.
Since the sun moves each turn, your accumulated light points may fluctuate depending on which side the sun hits your trees. This is a really clever system that forces you to balance pushing towards the centre for maximum points later on while maintaining a presence along the edge to ensure you always gain light points. The joy of securing a spot in the centre can be short-lived if large trees in the outer rings eliminate the light points you could earn.
The beautiful game design of Photosynthesis creates a false impression. It can be cut-throat as players race to claim prime tree estate. Or strategically placing trees with the aim of casting shadows over other trees.
Many strategy games tend to have a theme that gets forgotten halfway in. In Photosynthesis, every single game piece and game mechanic sticks to the theme. The concept is original, the design is absolutely stunning, the level of strategy is perfect and it caters to all ages.
The tactical element of Photosynthesis is pretty deep. The components disguise a much deeper challenge than first impressions would imply. And the challenge and tactics change depending on the number of players. In a 2 player game, players think a couple of sun rotations ahead. Trying to outplay the other, naturally becoming more competitive. With more than 2 players, room for manoeuvring and progression gets very tight after the first full rotation. It makes the game messier and the outcome more unexpected, increasing the light-heartedness and fun.
Get Photosynthesis if you want a thematic, strategic game that’s great with 2, 3 or 4 players. It’s easy to learn, the replayability changes depending on the strategies of the group and did I mention how pretty it is?