“#%@$. Oh, no! I’m really angry…”
These are not the words you’d expect to hear during a game whose theme is about as non-violent as a daffodil. Photosynthesis is a board game that encourages players to explore the simple life-cycle of a tree. Yet behind this charming concept, beautifully designed pieces and clever game mechanics, hides a desperate strategic battle that pits player against player in a fight of aggressive gardening.
“The sun shines brightly on the canopy of the forest, and the trees use this wonderful energy to grow and develop their beautiful foliage. Sow your crops wisely and the shadows of your growing trees could slow your opponents down, but don’t forget that the sun revolves around the forest”
– Description from the publisher
Like a tree, each player is tasked with the seemingly easy objective of collecting sunlight (sun points) to mature saplings into trees. Points are collected by growing a tree through the different stages of a tree’s life-cycle and ending this journey by brutally cutting it down to receive a scoring token. Specific places on the board are better ‘real estate’ then others. Moving inwards towards the centre of the board, the plots of land offer richer soil and higher scoring tokens. At the same time, limited board space, competition from opposing players and the ever-revolving sun that physically moves around the game board makes this game a much more challenging experience than it first appears.
And those who fail to pick up early on the complexities of the game are duly punished. So, it was with much despair as half-way through the play-through, one of the players swore at the growing forest of competing trees in front of her that shadowed her own trees in perpetual darkness. Like many first-time players, she’d realised too late that poor early game decisions would have decisive future consequences. And it was only going to get worse.
Photosynthesis is a mix of a race game and space game. Heavily reliant on strategy over luck, this game forces players to compete for board space, using their trees to block sunlight and stop other players from accessing sun points. At the same time, players race against each other to collect a limited number of scoring tokens before the time limit (3-4 sun rotations) comes to an end. With only a small number of high value scoring tokens available, the repercussions on not maturing trees fast enough can become devastating to a player’s final score.
Part of what makes this game so appealing is easily the game design and physicality of the pieces and game board. Although all pieces are made from cardboard, the artwork of the game is undeniably gorgeous. All of the pieces are made of cardboard and this simplicity mimics the simplicity of the games concept and theme.
Easily the best part of Photosynthesis is how simple it is to teach. Photosynthesis benefits greatly from its easy-to-use individual player boards that carefully map out each potential action a player may take. Unlike other games, Photosynthesis can be taught in about ten minutes or less. The complexity of the game comes later once players begin to plan ahead to outsmart others. This simplicity of design, theme and game mechanics all work together to create a gaming experience that has a low barrier to entry for newbies as well as providing ongoing fun for more experienced players.
Photosynthesis, when looked at closely, is more than just another strategy game. Instead it is an experience that encourages players to think through the eyes (or perhaps leaves) of a tree. Its simplicity is its charm. And it’s this charm that will please both new and experienced gamers.
Play Time: 45 – 60 minutes
Players: 2 – 4
Designer: Hjalmar Hach
Artist: Sabrina Miramon
Publishers: Blue Orange (EU), Blue Orange Games, 2 Pionki, Asmodee, Broadway Toys LTD, Fantasmagoria, FoxMind Israel, Gém Klub Kft., Happy Baobab, Heidelberger Spieleverlag, Lautapelit.fi, Mandala Jogos, Portal Games, Siam Board Games, TWOPLUS Games
Learn how to play here!
Hach, H, Photosynthesis, Blue Orange (EU), California, 2017, Board Game
Kottke, J., 2016. The Four Types Of Board Games. [online] kottke.org. Available at: <https://kottke.org/16/10/the-four-types-of-board-games> [Accessed 17 April 2020].