Photosynthesis is a 2-4 player game designed by Italian designer Hjalmar Hach and published by Blue Orange Games. Photosynthesis brings together resource management with area control. The game will see you plant seeds, gather sunlight, and grow trees to produce a beautiful forest and then expect you to completely lay waste to your forest for points. It’s way more fun than I make it sound.
The first thing that will stand out to you is the components. That’s because you will have to spend a bit of time popping and constructing. Initially, I thought I was in for a full hour of construction, but it was so easy I was surprised the three of us only took 10 minutes to construct all the trees. The end result is impressive. While you could argue the trees are purely cosmetic I think the effect is worth it. The visual representation of tree size matters to gameplay and aids in visualising strategy. Plus the tactile experience of moving these trees around provides some kinaesthetic pleasure. Despite the size, the components pack away quickly and set up easily. The box is wonderfully designed and stores well.
Photosynthesis took minimal time to learn. Reading directly from the rulebook we were up and playing within a quarter of an hour. The board has a lot of circles on it and may seem abstract and disconcerting, but when you have all your components put together the gameplay is intuitive. Each person receives a player mat with markers for tracking collected sunlight and for storing your trees and seeds. The light you collect from trees on the board is your resource for purchasing seeds and trees from your player board and then transferring them to the game board.
Each turn the sun will move around the board. If your tree is in view of the sun it will collect light according to its size. Additionally, each tree casts shade across the board relative to its size. Growing trees means not only collecting more light but casting longer shadows. If your tree casts a shadow across another tree the affected tree is not capable of collecting light or growing. Once light has been collected you may choose to plant a seed or grow a tree. Once a tree is big enough you can end it’s life cycle and collect points based on its position in the forest. If it is on the outer edge you collect fewer points to the inner circles, with the centre scoring the greatest points. The game ends when the sun finishes its third rotation around the board.
Describing how to play the game does little to explain what playing the game is like. As you can see it is not a complicated set of rules or turns. When playing our first game we began with the intention of knocking a couple of plays over quickly before enoying a few favourites. The first round was great but then something happened. Something we did not expect. Table talk slowed. Soon, we found ourselves sitting there staring at the board realising how important it was to make careful and thoughtful decisions. This game took us deep and we loved it. We managed one game that night and a couple of quick fillers, well below our expectation. Yet despite this, we didn’t feel cheated but were excited and eagerly looking forward to our next game. Many plays in now and I am loving the puzzling nature of Photosynthesis. The resource management is vital to setting up success at the end of the game. On the board, you are working hard on area control. The work you do to control the board builds towards a suitable light gathering engine to power your resources as well as shutting out your opponent from doing the same. While this may open the possibility of AP in the game, there are times when you just want a good thinking game and Photosynthesis scratches that itch well. I very happy to add Photosynthesis to my collection.