Photosynthesis | Blue Orange Games | Rating: 8.5/11 |

Initial Set-Up Time: 25 minutes
Regular Set-Up Time: 15 minutes
Average Game Play: 2 hours

Photosynthesis is a beautiful game. It is a thematic strategy game about different species of trees competing for light in a crowded forest. The box art draws attention and causes it to stand out among the gaming shelf. The box itself is fairly large but the art provides a sense of serenity. Upon opening the box, four unique shapes and colors of trees in varying 3D sizesĀ (representing different species) greet the player. This especially produces a marvelous and distracting visual effect in the later stages of the game when the board is peppered with all types of trees and the players each take a moment to soak in the beauty before continuing.

However, underneath the breathtaking visuals lies a rewarding/challenging strategy game. On your turn you’ll have several options on how to spend your limited resource (light): you can seed the ground deeper into the forest, grow a tree larger, or sprout several smaller trees instead. A rotating sun keeps the dominant positions in the board in a state of constant flux, and if you don’t plan a few steps ahead you may find your trees starved of light, perhaps even shadowing their own friendly trees!

The game rewards you for both patience and aggressive behavior, as long as you can play the field and plan for the positions of the sun in advance. This allows players of all play styles to enjoy the game. However, if mistakes are made and you fall too far behind it can be difficult to catch up, even with the constant shifting of the board. Be sure not to block your own trees as much as you can, this gets harder and harder but one good strategy to avoid this is to grow your trees in a tactical order so that a bigger tree is always behind a smaller tree, so both see light. Also be sure to keep your eye on the prize: the soil tokens. The winner of the game is not decided by who has the best control of the board when the sun finishes its final rotation, but who has collected the most valuable score tokens. It can be tempting to have the biggest and best trees up in the last few turns but harvesting the big ones and even trying to push the medium sized trees through to the end of their life cycle will net you a better score at the last second.

As beautiful as this game is inside and out, there are a few things holding it back from perfection. Even though the box is larger than most games, putting the game away can be a chore. There really is no workaround for this unless you want to deconstruct the 3D pieces and reconstruct them every time you play the game (no thank you), but fitting all the trees into their section of the box can be a tight squeeze. Also like many strategy games, the game can also take much longer than it needs to if the players are taking too much time to decide their turn.

All in all Photosynthesis is a must-have addition to any true game library, with something for the hardcore strategist, the visual learner, and the artist in the group.

Tips For Success:

  • Think one or two rounds ahead! How much money will you get and need in your coming turns?
  • Try to grow your trees just before you would be blocked.
  • Keep the end game in sight, don’t forget to harvest your trees as much as you can before the end.
  • Spread out! Don’t get caught all in one corner of the board or you’ll spend whole turns getting very little light.