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How To Play Photosynthesis: Under The Moonlight

Phoosynthesis under the moonlight review

Photosynthesis provides instant table presence, thanks to its ever-growing forest of trees. The ‘sun’ rotates around the board each turn, beaming light in a certain direction. Any cardboard tree standees that have a line of sight of the sun earn Light Points. You can then spend Light Points on your turn in an action points selection manner. In 2020, this popular title from Blue Orange Games received an exciting expansion. Photosynthesis: Under The Moonlight introduces three new modules into the mixer. You can play them as individual variants, or all together plus the base game for a bumper experience.

Here, the sunlight isn’t the only beacon of hope for your assets on the board. Now, the light of the moon has an important role to play, too! Is that the sound of scurrying you hear? The hoot of an owl, the grunt of a badger? A menagerie of nocturnal critters working between Moonstones under the midnight sky? Want to know more? Let’s learn how to play Photosynthesis: Under The Moonlight…

Photosynthesis: Under The Moonlight - What’s New? And How Do I Win?

Regardless of which modules you play within Photosynthesis: Under The Moonlight, the premise of the game remains constant. The aim, in a nutshell, is to sow seeds and grow trees in a crowded wood. You score points when you remove (chop down?) your largest trees from the main board. The points you score get based on the tree’s location within the forest. Closer to the centre scores more points.

What these modules provide are ways to help (or hinder) you from achieving that goal. Each of them involves using the power of the moon in the form of earning Lunar Points. You’ll earn the lion’s share of your victory points from removing large trees from the board. You also gain end-game points for leftover Lunar Points (1 point per remaining Lunar Point).

As well as the Moon, itself, there are three modules in Under The Moonlight. The Forest Animals provides asymmetrical player powers to everyone. This is the main mode you’ll play with on top of your regular copy of Photosynthesis. The other two modules are The Great Elder Tree and the Moonstones. You can add these in combination alongside the Forest Animals mode. The critters are the heart of this expansion though, so they get priority…

Setting Up: The Moon And The Forest Animals

Set up for a regular game of Photosynthesis, but hold off placing your starter small trees. (I’m going to assume you already know how to do this since you’re here in the first place! No idea what I’m talking about? Click here to read my How To Play… guide for Photosynthesis, first.)

Place the Moon on the edge of the forest opposite the Sun, so it’s sitting between two of the outer edge circles. Have it sitting Half-Moon side up (not Full Moon). See those two arrows on it? Have them pointing towards the two circle spaces on board. From the Moon’s starting location, count five spaces counter-clockwise around the board. (Each ‘space’ being the point between two circles.) This point is where the Moon Phase Tracker starts. This also starts Half-Moon side up.

Shuffle the Forest Animal Boards and deal out two to each player. Players decide which Forest Animal they want to play as, and keep that board. Sit it next to your Tree Board from the base game. Return unwanted Animal Boards to the box. Assign each player with their corresponding animeeple. Give each player a Lunar Point Tracker token, and have them place it so they have two Lunar Points. (This number’s highlighted on your Animal Board.)

Establish a first player – who last gazed at the moon? (Or you can use an app like Chwazi to pick a random player to start.) This player gets the Start Player Token. The player to their right (so, last in turn order) gets to place their Forest Animal onto the board first. They get to place it on any of the six ‘three-leaf’ spaces. Then, proceeding counter-clockwise, the other players take turns doing the same. (Providing there’s not another player’s animal already present in that space.) Then set-up resumes as normal. Players place their starter small tree on any outer ‘one-leaf’ space.

As He Faced The Moon He Cast No Shadow

The sun shines across the board as per usual. It dishes out Light Points to trees during the Photosynthesis Phase. Players earn Lunar Points during this phase, too. You’re taking the position of the Moon into consideration, here. The Moon acts in a different manner to the sun, though. It casts moonlight in two directions. They travel in straight lines, following those two arrows on the Moon token.

Unlike light from the Sun, trees do not block the moonlight – they don’t cast any shadows. Is your Forest Animal in the path of the moonlight during the Photosynthesis Phase? If so, it earns 1 Lunar Point if it’s a Half-Moon. It earns 2 Lunar points if it is a Full Moon. (More on this, later.) Move your Lunar Point Tracker on your Animal Board. These numbers go up to 14. Players cannot hoard more than 14 Lunar Points, but this is an unlikely circumstance.

You can spend Lunar Points during your turn alongside your Light Points. Before I explain how – and why – you’d want to perform that, let’s look at how the Moon moves.

The Marvellous Movement Of The Moon

The Moon, and the Moon Phase Tracker – like the Sun – spend the entire game sitting against the edge of the board. At the end of each turn, the Sun, of course, moves one notch clockwise. The Moon has other ideas. At the end of the turn, the Moon moves to the point where the Moon Phase Tracker sits. (Think of it moving counter-clockwise.) Then you move the Moon Phase Tracker another five spaces counter-clockwise.

The sole purpose of the Moon Phase Tracker is so that players can gauge where the Moon will sit on the next turn. You might want to plan ahead, regarding the positioning of your Forest Animal. It’s inevitable that the Moon and the Sun will cross paths on regular occasions. When this occurs, flip the Moon over, from Half-Moon to Full Moon (or vice versa). Remember, Half-Moon means 1 Lunar Point. Full Moon means 2 Lunar Points. But what’s the deal with these Lunar Points, anyway?

Amazing Asymmetrical Animeeples

During the Life Cycle Phase (when you spend your Light Points), you can also activate your Forest Animal. You can move your animal into one adjacent space for free. They can move into a space that has a tree or seed in it. They cannot move into a space with another animal, nor a Moonstone, nor the Great Elder Tree. You’ll want to move your animeeple to try and keep up with the rotating moon. But you’ll want to enjoy your critter’s asymmetrical ability.

You can trigger the abilities of your animal, providing you have enough Lunar Points to do so. As you spend the Lunar Points, move your Lunar Point Tracker down on your Animal Board. All Forest Animals have at least two abilities, costing differing amounts of Lunar Points. (These specific numbers have highlights on that creature’s Animal Board.) You can only perform each ability once on your turn, even if you can afford more.

The Boar – Collects Trees

Spend 5 Lunar Points to collect your Large Tree (without costing any Light Points). The Boar must be on the Large Tree’s space to trigger this. You can spend 8 Lunar Points to do the above, plus plant a Seed in this space straight after. You cannot then grow said Seed during this turn, though.

The Hedgehog – Fast Mover; Planting Seeds

Spend 1 Lunar Point to move an extra space (remember, any animal can move once for free anyway). Spend 3 Lunar Points to plant a Seed on the Hedgehog’s space straight from your Player Board.

The Squirrel – Fast Mover; Eats Seeds

Moves an extra space, but at no extra cost. (The second movement doesn’t have to be in a straight line, either.) You can spend 5/6/7/8 Lunar Points to eat an opponent’s Seed if your Squirrel and their Seed are on a 1/2/3/4-leaf space. The Seed returns to the owner’s Board and that gains back 1 Light Point.

The Fox – Scares Animals; Moves Seeds; Steals Light Points

If adjacent to another Animal, the Fox can spend 1 Lunar Point to ‘scare’ (move) said animal one space away. If the Fox is on a space with a Seed, it can spend 3 Lunar Points to move the Seed 1/2 spaces away. (This can be Fox’s Seed or another player’s Seed.) If adjacent to another animal, the Fox can spend 4 Lunar Points to steal 2 Light Points from that player. (Turn order is crucial for this trait.) The Fox and the Squirrel are the two ‘take-that’ animals among these eight.

The Owl – Lunar To Light Points Converter

The Owl can save up Lunar Points and convert them into extra Light Points. It can spend 5/9/12 Lunar Points and turn them into 3/7/10 Light Points.

The Badger – Grows Seeds

If the Badger shares space with your Seed, you can spend 4 Lunar Points to grow it into a Small Tree (from your supply). You can spend 6 Lunar Points to do the above, but grow a Seed into a Small Tree straight from your Board. The Badger can’t do either of these abilities on a Seed planted during the same turn, though. But, the player could then use that Small Tree to plant a Seed or grow it again during that turn.

The Beaver – Grows Trees Using The Dam

Comes with an extra Dam tile (triangular, the size of three circles; two have one-leaf markers on them, one has a two-leaf marker). You can spend 6 Lunar Points to place the Dam on the Beaver’s space. The Dam tile must have at least one space touching the ‘river’ that partially flows around the board. (That’s 10/18 of the one-leaf spaces.) Trees and Seeds on any of the Dam’s three spaces grow once for free. (The next-size Tree must be available in that player’s supply area, though.)

You can spend another 6 Lunar Points later to play this move again. In such a case, the Dam must get repositioned in a different location, though. If the Beaver is on any Dam space, you can also spend 5 Lunar Points to grow a Seed/Tree on that space for free. Again, the next-size Tree must be available (as in, pre-purchased off your Board).

The Turtle – Hatches Eggs; Surprise Abilities!

The Turtle is the most unpredictable of all the Forest Animals. It comes with eight Baby Turtle circular tokens. If someone decides to play as the Turtle, during set-up, shuffle the eight Baby Turtle Tokens face-down. Pick six and place them, at random, face-down on ‘the beach’. (The six one-leaf spaces in the bottom-left of the board, close to where the Sun starts.) Return the other two tokens, unseen, to the box.

If the Turtle is on a space with a Baby Turtle token, you can spend 4 Lunar Points to claim that token. Reveal it face-up and keep it next to your Animal Board. Spend 1 Lunar Point to activate the Baby Turtle token’s ability. All eight of these tokens are different. One, for example, gains you three extra Light Points; one lets you collect a Large Tree off the Forest for free. Some let you buy Trees off your Board for free. One gives you a boost when you Collect a Tree; it lets you grab the Scoring Token of one leaf quantity higher. It’s a turtle lottery! What bonuses will you uncover?

The Cumbersome, Lumber-some Elder Tree

Now you know how Lunar Points work, you’re now in a better place to grasp the Great Elder Tree and the Moonstones. If playing with the Great Elder Tree, this large tree standee doesn’t belong to any particular player. During set-up, the last player in turn order places the Great Elder Tree onto any empty space of their choice.

The Great Elder Tree is the largest and most magnificent tree in the woods. It towers overall, and this tree casts a shadow over everything that sits behind it. This is the case for both Sun-light and Moon-light. This means that any regular Trees behind it will not earn any Light Points that turn. Likewise, any Forest Animals that are behind it will not earn any Lunar Points that turn. The Great Elder Tree remains in place for the game’s duration.

No animal, Seed or Tree may share a space with the Great Elder Tree. It’s an obstacle that you’ll have to workaround. It has, ahem, an alias: it’s a thorn in your side.

Moonstone, Moonstone, On The Wall…

In Photosynthesis: Under The Moonlight, the Moonstones are mystical, reflective objects scattered around the woods. If playing with them, during set-up, you’ll place some out. (3/2 in a 2-/3-player game, respectively. None in a 4-player game, unless you’re also playing with the Great Elder Tree – where you place one Moonstone.) Playing with the Great Elder Tree? The second-last player places the first Moonstone onto an empty space on the Board and so on, in reverse-turn order. If playing without the Great Elder Tree, the last player places a Moonstone, and so on.

Like the Great Elder Tree, Moonstones don’t belong to anyone player. They’re also obstacles, but they do at least provide benefits rather than hindrances. They cast a shadow (via the Sun) in one space as if they were a Small Tree. But if they’re in the path of the moonlight, they start to ‘shine’. All adjacent spaces around the Moonstone provide moonlight to any Forest Animal sat there. (1/2 Lunar Points depending on whether the Moon is Half-/Full.)

If two (or more) Moonstones sit next to each other, then a mega combo occurs! If one Moonstone sits in a space that starts to shine as the result of moonlight, that Moonstone then shines. It spreads indirect moonlight of its own, and so on.

The Moonstones, in theory, make it easier for players to gain access to Lunar Points. The flip side is that they’re obstacles for the animals to move around. Plus, they block spaces where you might want your trees to grow. They’re a fascinating addition to Photosynthesis!

Whichever modules you opt for, the scoring remains the same. The game ends after a set number of rotations of the Sun. The player with the most points wins. This sum will be the total they scored from retrieving Large Trees off the mainboard. Don’t forget to add your excess Light Points, plus any excess Lunar Points.

This blog was originally published on July 13th, 2021. Updated on April 6th, 2022 to improve the information available.