Have you ever wondered what a game about Photosynthesis would be like? Would it be painfully slow like your high school lessons on the subject? Would it be a colourful affair like the Fall foliage of New England? Does the game have any bearing on the science behind Photosynthesis? Is it just an area control game where trees do battle for sunlight?
Read on to find out if you will want to root out Blue Orange's latest game after its Essen Spiel launch. Perhaps Photosynthesis will it just fade away into the foliage adorning every friendly local gaming store?
Photosynthesis: An abstract economy game for 2-4 players
Whilst many board games use gold, gems or lumber as a resource Photosynthesis relies, expectantly, on sunlight. The goal of the game is to use your 'light' points as currency to plant, grow and harvest your own trees. The deeper into the forest and taller the tree the more points you will score. The game is played over three sun cycles, with each cycle having eight positions, making 24 rounds in total. Yes that's right, 24 rounds!
Each round has two phases. The first phase is Photosynthesis where you generate your light points. The amount you receive, and can therefore use in Phase two, depends on whether the sun is hitting your trees. This spatial organisation mechanic certainly screams 'abstract' as you tactically position your trees on the board.
The right strategy here will maximise your trees' chances of gaining sunlight and minimise the light your opponents' trees can get. The theme and mechanics are spot on. You get a real feel for the battle the little guys have in a rainforest canopy full of giants.
The second phase is the life cycle phase. You can spend light points in a number of ways. You can buy a new seed or trees, grow a seed or tree, or place a seed in the forest clearing. Finally, by spending four light points a fully grown tree can be harvested and scored. The game has a lovely scoring mechanic, similar to that of Jaipur.
The earlier you harvest your trees the higher the points are available, with the inner areas worth more. The player with the most points from harvested trees and remaining light points at the end of the game is the winner.
Photosynthesis is most definitely an abstract strategy game of resource management and spatial organisation. You will need to plan ahead as the sun cycles around the board; getting the most out of the available light each round. This planning could lead to some 'analysis paralysis' for players who tend to strategise a little too deeply!
Of course you could play for just two sun cycles reducing it to a mere 16 rounds. However, reducing gameplay will likely lead to a very underdeveloped forest. Aside from winning surely the aim of Photosynthesis will be to create a beautiful forest. Who wouldn't want a 3D board full of green, yellow, copper and blue coloured trees?
In addition to the length of the game and the risk of over thinking one's move there is another issue with Photosynthesis that some gamers may not like; when adding light points in phase one the larger your tree the more light points you will gain and the less your opponents are likely to gain - this is likely to create a runaway (more like 'walkaway') leader scenario and only players with a tactically astute nouse will be able to reign them in.
The game idea of trees growing in a forest is not a new theme but the use of the colourful stand up components certainly provide a beautiful table presence, and it's certainly nice to see Blue Orange games branching out into this direction.
Photosynthesis is as slow as any abstract game can be for the given gamers sat at the table but it is most definitely worthy of comparisons with a colourful fall day.