Photosynthesis

RRP: £39.99

NOW £31.49
RRP £39.99

If you have ever wanted experience the life of a tree then boy do Blue Orange Games have a game for you! Technically, Photosynthesis is an abstract game, but if is one of a growing number of abstract games that look absolutely amazing – see Azul and it’s sequel Stained Glass of Sintra. In Photosynthesis you and 2-3 other players choose a colour of tree and set them up on you…
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Category Tags , , , , , , SKU ZBG-CS1001 Availability 5+ in stock
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Awards

Golden Geek
Exceptional Components
Dice Tower

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Looks great on the table and definitely attracts people's attention.
  • The gameplay is intuitive, but decisions are always really interesting.

Might Not Like

  • Best with two players in our opinion. With more players added, the opportunity to make clever choices seems to diminish.
  • This is a slow, thinky game, not one that is filled with fast-paced excitement.
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Description

If you have ever wanted experience the life of a tree then boy do Blue Orange Games have a game for you! Technically, Photosynthesis is an abstract game, but it is one of a growing number of abstract games that look absolutely amazing - see Azul and it’s sequel Stained Glass of Sintra.

In Photosynthesis you and 2-3 other players choose a colour of tree and set them up on your player board. Trees come in three levels; one, two, and four just kidding it’s three. You can’t just chuck a massive level three tree out on the board straight away though. No, you have to grow to that height from a seedling.

To help you out you start the game with two level one trees on the board so you can gather the currency in the game - light. Light is what you spend to take all the actions in the game so you’ll want to start gathering it as soon as possible. Which is the exact reason you will want the tallest trees possible, but of course to get them you will need to spend a lot of light…

Light comes, of course, from the sun. The sun rotates around the board in a clever fashion sending it’s light towards the trees, hopefully your trees, and hopefully you trees don’t have any bigger trees in front of them. You see any trees the sun hits cast shadows, level one trees cast a shadow one space, level two cast shadows two spaces long and so on. If your tree is in the shadow of a bigger tree you won’t earn any light points.

This makes the outer board spaces valuable for light gathering, but they also score less points if you manage to end the life cycle of a tree on them. Completing the life cycles of trees is the main way of scoring points and as the game is quite brisk you will want to do this sooner than later. However, as the only trees that can have their life cycles ended are level three trees this creates an interesting quandary - leave those trees out as long as possible to gather more light, or secure points quickly. Points for each space decrease as the game goes on so you need to be quick but not too quick.

To get to the high scoring middle spaces your trees can send seeds for new trees, which also block other spaces if you are feeling mean. Photosynthesis stands out on the board thanks to 3D trees and great looks. The game is as thematic as an abstract gets, without sacrificing depth. Photosynthesis requires some thought, and that’s why the visual nature of it’s presentation almost essential. An ideal purchase for anyone looking for an approachable game that doesn’t sacrifice depth and decisions.

Player count: 2-4
Time: 30-60 minutes
Age rating: 10+

 

Photosynthesis Board Game Review

In Photosynthesis you are sowing the seeds to grow a beautiful woodland. As the sun moves around the board each day, you will harvest more sunlight with larger trees, which might overshadow others in the forest.

Just by seeing the first images of Photosynthesis we knew it was a game we had to try. When it arrived, I relished the opportunity to punch out and assemble the cardboard trees that make this game look just as good, if not better, than most plastic miniatures games I’ve seen.

Photosynthesis has been winning awards for its presentation, but everything about that presentation is core to the gameplay - which is a fantastic feat for an abstract game.

Photosynthesis Gameplay

At the start of the game each player will take turns planting a tree until everyone has two small trees along the outside of the board. Every round of the game, each tree that isn’t obscured by shadow will generate sunlight, which acts as a currency to grow and spread your trees.

Each player will then take turns spending their sunlight (or saving it for the future) before the round ends with the sun moving to its next position on the board. Once the sun makes a full rotation of the game board, a day has passed. The game typically ends at the end of the third day, though there is a long game option at four days long.

Sunlight can be spent in a variety of ways, each player has a hand and a player board, trees and seeds in your hand can be used, but in order to get them into your hand you have to spend some sunlight. The amount of sunlight increases both by the size of the tree and by the number of that tree type you have already removed from the board.

The second thing you can spend sunlight on is to plant seeds, so long as you have a seed in your hand you can plant it, the larger the tree you are planting it from the further the range of spaces you can plant in. Finally you can spend sunlight to upgrade trees, you can turn a seed into a small tree, a small into a medium, medium into a large or cut down a large tree to score points. For all but the last action you need to have a tree in your hand, the previous tree/seed gets returned to your player board.

Points are gained exclusively from having trees finish their life cycle, with more points being gained the closer you are to the centre of the forest. But you don’t necessarily want to rush in chopping down your trees, trees generate sunlight and bigger trees generate the most, not only that but they also case longer shadows, and if you manage to encompass an enemy’s tree in your shadow then they won’t produce any sunlight. Timing when to cut down your trees and when to let them endure for more currency is a key decision.

Photosynthesis Board Game

Amy’s Thoughts

The first thing that strikes you about Photosynthesis is the look of it, while cardboard 3-D trees aren’t the most sophisticated pieces, they give the game a distinctive appealing look. The size differences between the different trees is always clear, and while blue trees may look a little odd, combined with distinct tree shape the game remains clear at a glance.

The gameplay is actually surprisingly simple, if you think of the tree sizes as 1/2/3 then most of the costs line up, the small (1) trees generate one sunlight, and it costs one sunlight to plant one from a seed. Upgrading to a medium (2) tree costs you two sunlight, but now you’ll gain two sunlight from it, it also casts a shadow two hexes long that shadows any trees the same size or smaller. Being this intuitive is always extremely helpful in abstract strategy games as you want the game to be easy to play, but hard to know what best to do.

The best part of the game is the way the sun moves around the board, this opens up so many tactical options that more static games might lack. Suddenly timing becomes important, if I make my tree bigger this round then it will catch my opponent in shadow, giving me extra sunlight and them less. If I cut down my big tree in the centre now it won’t matter because it’s in shadow for the next three turns so I may as well. You find yourself looking for those openings, how to cut them off for your opponent, or keep them for yourself.

Photosynthesis is a great abstract game that really nails the “simple to learn, difficult to master” gameplay. It doesn’t hurt that it looks great too!

Fiona’s Thoughts

I love how the components of Photosynthesis are completely aligned with the game mechanics. The taller your tree, the longer shadow it casts and the more sunlight it absorbs. As the sun moves around the board it’s very easy to visualise the beams of sunlight across the board. It’s probably the most thematic abstract strategy game we own. Of course, the components also look fantastic which helps to attract players in an environment like a game group or board game café.

Like many abstract games, it’s easy to use the phrase “easy to learn, difficult to master” to describe Photosynthesis, but it is undoubtedly true. The actions you can take are very simple, but there’s so many factors in deciding both your strategy for each game and your tactics and timing throughout. Should you grow fast and cut trees down, or leave your tall trees standing to generate more sunlight? Should you plant on the edge to guarantee some sunshine but get lower points if you cut the tree down?

I typically approach the game with very little strategy, whilst I see Amy planning ahead in terms of the spots she tries to take and the way she tries to take advantage of geometry to create ever increasing tree heights all in a row. I’m more of an opportunist, looking for pathways with no trees. This is easier to do in the two-player game when the board is less crowded overall, but much more difficult with three or four players. I much prefer the game with two just because it’s a bigger money game where you get more sunlight and get to achieve more throughout.

Photosynthesis is an abstract game that I can be competitive in. It looks great, has loads of interesting decisions and is a game I’d recommend to almost anyone.

Perhaps you’ve seen or heard of Photosynthesis by Hjalmar Hach, published by Blue Orange. You know the one. It’s the funky-looking game with 3D trees of varying sizes, shapes and colours.

Photosynthesis plays on the theme of trees converting light into a chemical energy for themselves, which can then be released for them to grow. Light, therefore – coming directly from the sun – is the currency in this game. The aim is to first absorb light as the sun moves across the sky. Then players need to efficiently use it in an action-selection manner, to grow their trees or scatter seeds for fresh saplings to emerge within the clustered forest landscape.

There is certainly an abstract element present here, with timing being key to success. The sun will rotate around the board three times, and whoever has earned the most points by the end is the winner. So, without further ado, let’s pull back the curtains and shed some light on how to play Photosynthesis…

Set-Up

Photosynthesis can accommodate between two to four players. Place the main board in the centre of the table and give each participant a player board, their trees and seeds (that match their board colour).

Trees come in three sizes – small, medium and tall. Each player should place their two tall trees on the right-hand side of their player board, three medium trees next to them, then four small trees, and finally four seeds on the left.

Each player will, as a result, now have one medium tree, four small trees and two seeds left over. These sit adjacent to their player board in their ‘Available Area’; these are the active pieces they have to start the game. Then give each player a Light Point Tracker disc. This sits on the zero on their Light Points Track.

Separate the four types of scoring tokens, according to their leaf numbers/shade of green. These range from high-value dark green down to lower-value sandy beige. Then, sort each of these four types of tokens into descending order, with the highest value being at the top of each stack. Keep these within arm’s reach of the board. [NOTE: In a two-player game, scale down by not using the dark green/four-leaves scoring tokens.]

Place the Sun Segment over the sun symbol corner of the main board to start. You can also place the yellow Revolution Counters (numbered one, two and three) by this corner of the board, to remind all players which round of the three you’re currently playing.

Pick a start player and give them the First Player Marker. Youngest? Oldest? The person that most recently planted a tree? Alternatively, you could just do what I do and use Chwazi, a smartphone touchscreen app that randomly picks someone.

The hexagonal forest consists of a series of circles, being spaces where trees can be planted. In turn order, players get to place one of their small trees from their Available Area in one of the circles on the outer edge of the forest (meaning the sandy/one-leaf zone). No two trees may share a space. Then all players get to place a second small tree in this outer region. Now you’re ready to get going with the sowing!

Rules Breakdown - The Photosynthesis Phase

Rounds are split into two phases – the Photosynthesis Phase (where players count how many Light Points they’ve earned from their planted trees), and the Life Cycle Phase (where players then get to spend said Light Points in an action-selection manner).

The key to the Photosynthesis Phase is the location of the sun, and importantly, which direction its rays are beaming. The forest takes the form of a hexagon, with six outer angles. To start the game, you will have placed the Sun Segment so it’s sitting next to two of the hexagon’s six faces. There are arrows on the Sun Segment, and they’re pointing towards the forest. This is where the light is shining.

Since the Sun Segment spans the width of two hexagonal faces, it will shine across the entire width of the board. Therefore, in the Photosynthesis Phase, you need to check each of the seven rows to see which trees catch any sunlight.

Players get Light Points – let’s call them LPs – depending on the size of the tree that can see the sun. Small trees get one LP each, medium trees get  two LPs and tall trees get three LPs. Seeds score nothing. However, you need to take into consideration any shadows that might be cast…

Every tree creates a shadow in the following circles behind it, when the sun shines upon them (just like in real life)! Small trees cast a shadow of one space, medium trees cast a shadow of two spaces, and tall trees cast a shadow of three spaces long.

As a result, if any trees of the same or lesser height are in another tree’s shadow (including their own species of tree), that shadowed tree will not earn any LPs during this phase, because the Sun Segment does not ‘shine’ onto it.

The one exception is if a taller tree stands behind a shorter tree, still within its shadow. Why? Because the top of that tree still catches the sun’s rays, so it earns its corresponding LPs.

All players work out the LPs that they’ve gained this turn and move their LP Tracker to the correct number on their player board. Now it’s time to move into the Life Cycle Phase…

The Life Cycle Phase

The person with the First Player marker goes first. They get to spend their LPs in an action selection manner that they feel best suits them. Then, in clockwise order, the next player gets to spend their LPs, and so on and so forth. There are five possible actions that players can do, all with varying costs…

Buying

Players can spend LPs on ‘buying’ more trees or seeds from their player board. Costs are shown in a yellow circle next to the spot where the trees and seeds sit. Players always buy from the bottom up – meaning they’ll be buying the cheaper options first. As an example, the bottom-most seed costs one LP, while the bottom-most medium tree costs three LPs.

Once players have bought trees or seeds, these then sit in the player’s Available Area. Remember, each player starts the game with a range of trees and two seeds already in their Available Area.

Plant a Seed

If you have a seed in your Available Area, you can pay one LP to plant it on the board. This seed will ‘fall’ from one of your trees on the board, planted in a previous turn. Depending on the height of the tree you wish it to fall from, this results in the radius in which you can place this seed. If it falls from a small tree, that’s one space away. A medium tree allows up to two spaces away, and a tall tree allows the seed to fall up to three spaces away.

All of this is shown, handily, on your player board in case you forget during the game.

Grow a Tree

You can spend LPs to ‘grow’ your current trees on the board. Seeds grow into small trees, small trees into medium-sized ones, and mediums into tall trees. It’s like watching Mother Nature doing her thing (if Mother Nature was a giant hand, swooping into a wooded area to swap the trees about).

In order to grow trees, however, you must have the required next tree-size up sitting ready in your Available Area. To grow a seed into a small tree, it costs one LP. Growing a small tree into a medium one costs two LPs, and then a medium into a tall tree costs three LPs. Again, all of these costs are printed on your player mat.

The tree (or seed) that has been replaced by the bigger variety goes back onto the most expensive vacant spot on your player board (for that particular tree or seed type). If your player board is full of that size of tree or seed, then it’s removed from the game.

It’s worth noting at this point that players cannot activate more than one action within the same circle on the board in one turn. For example, even if a player had all the appropriate tree sizes in their Available Area (and LPs to spend), they cannot grow a seed into a small tree and then that small tree into a medium tree on the same turn. They’d have to do that over the course of two turns… Even Miracle-Gro doesn’t work that fast.

Neither could they, say, grow a small tree into a medium one, and then pick the medium tree to then drop a seed in that same turn. They could opt to grow the small tree into a medium, and then drop a seed from a different tree, of course.

Collecting

The main way to score points in Photosynthesis is by ‘collecting’ points, which is when you decide to end the life cycle of a tall tree. This costs four LPs. While it might seem sad to chop it down, you should embrace your inner lumberjack and not your inner tree-hugger, because this is key to winning the game.

The forest consists of four rings of circles – the outer sandy, one-leaf one, all the way to the solitary dark-green, four-leaf spot. Once the tall tree has been removed (and returned to your player board in the same fashion as growing a tree), look at which ring in the forest it sat.

Remember those four types of scoring tokens from set-up? You get to take the top-most scoring token from the zone in which your tree resided. These gradually decrease in value, making this an efficiency race.

If there are no scoring tokens of that ring type left, you take the token from the next pile down.

Pass Early

Sometimes you might have a poor round, in which you earn a pitiful number of LPs. Or maybe you scored a decent number of LPs, but you’re just one short of being able to do everything you wanted… Happily, you don’t have to spend them all this turn. They can be stockpiled over into the next turn, and added to the LPs you earn later on.

It goes without saying, that for all of the other four actions, once you have spent LPs, players should move their LP Tracker disc down that number of spaces on their track.

End of the Round, End of the Game

Once all players have finished spending their LPs for the turn, the Sun Segment moves clockwise around the board to the next point of the hexagon. Now it shines across the forest in this direction. The First Player marker is also passed to the next player clockwise, and the Photosynthesis Phase begins again, followed by another Light Cycle Phase.

This will continue until the Sun Segment has gone around the board three times. By our maths, that’s a total of 18 rounds. There are Sun Revolution Counters numbered one, two and three, so each time the Segment passes the starting point you can reveal the next counter to alert all players which round it is.

At the end of the Sun Segment’s third loop around the board, players add up the points they have earned by Collecting. Also, in the final round, if players have leftover LPs, they can opt not to spend them. For every three unused LPs, they’ll earn a point. Whoever has the most points wins the game!

Further Hints & Tips

  • Remember that the sun is constantly rotating around the board. Sometimes a bad turn – where your trees are sitting in shadows right now – will be a great turn later when the shoe is on the other foot and the shadows are cast the other way!
  • Similarly, sometimes sacrificing a turn (saving your LPs and passing early) to then have a mega-turn during the next Life Cycle Phase can make a massive difference.
  • Don't be too precious over losing some of your small trees or seeds due to not being able to place them back onto your player board after the Growing action. Your extra medium tee is useful, though, so try not to throw that one away.
  • While it’s tempting to Collect from your tall trees as soon as possible to snaffle up the points, remember that they offer a fantastic opportunity to gain LPs. If you ‘chop’ it down now, that’s a potential three LPs you won’t earn in the next Photosynthesis Phase. Timing is key.
  • Also remember that it takes a certain number of turns to grow trees into tall ones that can then collect points. You don’t want to leave it too late to do this, because you can only activate the same circle on the board with one action, per turn.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Looks great on the table and definitely attracts people's attention.
  • The gameplay is intuitive, but decisions are always really interesting.

Might not like

  • Best with two players in our opinion. With more players added, the opportunity to make clever choices seems to diminish.
  • This is a slow, thinky game, not one that is filled with fast-paced excitement.