BLUE ORANGE are fast becoming the 'go to' games company when you first enter a games convention. This is because the quality of their games, in production and by theme are always just that little bit ahead of the majority of their competitors in the board games market. PHOTOSYNTHESIS, designed by Hjalmar Hach, is one of the most required games of 2018. It is beautiful with its illustrations (Sabrina Miramon) and epic 3D pieces, it is very clever in its game mechanics and excellent in its game-play. It is for 2-4 players, though we feel it plays best with 3 or 4, and is a family game with enough core game possibilities that without changing the rules at all you can play it at different levels of experience.
Each player has their own field in which they have room to grow specific numbers of Trees and Seeds in three sizes, small, medium and large, each also with a specific cost in Light Points. For example, there are four spaces for seeds, the first 2 spaces cost 1AP each and the next two cost 2AP each. Similarly the four Small trees cost 2s and 3s, the three medium trees cost 3s and a 4 and the two large trees cost 4 & 5. Light Points are gained from having trees in the forest on the main board that are not in the shade of any other trees as the Sun revolves around the land.
This is a game that keeps giving. Each time you play, at least for the first few games, you are discovering different ways to play. As the best scores you can gather is for large trees grown on the one central space it is essential to be able to plant a seed on that space, but unfortunately you are not the only player wanting control of that space, even though it can be for a short while only. You can only cut down the large trees to gain Light Points and to make it impossible for any one player to continually control the centre space the rules state that you can never make more than one single action on the same space (any space on the board) in your turn. Thus you cannot plant a seed and grow it to a small tree in the same turn even if you have enough Light Points to do so.
The growing mechanic is beautifully created. You plant a seed, you can it to a small tree,which can be grown into a medium sized tree and eventually into a large tree that can be cut down; each of these actions cost Light Points and are made one action per turn. A turn is complete when the sun passes round the game board world once. After 3 orbits the game ends and a final scoring occurs. When you cut down a large tree you gain a points disc of the area your tree has been planted. At the final scoring these are added together for your score, along with 1VP for every three light points you still have on the track on your board.
One of the nicest and most thoughtful things about PHOTOSYNTHESIS are the 3D trees. There are four sets of these with leaves in colour ID, green, red, blue and yellow. Each of these sets is not only differentiated by its colour but also by shape and variety which shows the level of production value BLUE ORANGE have given this game.
On the base of it, PHOTOSYNTHESIS is a game of playing pieces, in this case Trees, onto a board, the only rules being that they must go through the growing process, Seeds through to Large trees, and that new seeds must be placed adjacent to at least one of the trees in the same set. Of course the placing of the pieces is where the tactics of play come into it. I still haven't mastered those tactics after several games, but that's no problem because I am happy to play this game whenever possible - meaning when there are at least three of us with an hour available. PHOTOSYNTHESIS has more than average re-playability - it looks like such a simple game, which is its magic, wherein it can be quite a strategic challenge.
Going first or last makes no difference really, though to make it as fair as possible the first player token passes on after each round; the first thing the new start player does is move the sun to its next position, as marked on the board. The sun is shown as a card shaped in a crescent with arrows pointing towards the main board to show the direction of the light that will cause the trees to throw shadows. The shadows stretch as far as the size of the trees, thus a small tree's shadow only lays over the next space in direct line from the sun, a medium tree casts a shadow over two spaces and the large tree overshadows up to three spaces away; any trees in that line will not score their owner, including the owner of the blocking tree, any Light Points, though the first large tree to be hit by the sunlight will score its 3 points as usual. Naturally Seeds do not score any points.
Clever and careful placing and growing of trees can be deemed as aggressive towards other players, but hopefully isn't actually seen (or noticed) by the other players until it is too late. There is just so much good in this game that I like and enjoy but for me as a reviewer/critic there is nothing I can find to criticise. I often thin when playing games that "this could have been better" or "this rule makes no sense" etc and I can then introduce these criticisms into my review, but with PHOTOSYNTHESIS I can only find the light and no the dark (except of course the shadows).
At the beginning of each game players get to place 2 of their 4 small trees (those not on their personal board) on the board in any of the spaces around the outer edge of the main board. I have tried placing them next to each other and I have tried starting with them on different sides of the board or with them just 2-3 spaces away from each other. So far I haven't found any start positioning that works every game. Naturally placing your trees where you want to can be hampered by the other players, not only at the beginning but also during play.
One of the neat rules is that you count up your available Light Points at the start of each Round and move a token on a Light Track on your board. Then when it is your turn you can spend those points on the actions available to you, buying seeds and trees, planting seeds and trees, chopping down large trees - this is expensive as it costs 4 or 5 LPs to buy a large tree and then 4 LPs to cut them down. Apart from the large trees, of which each player only ever has two and there are only two spaces on their player board, if you remove a tree or seed from the board and have no space on your personal board to place it, then it is removed from the game forever (forever being until the end of the game, it's not one of those 'Legacy' games where you actually destroy the pieces). Early in the game you need your seeds and small trees but as the game progresses you need the medium and larger trees in play and scoring points as much as possible.
Found online from £25.00 - £35.00 PHOTOSYNTHESIS from Blue Orange is good value anywhere from and inbetween these prices. Of course paying £10.00 less is best but I wouldn't be too disappointed if I had to pay the higher cost because you get so many hours of playing and fun from it that its value of hours playing versus money paid is very well worth it. Nowadays, if you go to a Rock concert or to see a comedian live on stage, you will generally pay $50.00 and upwards for a 2 hour show and mostly you will have a great time and gain some excellent memories. However the next morning those memories are what you have left of the event. Paying around $50.00 for a board game like this that will give you so many more hours entertainment than the Rock Group or the Comedian and you still have it again for the next day and the day after. Heck thinking on those terms PHOTOSYNTHESIS costs about the same as 10 cups of popular coffee, without the cake or donut, and we all know where they end up.
I think I have made my point with that paragraph above, but just in case there are any doubts, this is an excellent, fun, well designed and beautifully produced board game available at a good, fair price. Check it out on the internet, Boardgamegeek.com, and at your local game store, which Games Gazette Online believes wholeheartedly that you should always consult first.