A week ago, I got a new to me game to the table. This game was talked well about by the main three on The Dice Tower and it looks amazing on the board. Photosynthesis walks a line between thematic and completely abstract in an interesting way.
Photosynthesis is the process of plants turning sunlight into energy, food, so that they can grow. In the board game, there is a sun that is rotating around the board, and you are planting, growing, and harvesting trees in order to get the most points. But you have to think about where you’ve played everything, because a misplaced tree could end up blocking one of your other trees from getting sunlight, or you can block your opponents tree from getting sunlight. After the sun has completed four rotations of the board, you tally up your score and see who has the most points.
The game is really about figuring out the puzzle of where to plant your trees and when the harvest the trees. At the start of each round, every tree you have that isn’t being shaded by another tree gets you a number of light points that you can spend in the next part of the round. After that, you can spend those points to buy more trees and seeds and to harvest your big, old trees for points. There’s a balancing act, however, as you figure out when you harvest your large tree, which gets you three light points per round, and possibly could blocking more trees, since it has a shadow of three. That puzzle is a very strong abstract feel in the game. However, the shadow system and the rotation of the sun actually feel very thematic.
Photosynthesis does have one aspect that everyone might not like. Because of the shadow mechanism that might keep players from getting light points, it’s possible to have an absolutely terrible round. I think it was mid game when Kristen had a turn, just because of shadows that netted her no light points. That can obviously lead to a frustrating round since while I and the other player had several points to work with, she did nothing, and that put her behind. It wasn’t intentional ganging up on up her though, but just bad luck. This game could have a strong aspect if blocking other people if you wanted it to, but it would probably also be hurting you half of the time. You’d have to be able to think a lot of steps ahead to make blocking someone an effective strategy, and it probably would still cause issues for you.
For me, that’s the one negative of the game, someone can get behind and stay behind because of that. However, since this is a more abstract game versus a thematic game, it works. It really is a giant puzzle to get your engine up and running and running consistently throughout the game. Even though Kristen had that one bad turn, she was only about one tree harvest behind the rest of us in terms of gaining points, so it didn’t cause her to be completely out of the game.
I think that Photosynthesis is a very good game. I think it’s a very pretty game, and I think that it’s probably a game that most people will enjoy. There are a few bits that might not work for everyone, but for the most part, I think it is easy enough to grasp, even if it doesn’t always make perfect thematic sense. I do think that Photosynthesis also has the chance to be poor game for analysis paralysis prone players, but that’s going to be the case for most games.
Overall Grade: B+
Gamer Grade: B+
Casual Grade: C+
Have you had a chance to play Photosynthesis?
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