Photosynthesis – a game about growing trees…and the trees actually grow in size?!?! That looks awesome, but are looks deceiving? Let’s find out…is Photosynthesis fun?
Prefer videos to reading? Check out our YouTube Review
Photosynthesis // 2-4 players // 60 minutes
Photosynthesis has the most adorable little standing cardboard trees. In Photosynthesis you are trying to gain points by growing and eventually uprooting trees. “What, you’re killing trees?” my wife said in disgust…no we’re not killing, it is the cycle of life, I feel very green while playing this game!
You will begin by placing 2 trees on the main board. Each turn you will gain light points (the form of currency used in the game). You gain light points from sunlight shining on your trees.
The sun shines on all trees in a straight path, trees that aren’t shaded by another tree receive sunlight. If it sounds simple, just wait.
The sun moves each turn of the game. So your tree that is currently blocking an opponent’s tree may be blocked by that very same tree just a few turns later. And therein lies the fun.
Each turn all players earn their light points from the sun hitting their trees. So, what do you do with these light points? You spend them of course.
With light points you upgrade your small tree to a medium tree. And it feels awesome! They could have just used tokens that said small, medium, and large…but they didn’t. And I’m so glad, because it is so fun to see trees literally growing on the table!
Each turn you will gain light points and spend them to buy and plant more trees. These light points are just a form of currency, they aren’t really worth points at the end of the game. So how do you get points, you ask?
To actually gain points you “end the life cycle” of a tree. You uproot one of the largest sized trees, earning actual end game points for doing so. The closer to the center of the board, the more points you earn.
But if you uproot a tree, aren’t you missing out on all those light points? Yes, yes you are! And that is where the meaningful decision making comes in (whole post on decision making here), That is what makes me say “Yes, Photosynthesis is fun.” You have to decide when getting end game points is better than gaining immediate light points, that are mostly useless at game end.
Final Review – Is Photosynthesis Fun?
PROS: We’ve discussed the great look and feel with the beautiful cardboard trees, that Tabletop Presence. I mentioned meaningful decisions, when to keep a tree to earn light points vs when to uproot it for end game points.
I haven’t mentioned how intuitive and easy to learn the game is. It is logical…small trees turn into medium trees, so the rules are easy to learn. Not to mention there is a phenomenal cheat sheet on your player board.
The most important thing to me in a game is feeling clever. Photosynthesis makes me feel clever. When and where do I plant and grow trees? Every time I have played Photosynthesis I’ve had an experience of “if I build this tree here and wait to upgrade this tree till next turn, I’ll get a ton of points”…I felt clever.
CONS: Since there are really clever and good decisions you can make, there tends to be a lot of thinking time, analysis paralysis. The game can really drag. If you think about it – 18 turns per player, and maybe each player takes 1 minute per turn in a 4 player game, you are suddenly up to 75 minutes. I generally like to max out games around 1 hour. I don’t want a fun light-hearted tree planting game to feel like it is dragging on.
That is especially true when you consider my second negative about the game. It is impossible to catch up once you are behind.
In 3 of the 5 games I’ve played, within the first round I see a player place trees in such a way that they won’t get a ton of light. Usually they build a straight line down the center. They don’t get many light points at first, so they get fewer trees out.
The other players with more trees now upgrade to bigger trees, casting shadows on the player who was already behind. Suddenly they find themselves in a cycle where they can’t get more than 4 light points per turn while all other players are earning 8 or 9.
By the time the sun has gone around once they know they’ve lost, they CANNOT catch up. So, now this game they are 15 minutes into has maybe another 60 minutes left, all of which are painful and frustrating because they are watching everyone around them earn double the light points for a full hour.
Overall, this game has some AMAZING positives, but the negatives are pretty big – I have felt miserable as both the one who can’t catch up, and as the one who is watching another player suffer through an hour of knowing they can’t win. This makes Photosynthesis less fun.
Both of these Cons may not be an issue for you depending on who you play with. If you play with a group that will analyze the board and make decisions while other players take their turns, the game will play in under an hour.
Usually players will pick up on their poor choices after their first 5 or 6 turns, so by then it is too late, but the next time they play they will not get behind, so the lack of a catch-up mechanism won’t be a problem. I play with many different people, so more often than not I’m teaching the game to someone new.
Subjective Review: Overall I give Photosynthesis a B-. Fix the catch up mechanism and you’re looking at a B+ or A-. I love the game – I plan to keep it on my shelf…but I likely won’t show it to a ton of new players, and if I do I’ll probably have to be an alpha gamer for a few rounds so I don’t have to suffer watching them suffer for an hour.
Objective Review: I give it a thumbs, my stamp of approval. It is a very well designed game that will appeal to a lot of players. The rotating sunlight which provides a dynamic method of earning resources (light ponts) is a beautifully designed mechanism.
I haven’t heard many people talking about this game. I’d love to hear your thoughts on if you think Photosynthesis is fun. Let me know.