Review: Photosynthesis

Review: Photosynthesis

Review: Photosynthesis

The foliage of the forest creates a beautiful kaleidoscope of color as the trees grow and mature. The competition is fierce as each tree competes for the precious rays of light coming from the ever rotating sun. Players need to sow their crops wisely because the most valuable locations in the forest are going fast.

Photosynthesis is an incredibly unique game from one of our favorite publishers, Blue Orange Games. Two to four players are working to plant, grow and harvest trees in the forest in order to score victory points that are dependent on the locations of those particular trees. The game has amazing table presence as these colorful three-dimensional trees fill the forest and compete for precious sunlight.

How to Play

Players begin with 4 small trees, 2 seeds and a medium tree at the start of the game. The player boards are essentially a market where trees and seeds can be bought with available sunlight points. These boards give you the information you need for spending points on growing and planting new trees. They did a great job of putting the important information in front of each player so the rule book doesn’t have to be opened each game.

Photosynthesis player board

Trees progress as expected through its life cycle. The seed becomes a small tree, the small tree grows into a medium tree and these medium trees enter their final stage of growth as large trees. Choosing the right location to grow a new tree matters a lot. Each space in the forest contains between 1 and 4 leaf icons. These correspond to the points a player with receive when they harvest a large tree on that location.

Players earn victory point discs after harvesting the large tree on their turn. The first player to harvest a tree will receive the most victory points in that area and these point values decrease as more trees are harvested. You don’t want to wait too long because the difference of 2 points can mean the difference between first and second place at the end of the game.

A Trip Around the Sun

In each round, the sun revolves around the outside of the board. Trees earn sunlight points as long as they are not in the shadows of another tree. This is where tree placement matters so much. On one turn, your four trees may produce 6 sunlight points. The very next turn might cast shadows and those same four trees only produce 2 sunlight points. There is so much strategy in growing a tree at the right time, in the right place.

Photosynthesis trees

We love how different Photosynthesis feels from all the other games in our collection. This is clearly an abstract game but it feels like something very innovative without being too complex. The positions of other players trees cause you to change your strategy and how you spend points throughout the game.

If your small tree is directly behind another tree of any size, you cannot receive sunlight points for that tree. A large tree will collect 3 sunlight points and will cast a shadow 3 spaces behind it. The size of the tree becomes crucial as the sun moves each turn.

At each player count, the game feels slightly different which I’ve really enjoyed. In a two player game, it feels like you are trying to intentionally place your opponent in the shadow of your trees. In a four player game, it’s impossible to stay out of the way of other players. You have to really fight for space and snag premium locations as they come available.

Innovation Meets Beauty

Photosynthesis is an absolutely gorgeous game. The three-dimensional cardboard trees are super cool. The artwork on every component of the game is stunning. The game ties together the theme of nature and growth so well.

Each game of Photosynthesis I’ve played has a flow to it that takes the player from slow, limited moves to a more ramped up tactical feel. In the first rotation of the sun, players will earn small amounts of sunlight points and are pretty limited in their actions. As the game ramps up, spending larger amounts of points allow you to make big moves.

Photosynthesis Victory Points

In the third rotation of the sun, Photosynthesis can really make you sweat. With a limited amount of time left in the game, you have to focus on scoring victory points efficiently and not wasting a single point of sunlight. There is a rule that limits players to taking only one action per spot. This keeps players from growing a tree and harvesting the same tree in the same turn. It’s very common to hear “Crap, I don’t have enough time to harvest this tree!” as you progress through the third rotation of the game. You learn very quickly to count how many turns are left in that final round.

At the end of the game, players can convert a set of 3 sunlight points into 1 victory point to add to their final score. Recently, our 14 year old daughter was clearly winning the whole game but struggled to harvest her final tree which allowed a friend of ours to take first place. Games can regularly come down to just a couple points between each of the players.

Photosynthesis is easy to teach and quick to grasp for new players. We’ve taught new gamers and kids how to play and they have had a blast playing. I really enjoy that there is a slight educational value in the game since it’s given us a chance to talk about how plants convert sunlight into nutrients around the game table.

I would caution anyone with very young kids from owning this game since those beautiful little trees could easily be destroyed in the hands of a 4 year old that wants to play with the pieces.

Our family has really loved playing Photosynthesis. The more we’ve played, the more we’ve shifted our strategies. The game can be played in under or around an hour in most cases and is a great family-friendly game choice. The attention that Photosynthesis received at Gen Con this year is well deserved because this is a very special game that will hit the table for years to come.

Get your copy of Photosynthesis at your local game store or order it from Amazon or Cool Stuff Inc. today.


  • Innovative gameplay
  • Simple to learn, tough to master
  • Gorgeous artwork and components


  • Takes up a lot of space on the table
  • Might be tough for people who struggle with abstract games

Ryan Gutowski

I'm a huge fan of strategy games and pretty much anything that involves "city building". My love of board games goes back to my childhood and passion for building relationships with others.

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