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Game Review: Photosynthesis

We are War Games, and we make games worth fighting over.

However, we recognize that there are plenty of other great games out there not made by us. So in an effort to spread the love, we decided to start reviewing other games worth fighting over.

As you wait for your own copy of Proliferation: The Game of Nuclear Strategy you just purchased to reach your doorstep, here is another game we think you will enjoy.

Game: Photosynthesis

Game Night: August 29, 2023

Play Time: 30-60 min

Rating: 6.8/10

Description: The sun shines brightly on the canopy of the forest, and the trees use this wonderful energy to grow and develop their beautiful foliage. Sow your crops wisely and the shadows of your growing trees could slow your opponents down, but don't forget that the sun revolves around the forest. Welcome to the world of Photosynthesis, the green strategy board game!

Publisher: Blue Orange Games

Year Published: 2017

For this game night, the team chose to play Photosynthesis, the 2-4 player game where “players compete for sunlight to grow taller as the Sun moves around the board.” ( Continuing down the internet’s many lists of top indie tabletop games, Photosynthesis was a name that appeared often. The game also had its own organized tournament when our team visited Strategicon in Los Angeles this year, occurring just a few days after we learned the game.

First Impressions/Unboxing:

Photosynthesis is made by Blue Orange Games, a publisher we have purchased games from in the recent past. Their reputation for making aesthetically pleasing games preceded our purchase, but was confirmed when we brought the game home; the colors and artwork that cover the box and game components for Photosynthesis are warm and inviting, and match the theme perfectly. The rulebook is also just 4 pages long, begging to be read when first opening the box.

Like a lot of the games our team has been playing and reviewing lately, one of the first impressions we had of the game was acknowledgement of how many cardboard pieces there were to punch out. There were 32 small trees, 16 medium trees, 8 large trees, 24 seed tokens, and 24 scoring tokens, among other game components to punch out. This made the game feel like it would have a substantial amount of weight to it, and provide a great value for its price point.


The rulebook for Photosynthesis is just 4 pages long. Each of the 4 pages does pack a considerable amount of words on it, but still make for a short read and a very easily teachable tabletop experience. The word choice was understandable, the diagrams were helpful, and information was organized in an obvious way. Overall, the rulebook deserves a good amount of praise for not serving as a hurdle to starting gameplay or enjoyability.


The materials included in Photosynthesis were generally high-quality, mainly consisting of a considerably thick cardboard. Because the gameplay mainly revolves around placing cardboard tree figures onto the game board, nearly all the components were made from this material. The player boards and center game board expertly keep with the theme of the game, with all game components adding to the overall beauty of the game.

Considering the low cost of the game, coupled with the amount of cardboard trees needed for gameplay, I would say that Blue Orange Games made some solid choices about the type of material used and the overall visual appeal. I’m sure that veteran, hardcore fans of Photosynthesis would enjoy something like metal components, though I have not researched if such a thing exists through Blue Orange Games at the time of publishing this game review.


Gameplay for Photosynthesis is considerably simple, especially to teach others at any spot on the spectrum of tabletop game enthusiasm. Each turn unfolds in two phases, where players will collect light points (the currency of this game) based on the positions of their trees and the position of the Sun, and then manage their inventory of trees by planting tree seeds, buying and/or growing trees, or collecting Scoring Tokens by removing them from the board. These are called the Photosynthesis and Life-Cycle Phases respectively, and make for pretty quick turns.

Each game of Photosynthesis consists of exactly 18 turns. The Sun segment (one of the game components) revolves around the game board 3 times before the game comes to an end, with each revolution consisting of 6 turns. Each time the next turn starts, the Sun segment moves one-sixth of the way around the game board to create new shadows and new opportunities to collect light points.

Trees planted in the shadows of other trees don’t collect light points. Since the Sun moves around the hexagonal play area, this creates a geometry that players would be wise to become aware of. The negation of light points by tree shadow also brings sabotage into the game in a major way, where players can strategically plant their seeds and grow trees to target specific players, when the Sun is in the correct position. Large trees cast larger shadows, and larger shadows also prevent more trees that are planted behind them from collecting light points.

Each player has a player board where they can place certain trees they are not currently using before placing them on the game board. Buying trees, using light points, places more available trees on this player board. Players also use light points to plant the available seeds they have, and to grow those seeds into trees, or trees they have already grown into larger trees. Finally, collecting on a tree, which must be the largest size, gives the player who planted it a Scoring Token. Scoring Tokens give players points at the end of the game.

The game is scored at the end of the 18th turn. Scoring Tokens are converted to points, and each light point that a player has in reserve is also converted to one point. Scoring Tokens have a range of point values on them. The player with the highest point score wins the game, and comes not one step closer to understanding the molecular process that we should have learned in 9th grade.

Key Strengths:

  • Simplicity. The game is very simple to teach, though the complexity unfolds in other great ways mentioned below. The rulebook, being just 4 pages long, creates no real barrier to entry when it comes to learning, making it a great game to bring to a casual game night.

  • Use of geometry. Photosynthesis’s clever use of geometry when it comes to the Sun segment and tree shadows makes it complex enough to hold a player’s interest throughout the duration of the game. Until a player has played the game multiple times, the revolution of the Sun segment makes it so that players are forced to recalculate their strategies for getting light points each turn.

  • Quick turns. 18 quick turns make for a pretty fast game. Players that enjoy a shorter, yet sufficiently complex game will enjoy what Photosynthesis has to offer.

  • Sabotage. The massive ability for players to sabotage each other with the positions of their trees makes for a very interesting game. This throws in an element of unpredictability that players cannot simply mitigate. It can also make for one frustrating experience if you’re not in the right headspace, or if your light point strategy is less than below par!

One Drawback:

For some reason, our team hasn’t really revisited Photosynthesis as much as we thought we would. After playing a handful of games back-to-back in September, our copy has largely gone untouched. For having virtually no complaints about the gameplay, materials, or overall concept, we found Photosynthesis to simply be a medium-tier game, or at least one that we couldn’t get overly excited about. This drawback is one of the main reasons this game received the score it did.

Game Night Winner: Cory Corral (COO)


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