Author: Drew Lovell
This week’s featured game Photosynthesis; designed by Hjalmar Hach w/ illustrations by Sabrina Miramon and published by Blue Orange Games.
# of players: 2-4
Length of game: 60 minutes
Photosynthesis is an incredible area control game in which players are growing trees across the board to collect sunlight. It is hard to know where to start with this one because everything it does as a game it does very well. The art is astounding, it has a great table presence, it is fairly easy to teach and its strategy is deceivingly deep given how approachable the theme is.
Players begin with two small trees on the edge of the board. At the start of each turn these trees will begin collecting sunlight which players can then spend towards growing existing trees or planting seeds to spread out further. As the game goes on trees will block one another from collecting sunlight by casting shadows across the board. Things start getting really interesting at this point because as the game goes on the sun itself rotates around the board and trees will now cast shadows at different angles. Eventually trees will meet the end of their lifespan which is when players score points by collapsing their trees to make room for new growth.
Photosynthesis works really well as a cafe game, though the rules are slightly more front-loaded than with most gateway games. The player aids provide a lot of information in a way that is fairly easy to take in but there is a tricky element that involves seeds and trees being in the reserve (on the player aid) OR available for use (next to the player aid but not on the board itself). This is most often the part that trips players up as it isn’t particularly intuitive. The best part with the teach is similar to games like Evolution in that once players understand how to play one round they understand how to play the whole game and there isn’t much need to revisit the table to introduce additional rules. Lastly, area control games are often intimidating and many aren’t presented in ways that make players want to pull them off the shelf; however, that doesn’t apply at all to Photosynthesis and it can work really well as a game that expands the players’ boundaries.
Bonus points for: Blue Orange has traditionally been a publisher of family / kids games and recently they’ve been branching out into strategy games as well. There’s something about their background with family games that has lent itself well to creating these super solid strategy games that are also easily approachable. Hats off to them for knocking it outta the park!