This game review was originally published in Tumbleweird , October 2018.


I’m going to skip the gameplay overview for now and just dive right in to the visuals. First and foremost, in Photosynthesis looks like a forest living over the course of centuries, unhampered by humankind. At any point in the game, you’re treated to a variety of little chipboard trees of varying sizes and colors growing and being consumed by the forest. It’s an absolutely beautiful game.

Players start by placing one small tree of their color onto the outside edge board, and then repeating the process until all players have placed two small trees. All trees placed onto the board generate sun tokens that are used as a currency to perform subsequent actions such as planting a seed, growing an existing tree to a larger size, or harvesting a tree once it’s reached its maximum height in order to earn victory points.

The core of this game is the method by which sun tokens are generated. During each round, a large sun token sits at one of the corners of the board and “shines light” across the trees in a straight line opposite that corner. Every tree in the path of the light earns its player a sun token. Here’s the catch though: trees cast shadows. If a smaller tree rests in the shadow of another tree of equal or larger size (either one of its own player’s or an opponent’s) it receives no sun token. There are three sizes of tree and each casts a longer shadow as it increases in size. Small trees cast shadows directly behind it, medium trees cast a two-spot shadow, large cast a three-spot shadow. The sun token rotates at the end of each round causing a different pattern of shadow to be cast by trees in the forest, requiring thinking a few steps ahead when players plant and grow their trees.

In addition to the sun token generation, trees have to be grown thoughtfully for the sake of victory point scoring as well. Trees that are harvested toward the center of the board are worth more than those on the outside. Because of the sun and the pattern of light it projects, trees on the outside of the board tend to be less impacted by shadows than those toward the center. This opposition of intent causes extremely organic patterns of tree growth throughout the game.

The components are top quality. Strong chipboard trees that stay constructed while stored and lovely art on everything (a little dab of glue to keep the trees built doesn’t hurt). If you’re looking for an amazing game that ties theme and mechanics together wonderfully, you’ll be hard pressed to find better than Photosynthesis.

Designed by: Hjalmar Hach
Player Count: 2-4
Playtime: 30-60 minutes
Time to Learn: 15 minutes
Complexity: 2.2/5
Replayability: 4.5/5
MSRP: $45
Will my mom play it?: Yup. This game is really all about understanding the mechanics and iterating toward a goal so after the first round it’s a completely known system.
Am I happy I bought it?: Yup.

I purchased this game from Adventures Underground because they’re awesome.

Written by Brendan Quinn; President of Tri-City Area Gaming. Learn more about the 200+ annual gaming events we host by visiting


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