WBG Score: 8/10
Player Count: 2-4 players
Published by: Blue Orange Games
Designed by: Hjalmar Hach
If you have played Photosynthesis, you will know how interesting a game this is. On face value, it looks very calming and relaxing. Beautiful cardboard tree miniatures all gathered around a board basking in the sun. It’s a walk in the woods isn’t it?
Well, the game is relaxing, and very good. But it is also a bit of a head scratcher. To be successful in this game, you need to plan ahead. I am not talking two or three steps, more like eight to ten to maximise your scoring opportunities. The game works very simply and it develops very quickly. You plant a seed. That seed becomes a small tree. This small tree grows into a medium sized tree then a large tree. You can then collect that large tree for points. But as more trees appear and the sun rotates, you need to think about how you can score something you lay now, in ten turns time. It’s a simple idea but with some complex decisions.
In Photosynthesis, you play three to four rounds. Each round consists of one full rotation of the Sun around the board. This takes six turns. Each movement creates a new direction that the Sun shines in. Each tree hit by the Sun gets a light point to be spent on upgrading your trees. But be aware that each tree casts a shadow, and no tree in shadow can gain light points.
You may only plant a seed within range of each tree, and there are more points to be won from the centre of the board. So, you need to move your trees closer to the centre. This makes this in part, a race game with area control elements too. Yes, this is a light abstract strategy game. But there are some complex decisions to be made if you want to score well.
Questions of a Forest
As you place your trees you need to be thinking about how they will get points for each rotation of the Sun? What shadows will they cast? What shadows may be cast upon them? How will you use them to grow into other areas on the board? Will this ever become a tree you will collect and score points from, and if so, should I place it here?
That is a lot to think about and can make some turns difficult to decide. As such, I was very interested to see how this game would be expanded. Seeing as it has this strange position of looking simple and light but being full of interesting and complex decisions. I know some cried out for more complexity, but this is one of the games that works well as is. Its beauty is in its simplicity for me. I was concerned it could be ruined by unnecessary additions.
In the first expansion for this game, Under the Moonlight, this was my initial fear. There are three mini expansions in this small box, and I was worried the designers were throwing too much at this. As such, I did the only sensible thing and played with all three expansions at once on my first game! Ok, maybe not sensible! But I did want to see if it was easy to learn all the new expansions if played like this, and how it affected the experience.
I was very pleasantly surprised. They all worked brilliantly. It was a smooth addition into the game and enhanced the experience in many new ways. This was a two-player experience initially, and later at a three count. Each time, with other players who had played the base game a lot, so that certainly helped. But the introduction of three expansions at once in this way worked. I have since tried with just soe of them on their own, and it is a nice way to learn for sure. But the way I will always play this game now is always with the expansions added. And always with all three modes at once. This is a good reflection of how this expansion adds to the game as I am not usually like this with expansions.
The Moon and the Forest Animals.
The first mode is the largest and the most interesting change. In addition to the Sun rotating around the board, you will now have a Moon token moving around in the opposite direction. This will cast moonlight onto the board in two diagonal lines, providing lunar points to all animals it touches.
There is also a Moon phase tracker token which shows players where the Moon will be next time. Always five spaces counter-clockwise. This helps you plan where to move your animals each turn to try and maximise the lunar points available.
Your animals can use these lunar points to activate specific powers. The animals all have completely different powers and offer a lot of replayability and fun into the games.