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The Best In Tabletop 2017 – Photosynthesis

The Best In Tabletop 2017 – Photosynthesis

We’ve been lucky in 2017, with amazing games hitting store shelves and our tables. We saw some of our favorite developers hit the shelves yet again with a couple of fresh faces thrown into the mix. It was hard to choose just 10 games to spotlight on the list, and here is one of them.  Stay tuned to see the other games on this list and for the full list.

With so much entertainment in the world glorifying violence, destruction, and mayhem, sometimes it’s good to pick up a game that’s just nice. A game where instead of playing as gladiators, you’re all just trees in the middle of the forest. And instead of counting kills, you’re collecting sunlight and planting seeds. It could be a game where everyone is pleasant and no one attacks each other or gets in anyone’s way. Well here’s the thing, Photosynthesis, by Blue Orange Games isn’t quite that.

photosynthesis 1

Now, it is a game about planting seeds, collecting sunlight, and growing trees, however, there’s something much more intense beneath this unassuming veneer. The gentle theme, the simple mechanics, the adorable woodland creatures poking out of the trees, they all serve to mask the truth: hidden within this bouquet is a cutthroat, treacherous, backstabbing game that you will want to pour your brain into again and again.

The gameplay starts off simple. Each player puts two small trees down on the board, then collects sunlight for each tree that the sun hits. Sunlight is your currency, and will be used to buy seeds as more/bigger trees. Once you’ve bought them, you can also spend sunlight to plant seeds and grow your trees from seedlings to towering wooden behemoths. The bigger the tree, the more sunlight it collects and, more importantly, the more sunlight it blocks.

Photosynthesis 2

See, each tree blocks sunlight up to one, two, or three spaces away, depending on how big it is. And with only so much board space, your trees will inevitably block and be blocked by other players’ trees. This is when you look at the board and come to the realization: I should be blocking as many players as I can every single turn. Of course, if you want to win, you don’t just worry about blocking other players. You’ll also need to avoid blocking yourself, because shade is indiscriminate and I still haven’t mentioned the most important thing: the sun rotates around the board every round, meaning that the shade each tree casts will affect different spaces throughout the game.

Photosynthesis isn’t pure aggression though. While it’s true that your largest trees will be your biggest moneymakers (as well as being the most aggravating for other players), you’ll also need to eventually let them go. When a tree reaches its biggest height, you can spend some sunlight and collect it, earning you a points tile, which are more valuable the closer the tree is to the center of the board. And it pays to cull your trees before other players because as the tiles get taken, their value decreases.

photosynthesis 3

All of these things combined ensure that this isn’t just a game about betraying your friends. It’s also a game of strategic planning. And since trees take a few turns to reach their full heights, you have to plan several turns ahead. It looks a little like this: I can plant this seed here, then next turn I can grow it to a small tree, which will block the blue tree. Then I should wait until after next turn to grow to medium so I don’t block my other medium tree two spaces away. I can leave it there for a while but I’ll eventually need to save up to get it to large so I can collect it. I can’t wait too long though because red is going to cull his big tree any turn now. Oh, but if I can wait just one more round it’ll block all three of yellow’s trees. What do I do?!

photosynthesis 4

This constant tug of war between the forest you want to grow and the forest you need to grow is what really makes this game great, and why it deserves a spot on our best of 2017 list. If you like competitive, in your face, area control games, or if you like complex puzzles that you can really sink your teeth into, Photosynthesis should be right up your alley. And also, the jokes in the first paragraph notwithstanding, it actually is really refreshing to see a game with a theme as inviting as this. While I have nothing against mystical realms or post-apocalyptic wastelands, sometimes it’s nice to backstab your friends in a meadow as opposed to a battlefield.

Do you know any cutthroat games with an innocent face? We’d love to hear about them! Let us know in the comments!

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Image Credit: Shea Parker

As well as writing for Geek and Sundry, Shea teaches board games on his YouTube channel RTFM. You can also talk to/follow/stalk him on Twitter @Sheasayswords

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