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Photosynthesis Two Player Review

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All board game reviews and ratings from “A Pair of Meeples” are entirely based on the game at two players. You can learn more about our rating system by clicking below.


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Photosynthesis is a gorgeous game, but does the gameplay reach the heights of its visual appeal?

Photosynthesis Review

5.5 out of 10
Photosynthesis Two Player Board Game Review

Is it Good For Two Players? : More of an “eye for an eye” game at this player count

We wanted to love Photosynthesis but it just didn’t keep us rooted to our chairs.

It’s such a good looking game with an absolutely amazing table presence.  The theme and the way it’s integrated into the gameplay is unique, awesome, and makes so much sense logically. While the 3d spatial puzzle with its rotating sun variable is one of a kind and extremely well designed.

Yet, somehow when you sit down to play it, you get almost just as much joy as you would have if you just looked at it instead.  That may be a bit too harsh but the reality of Photosynthesis will never live up to the idea of it.

Theme: 9/10
Replayability: 3/10
Components: 6/10
Conflict: 7/10
Fun: 3/10

His Rating
5 out of 10
Her Rating
6 out of 10

Pros

Amazing table presence that gets better as the game progresses.

Unique and novel 3d spatial puzzle that is interesting to think about

The theme is great and ties extremely well into the gameplay and components

Cons

Feels the same game to game.

A little hard to grasp at first.

Playing aggressively is almost a requirement.

The player position is unbalanced, when a player goes last they have the advantage with perfect information. This makes the other turns feel unimportant in comparison.

The early game is a little slow.

Can suffer from a runaway leader problem.

Gameplay Experience:

Photosynthesis Two Player Board Game Review

This is an older game, but one that always looked so intriguing to us.  It took a while for us to give Photosynthesis a try as many said it could be a pretty mean game, which isn’t typically our preferred type. We finally cracked our copy open and assembled all the cool little trees that in reality are made from real trees.  I wonder how many trees get to be chopped down, turned into paper, and get to become “trees” again?

Interesting shower thoughts aside, this little cardboard forest looked even better in person, and just the sight of it was making us excited to play.  The rules are extremely short compared to most newer games nowadays, so it didn’t take us long to get set up and start playing.

I guess short rule books aren’t always a sign of an easy to comprehend game as there was a lot of initial confusion and rule clarifying in the first few turns.  I think this is mostly due to this game being built around a pretty unique and novel concept though.

Once we knew what we were doing we made our way, watching the sun revolve around the little forest in front of us as we planted seeds and watched our trees grow and eventually die.  The entire game felt like a tug of war between our two tree types, with the victor alternating based on the sun cycle alone.

You would go multiple turns with your forest scoring quite well, and then multiple turns being in the shade of your opponent scoring quite poorly compared to what you just did.  Even trying to strategize against this, it still just seemed to happen throughout the whole game.

Sure it was our first game and we were pretty evergreen at this point but the strategy seemed hard to get a hold on and almost as if it didn’t matter what you did because there was just no way to plan that far ahead.

Eventually, we reached the end of our first game, with my wife coming out victorious.  Apparently, she was a better forester than I, but we both weren’t sure where we stood on the game yet.  The spatial 3d puzzle and ever changing shadow mechanism are so cool and unique but the game itself just didn’t seem like it lived up to the concept.

We didn’t want to go for another round right away, which is usually a pretty telling sign for our opinion on the game, but this is also a pretty thinky game so we couldn’t put too much weight into that fact.

We discussed a little and decided maybe we just didn’t play aggressively or mean enough the first time.  So on our second play the next day it was no holds bar.  This was our forest and it was tree eat tree here. Halfway in, the game had grown on us a little and was better than the first play.  Now that we were intentionally trying to block each other and play more offensively a few things were becoming apparent though.

Turn order is insanely important in this game, more so than in any game I think we’ve played.  The last player has such a significant advantage that almost makes everyone else’s turns feel null and void.  They know what everyone has laid, where they can block them, and where they can instantly score more light points.

Everyone taking a turn before this is essentially in the dark and can just attempt to do their best at guessing what their opponents will pick.  This is hard enough in a two player game but in a 4 player game, the first player is almost guaranteed to do the worst that round.

Now some may argue that’s just the nature of the game, but it almost makes it feel like only those turns when you go last are what matter, everything else is just trying your best and hoping you get lucky with what others choose to do.

The other thing we noticed when playing more offensively is that it was still a giant tug of war, and this playstyle almost made it worse.  We were having much higher scoring turns than our first game, but then a few turns later would be scoring abysmally.  

There’s no getting around it because both these issues are just a result of the unique rotating sun mechanism. What scored you well 3 turns ago is likely not going to be optimal when the sun is on the other side of the board.  This leads to the player position being unbalanced and the back-and-forth swings in how well you’re doing.

We’ve played the game a few more times since but our feelings haven’t really changed, which makes sense as this is a game that plays pretty much the same every time.  It’s such a cool concept and extremely unique but its visuals outshines the gameplay significantly.

Photosynthesis Tree Sizes and Types

How to Play Photosynthesis Rules Summary:

In Photosynthesis players will each try to grow as many trees as possible to collect them to score points.  An ever revolving sun and the shade from your opponents’ trees is where this goal becomes a little harder to accomplish.

Each player picks a tree type and its respective player board and fills the appropriate spaces on the board with trees and seeds.  They also start with 4 small trees, 1 medium, and 2 seeds next to their board that are available immediately.  All other items on their player board must be purchased before they can be used.

Photosynthesis Player Board

The game starts with each player placing two of their smallest trees on the outermost border of the board.  The sun is in the starting position and players look to see if their trees get sunlight.  If they do and aren’t blocked by their opponents’ trees each one gets 1 light point (marked on their player board).

Players in turn order then get to spend their light points on buying seeds/trees, placing them, growing trees, or collecting trees to score points.  After this, the first player token is passed to the next player and the sun moves to its next position, players see how many light points they score and then spend them as they wish in turn order again.

Below are the ways players can spend their light points:

  • Planting a seed: If they have a seed available they can plant it 1 space from a small tree, 2 spaces from a medium tree, and 3 spaces from a large tree.
  • Grow a tree: If a player has the tree available they can grow a seed to a small tree, a small tree to a medium one, or a medium one to a large one if they can afford the respective cost.
  • Collecting: A player can remove a large tree from the board to collect a scoring token matching that space (soil type) on the board

Whenever a player removes an item from the board it is placed on its topmost space on their player board if it can be, otherwise it is removed from the game. Players can also only take an action with regards to a single space one time per turn, i.e. can’t grow a tree twice.

As players have more and larger trees on the board they will score more points during the photosynthesis phase.  Small trees score one point, medium two, and large three if they receive light.  Other trees can and will block others from receiving light though, causing them to not score.  Three dimensionally this works the way you would think mostly, with smaller trees being blocked by larger or sometimes equivalent trees.

Photosynthesis Midgame

There is a limit to the “shadows” produced by the trees though, meaning the small trees only cast a shadow one space, a medium tree shading two spaces, and a large tree blocking three spaces.  This unique puzzle is a little hard to conceptualize without just playing the game but it makes a lot of sense once you have Photosynthesis setup on the table as it’s extremely logical and thematic.

Players continue taking turns until the sun has made it around the board three times.  It is a pretty straightforward game as each turn plays out the same as the last.  Where it gets interesting is the scoring once you have various sized trees on the board all casting various shadows that change orientation each turn.

Advanced Variations

To play the advanced version of the game players can use one or both of the following additional rules.

  • Add a 4th revolution of the sun extending the game length.
  • Players can’t plant a seed or grow a tree when it is shadowed by another tree.

Conclusion:

We really really wanted to love Photosynthesis but it just didn’t keep us rooted to our chairs, and we’re actually still a little conflicted about that.

It’s such a good looking game with an absolutely amazing table presence.  The theme and the way it’s integrated into the gameplay is unique, awesome, and makes so much sense logically. While the 3d spatial puzzle with its rotating sun variable is one of a kind and extremely well designed.

Photosynthesis 3d spatial puzzle

Yet, somehow when you sit down to play it, you get almost just as much joy as you would have if you just looked at it instead.  That may be a bit too harsh but the reality of Photosynthesis will never live up to the idea of it.

Once the initial wow factor of the rotating sun and its shadows wears off you quickly realize that you’re not a grand chess master who can think numerous turns ahead and that the majority of your turns all you’re doing is crossing your fingers and hope it works out multiple rounds from now.

The only turn that matters is when you go last and you have absolute perfect knowledge, can optimally spend points, perfectly calculate the best move and instantly reap the rewards.  Then immediately you have the worst turn and have no idea what the actual board state is going to look like at the end of the round.  

It’s a game that “maybe” you could get good at with a lot of plays, but even then the 3d spatial puzzle and your opponents’ moves are extremely hard to plan and predict that far ahead.  On top of this, it’s a game that plays pretty much the same every time, so it would probably be a struggle to do so without it getting stale and boring.

The tug of war due to the rotating sun gives the impression that there is a game here but the scoring ends up bringing that idea into question, as it’s a toss-up as to who comes out on top.  Maybe that move you made all the way back on turn two was the deciding factor, who really knows?

Overall Photosynthesis is a game that physically looks so good while playing, but one that just feels empty and unimportant.  It makes you think you can plan, strategize, and do better with practice but in actuality, most of us will never be that smart and instead have to rely on those turns where we can ensure immediate outcomes.

This leads to a more aggressive and meaner playstyle being necessary to maximize that feeling of accomplishing something as you block your opponents and at least have some measure of your actions and depending on who you are, just that can make this game a no-go.

Now, the concept alone is almost enough to hold this game up, but a single gust of wind is all it takes to make this tree come crashing down.  In other words, some may be able to overlook all the game’s weaknesses we mentioned and enjoy it, but if any one of them bugs you in the slightest that’s all it takes in our opinion for Photosynthesis to not be worth it.

It’s a game that hugs that line of being a good game so tightly, (mostly due to its novel and unique aspects) that if any one of its characteristics doesn’t align with your preferences it instantly shifts into a “not good game”. So, take your time deciding if Photosynthesis is the right game for you, and don’t be swayed just by its excellent appearance.

Is Photosynthesis Good For 2 Players?

Photosynthesis works at all player counts but playing with two provides for a pretty interesting and unique dynamic.  As we said earlier, player order is significant in terms of advantage and that’s extremely noticeable at this player count.

You’re going back and forth with this advantage turn after turn, and it makes the importance of your actions feel weighted towards that turn where you go last.  This isn’t necessarily game breaking, it just makes it feel a little weird.

When playing with more players, you’ll spend a large amount of time not having this perfect information, but with more players, you still go from the strongest position to the weakest.  So it’s still noticeable but it just feels a little less impactful since you also have a turn or two in a more average position.

In a two player game this leads to you being able to strategize a little more but it also just ends up feeling like there’s no point because in one turn you’ll have perfect information again to make moves that really matter and you know the outcome.  

Another major difference at this player count is purely the amount of competition.  With two players they’re will be more space on the board for you to spread out, typically leading to higher scores per turn.  

While this may seem like a more open board it likely leads to a pretty similar board state as with more players.  This is because in two player games players will score higher and be able to plant a lot of trees, whereas in a four player game players will score less on average, and be able to plant fewer trees.

Honestly, it’s pretty hard to say which player count is best for Photosynthesis as they offer very similar experiences in terms of gameplay but feel quite different.  Two player games feel much tighter in terms of score and strategy while higher player counts can be more chaotic and competitive. 

Higher player counts also have more potential to have runaway leader problems or even certain players being ganged up on.  In this way, two player games of Photosynthesis are much more forgiving.

Pros:

  • Amazing table presence that gets better as the game progresses.
  • Unique and novel 3d spatial puzzle that is interesting to think about.
  • The theme is great and ties extremely well into the gameplay and components.

Cons:

  • Feels the same game to game.
  • A little hard to grasp at first.
  • Playing aggressively is almost a requirement.
  • The player position is unbalanced, when a player goes last they have the advantage with perfect information. This makes the other turns feel unimportant in comparison.
  • The early game is a little slow.
  • Can suffer from a runaway leader problem.

BLUE ORANGE GAMES Photosynthesis Board Game - Award Winning Family or Adult Strategy Board Game for 2 to 4 Players. Recommended for Ages 8 & Up.
BLUE ORANGE GAMES Photosynthesis Board Game - Award Winning Family or Adult Strategy Board Game for 2 to 4 Players. Recommended for Ages 8 & Up.
BLUE ORANGE GAMES Photosynthesis Board Game - Award Winning Family or Adult Strategy Board Game for 2 to 4 Players. Recommended for Ages 8 & Up.

We hope this Photosynthesis two player review has helped you.

Our reviews are not paid reviews, but some games are given to us, we do not let this affect our opinions in any way. This post may contain affiliate links so we might receive compensation if you sign up for or purchase products linked to. As an Amazon Associate, we can earn from qualifying purchases. This helps cover our site's costs and allows us to continue reviewing games.


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