If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it score points? It turns out in a Photosynthesis Game Strategy that it does.
When I was a kid, my Dad used to take us down to the Christmas tree lot every year. Call us old-fashioned, but there’s something so beautiful about a perfect evergreen in the living room.
However, in the board game Photosynthesis, the law of the jungle rears its ugly head. In this battle for forest supremacy, it’s anything but simple and pretty. Gather up sun points to foster the growth of your trees while blocking the sun from your competitors.
We have two different strategies to cover. In the first we focus on the race to the center tile. Maximize those victory points and become King of the Forest.In the second we focus on spreading far and wide to block the sun from those other spruces in the woods.
After all, it’s survival of the fittest— right?
Table of Contents
The Sun Rises in the East
As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. In every Photosynthesis Game Strategy, planning is required. It’s a balance of spending points to get ahead and blocking your opponents with your trees like chess.
You get light points to spend on trees and seeds. You gain points for their growth. And in turn, they become victory points upon harvest. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins.
For both strategies, you will need to place your trees on the corners of the map where the sun disc will sit. Placing your trees here guarantees you the largest amount of sun for the first three turns. Unless someone puts a tree directly in front of yours.
Usually in the beginning players are more focused on their own trees and are not aggressive yet. Bear in mind how shadows are cast on the board.
Think about how best to use your sun points based on what your opponents are doing. Is it better to block another player from a prime spot? Or should you grow one of your trees up? If you play your cards right, you might be able to do both.
You’re able to carry out four actions but not more than one action on the same spot. For example, you can plant a seed, but you will have to wait until the next turn to grow it.
If you harvest a tree from the main board, and you don’t have free space on your player board you will lose it for the rest of the game.
Photosynthesis Game Strategy #1: King of the Forest
What to Focus on:
- Get to the center as soon as possible
- Grow this tree to level three ASAP
- Works best at the beginning of the game
The beginning is the perfect opportunity for you to get to the center. Most players will still be thinking about where to plant their small trees or seeds. Or how many points they can gain from the outer edge.
The shortest amount of moves to win the center spot goes as follows:
- Plant a small tree on the outer edge
- Grow to Stage two on the second turn
- Place a seed two spaces out from the Stage two tree
- Grow a small tree in the new spot
- Your next seed will be in the center spot
- Grow it to Stage three while surrounding that spot with other small trees
Alternatively, you could start with the medium tree. Upgrade it to a large tree and then have a seed spring from it. It will go three spaces instead of two. Then you only have one more space to go to the center.
Once you have a tree in the center of the board, your job is to keep it there as long as possible. Soak up as much sun as you can before you’re crowded out by other players’ trees.
Get to Stage 3 as soon as you can so even if someone else tries to crowd you out, you will still get the sun points.
Remember, the closer you are to the center of the map, the more victory points you gain.
Even if you have one tree that’s in the center, work on gaining more trees around the center. Hold the line to the end of the game. Or if surrounded by your own trees, feel free to cut down your main tree for victory points.
Then plant another seed to grow depending on the height of your other trees. If you have tall trees, don’t cut down the center tree until the last turn.
Related: King of Tokyo strategy
Photosynthesis Game Strategy #2: Big Tree on Campus
What to Focus on:
- Focus on growth and positioning
- Block your opponents
- Long Term Strategy
Your goal is to plant as many trees on the outer ring or the second ring as possible. Focus on growing these trees to the Stage three level. Aim for the sun corners for the greatest potential.
For this strategy to work, focus on gaining light energy to spend on growing your tree farm. Don’t worry about getting to the fertile soil.
If you have enough spots with lower-level victory points and taller trees, you will have the most points. The inner two rings may have more points, but it won’t matter if other players block the sun from you.
If you can get enough tall trees in front rows you will be able to block the sun from your opponents. They will have stunted growth behind your rows of big trees. And if you are playing with the advanced rules, your opponents won’t be able to grow at all in the shade.
It’s impossible to block all players from getting any sun on any turn. But you can make it difficult for them. Grow fast, and block them. This will put you at the head of the pack.
Related: Castles of Burgundy Strategy
Too Many Lumberjacks
Photosynthesis has enough pieces for up to four players. The consensus seems to be that 2 players might be a boring game, 3 is more ideal and 4 can be too crowded and competitive.
Note that in a two-player game, the fourth leaf token in the center is removed and you can only score up to the third leaf ring. This leaves you less room to score.
No matter how many players you play with, this game actively rewards aggressive gameplay.
Although the game is usually only three turns, there is an advanced version that has a fourth turn added. Some groups of players like to play with even more turns than that.
Consider how many turns you will have to work with.
Shorter games make it harder to set up properly. If you don’t block enough trees or get enough trees around the center, you won’t win.
When playing a longer game, it will be difficult to play effectively. With four players the board gets crowded very quickly. So even if there are more turns, you might not be able to do everything that you need to do.
Bear in mind that you cannot grow a seed to a small tree in the same turn. Think about how many turns there’s going to be and how much you have on the board.
If you have a bunch of seeds and take too long to grow them into trees, you will lose.
If you spend all your energy growing one or two huge trees, it will cost you too many points without much gain.
Related: Uno Strategies to Win Consistently
It’s a Jungle Out There
This game requires a lot of forethought into every placement of your trees and seeds. What your opponents might do can make or break your strategy.
If your opponents aggressively try to block you, switch strategies and grow those trees up until they’re equal height.
If they seem to be racing towards the center, try and place trees in their way or taller trees in front of that spot. So that even if they make it to the center, they won’t be able to gain the full reward.
If this group decides to play with the advanced rules, having your trees blocked by shadow can make recovery difficult for you.
Think twice before chopping down all your trees. A gamble too early in the game might cost you the points you need.
What is the Best Way to Win Photosynthesis?
The best way to win the Photosynthesis board game is to plan ahead.
In addition to planning ahead, memorize the mechanics of this game, and think about every possible venue. This will present new strategies. But there is no one best way to win.
Every time you play is a chance to get better. Playing with less players gives you more room to experiment. But playing with the maximum amount of players will force you to grow.
Try both strategies out and find what works best to your play style. Maybe a mix of the two strategies will work better for you? Don’t be afraid to break out the box and start chopping down trees. Who knows– maybe the next game you play will be your moment in the sun.
Veronica is a Green Bay-based freelance writer and editor with extensive experience with board games. When not busy scribbling her thoughts, you might find her in her garden, hiking out in the woods, or exploring new food joints.
Veronica is a die-hard board game and chess hobbyist by night. She likes to try out new games and is always on the lookout to recruit new players for her game night (so beware!). When not playing board games or throwing darts, she is usually busy painting miniatures (or doing other nerdy stuff).
She is the CEO & Content Writer of Indoor Games Zone. She shares her expertise from years of playing chess, board games, and darts.