Photosynthesis - title

Blue Orange is a company that has released a series of very successful board games that are geared towards children, and which feature educational themes. My girlfriend and I came across some of their games in a kids' hobby store while on a family road trip last year. The game that stood out the most on the shelf was a new release called Photosynthesis, a game about players competing to grow a small forest. The box art and pictures on the back made the game look very pretty, and its educational theme about the life cycle of plants intrigued us. So we bought a copy and held onto it until our kid's birthday in the fall.

The game is recommended for ages eight and older, and is easy to dismiss as just a "kids' game", especially given its status as "edutainment". However, this game is more complicated than your standard kids' fare. There actually is some strategy involved, and the game runs for about 90-minutes. It's not a random dial-flicker or dice-roller like Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, or other such Milton Bradley / Hasbro / Parker Bros. games that make up a kid's board game shelf. It also has deeper strategy than the children's version of Carcassone (which our kid also has). This game (along with most of Blue Orange's catalog) is definitely geared towards family night, in which people of all ages are playing.

The game board is very pretty once multiple trees of different colors are placed.

A vibrant forest

This game's components certainly are pretty. The trees (and everything else) are simple cardboard cutouts, but they are printed on some thick and sturdy cardstock. Production quality is pretty high for a kid's game, and that high quality is always important when you're playing a game with kids, as it means the game will last longer before falling apart. All the colors are vibrant and attractive, and they all mix together very well when the trees are all clumped together on the board. I'm not particularly keen on the blue evergreens, which look very unnatural and kind of out of place. Maybe Blue Orange could have gone with more of a blue-green color? Or maybe red, as in "redwood"? Ah well, it's not a big deal. Maybe the blue trees are an homage to the company's name. The game looks very pretty, in any case.

The gameplay is pretty simple and elegant. Each turn, sunlight comes from a particular direction on the board, and any trees that are not blocked by an adjacent tree (e.g. the tree is not "in the shadow" of another tree) collects sunlight points for the owning player. Each player then spends their sunlight points to plant new seeds on the board, or to grow existing seeds into small trees, to grow an existing tree from small to medium or medium to large, or to let a large tree die. When a large tree dies, it creates new soil, which is awarded to the owning player as victory points. Trees in spaces further from the edges of the board score more points.

The sun moves across the board each turn, providing sunlight and shade to different trees.

Each round the sun moves around the board, casting different trees in the shadows of other trees. Medium and large trees also collect more sunlight, cast longer shadows, and can collect sunlight if partially-obstructed by smaller trees. So where you put the trees, and how tall you let them grow, will determine whether they will get sunlight, or if they will block other players' trees. You also have trade offs between planting more trees or growing your existing trees. Your own trees can also block your other trees, so you have to keep that in mind when you are placing or growing your trees.

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Dark Souls title

A couple years ago, I posted about a burning question in Dark Souls' lore: who is the "forgotten" god of war (first-born sun of Gwyn) who was expunged from the annals of Anor Londo? At the time, the leading theory was that Solaire was intended to be the firstborn god of war, and I tentatively went along with that interpretation. There were a few holes in the theory, a lot of it was circumstantial, and there were even a couple of alternative possibilities. I also wholly admitted that it was very likely that the god of war character simply wasn't present in the original game, except through the lore references in the environment and item descriptions. Dark Souls II did little to answer this question, other than to provide a possible name for the god of war: Faraam. Well, it turns out that Dark Souls III finally answers this question, and all of us who thought it might be Solaire were totally wrong - and may even look foolish in retrospect.

As is so often the case with Souls games, you'll have to work hard to find all the good lore. In this case, you'll need to find and conquer the optional Archdragon Peak area of the game, which, itself, requires that you find the Untended Graves optional area as well.

These statues of the Nameless King resemble the statue and pose of Gwyn in the first game.

Once you make it to Archdragon Peak, you'll be treated with a large, sunny area populated with serpent men that should look familiar to veteran Dark Souls players. I'm still unclear regarding the lore behind these enemies. The original man serpents from Dark Souls were hybrid creations of Seath's experiments. Perhaps the man serpents in Archdragon Peak are the progeny of the original serpent men from Sen's Fortress. More importantly, however, is that Archdragon Peak is also home to the Ancient Wyvern and the Nameless King.

During your encounter with the Ancient Wyvern, you'll get your first clue as to the lore that will be uncovered in this area. You'll find regal statues of a being holding a massive swordspear weapon. The style and pose of this statue may remind you of the statues of Gwyn that you saw in Anor Londo in both Dark Souls and Dark Souls III. The way that the character is standing, and the way that he's holding his weapon looks like he could fit in perfectly standing next to Gwyn in the Anor Londo cathedral...

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Dark Souls title
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 1, 2016:
The release of Dark Souls III has finally answered this question. That game has rendered the speculation below completely moot and invalid. However, this post will remain preserved for posterity.

There is considerable debate within the Dark Souls fan base regarding whether or not Knight Solaire of Astora may be the forgotten son of Lord Gwyn, and the God of War. The game contains many references to a forgotten God of War, who was the son of Lord Gwyn, the God of Sunlight. The primary source for this is the item description for the Ring of the Sun's Firstborn:

Dark Souls - Ring of the Sun's Firstborn
"Lord Gwyn's firstborn, who inherited the
sunlight, once wore this ancient ring.
Boosts the strength of miracles.
 
Lord Gwyn's firstborn was a god of war,
but his foolishness led to a loss of the
annals, and rescinding of his deific status.
Today, even his name is not known.
"

The game doesn't specify what the God of War did to be stripped from the annals, but the blunder cost him dearly. As a punishment, Gwyn and the other gods rescinded the God of War's diefic status and expelled him from Anor Londo.

But it didn't end there. Based on the content of the game itself, it appears that the gods also removed all references to him. This included removing or destroying any statues depicting him and redacting his name from records. Both his name and face are lost to history, as is his fate. Was he cast out of Anor Londo? Was he made mortal? Was he cast out of the world, entirely?

Dark Souls - Anor Londo missing statue Dark Souls - smashed Sunlight Altar
The gods made an effort to eradicate all records and traces of the God of War.
Statues of him were removed or destroyed all throughout Anor Londo and Lordran.

If the Warriors of Sunlight covenant (lead by the God of War) existed prior to the God of War's expulsion from Anor Londo, then it would also stand to reason that the gods disbanded the covenant. It's highly unlikely that gods would have permitted the covenant to continue to function, since its followers would be able to continue to teach of the existence of the God of War. These followers would likely have been forced to renounce the covenant or become an underground cult. The fact that the covenant still exists and has followers is likely due to the waning influence of the gods after Gwyn left to link the flames and the gods were forced to abandon Anor Londo.

The Sunlight Medal does offer one clue as to the fate of the God of War and his covenant. It suggests that the forgotten god still lives, and still watches over his followers:

Dark Souls - Sunlight Medal
"This faintly warm medal engraved with the
symbol of the Sun, is the ultimate honor,
awarded to those who summon the Warrior
of Sunlight and complete a goal.
 
The symbol represents Lord Gwyn's firstborn,
who lost his deity status and was expunged
from the annals. But the old God of War
still watches closely over his warriors.
"

In any case, we meet one NPC Warrior of Sunlight during the game: Solaire of Astora.

Solaire doesn't reveal much about himself. He is a Warrior of the Sunlight who has a strong reverence for the sun itself. In fact, he is on a possibly futile attempt to obtain his own "sun"...

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My dad and I drove up to Utah today (near Zion National Park) to try to get an optimal view of the solar eclipse. And boy did we have a good view!

I managed to snap the following pictures with my cell phone (by holding solar-filtered sunglasses up to the camera lense).

May 20, 2012 Eclipse (3) - Full
Full solar eclipse.
One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

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