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Parsely Turns Classic Adventure Games Into Fun For Everyone

A new spin on a retro form of text adventure games.


It’s wild to see how far computer games have come in my lifetime. Modern RPGs can be like a Hollywood blockbuster full of realistic graphics, branching storylines and romanceable characters. When I was a kid, most of these games were text adventures where half the challenge was figuring out the right words to convince the computer to do the thing you wanted. Designer Jared Sorenson brought this style of game to the tabletop with Action Castle, a loving tribute to Zork in both style and play. 12 of these games have been collected in a volume entitled Parsely with entries that range from fantasy to sci-fi and plenty of genres in between. Did these games move past nostalgia into full on fun? Let’s play to find out.

The rules for Parsely are extremely simple. One player, the Parser, reads the room descriptions and judges the inputs the players make. The Parser knows what commands move the game forward and what commands might kill off the player early if they’re not careful. Everyone else is playing the game in a way that throws me back to sleepover as a kid when me and my friends put our heads together to solve the puzzles that made these games memorable. It’s up to the Parser if “look at tree” offers the same information as “examine tree” though as a human it can be a little more flexible. It’s also up to the Parser how to creatively say no when the player tries something wild like “marry tree”. Many of these games have some kind of sarcastic response to attempts like that. The game leans towards comedy as players argue with each other over how to proceed and the Parser gets sassy when the players wander far off the path.

There are two things working against the players. The first is a time limit, somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes. I lean toward the former in my games because it keeps the pressure on the players and also means we can usually fit two games in a 2 hour con slot or board game night. The second is the score. Every Parsely game has a score of 100 points to obtain and finishing one at 96 can really set an itch that some players need to scratch.Gracious Parsers might tell the players what they missed but if the game ends early enough it’s fun to watch the players speed run through the first parts like Groundhog Day to get to the stuff they missed in a second playthrough.

This is not a traditional RPG but it can be a good introduction to RPG style gaming for people who aren’t into the idea. It’s more of a puzzle game that people who like escape rooms would enjoy. The fact that it’s low prep and just requires the book also means it can be played in places that might otherwise hinder a regular RPG such as bars, parties or even waiting in line at a convention. This also gives it a large seat count. I haven’t done games with hundreds of people like the designer has claimed but I have seen it take over a room full of a dozen people or so at a house party as the puzzle aspects wiggle into everyone’s minds.

I think this game reacts well to an older audience who remember playing these text adventure games. Playing it with younger folks doesn’t grab at those same nostalgic feelings but it can trigger some fun stories as people talk about video games and how they’ve gotten frustrated at specific moments within. Each tale in the book is rated for complexity and content. If I ran this for a room full of old school computer nerds I would feel okay jumping into something more complex. For a table full of people who just like puzzles, I’d start with a beginner game and adjust my expectations based on how they handle it.

Parsely puts a new spin on a classic form of adventure games and preserves a great part of our history in the meantime.

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

Man I spent many a frustrating afternoon trying to figure those old text games.

I could see this being a fun mini game inside a adventure. A rouge AI stuck in a progaming error that can only be deactivated by navigating its current protocol a text based adventure.


In a strange bit of synchronicity, I just ran this game for the first time last weekend. We had a great time with it.

I'm curious as to why this relatively old game has suddenly re-entered our collective consciousness.


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Our GM ran this for us a while back and it was a lot of fun. Not something we'd wanna do every session, but it was great as a 'filler' for when people didn't show up.
I think though, that it might require the Players all have experienced the text-based games to 'get it'.

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