Parsely is a hardcover book that contains 12 adventures. Inspired by old computer text-based adventure games, Parsely is a like a D&D escape room party game. And it’s a damn good party game, y’all.
My wife and I have played these games during long road trips. But I’ve also run them for crowds of 20+ people. It was equally fun with almost any number of people.
It’s the kind of game best explained with words and gestures, rather than simple text. But I’ll try to demonstrate what Parsely is and why it’s fun.
Are you ready to enter? [Y/N]
Before the first 3D video game came out (Skyrim, 2011), all video games were text-based adventures. These were simple scenarios with limited interactions. The player would type their actions into the game, and if it was a valid command, the game would respond with new content.
You stand in front of a cottage with green siding and a blue door. Exits are North, South, and Dennis. > go north You step up to the cottage and look around. A dusty welcome mat greets you. It's old and long abandoned. Still has some charm though. The door is locked. > examine mat You lift up the welcome mat and discover an old key underneath. > take key You take the key, and put it in your pocket. > use key on door You put the key in the door, and it opens with a loud creak. Exits are Back and Forward.
Parsely evokes these older video games but puts a person in the role of the computer. This person is called “The Parser” and acts kinda like the GM of a traditional roleplaying game.
Players take turns issuing simple commands for The Parser to respond.
And up until now this sounds like a crappy version of D&D with less rules. But there are two things that make Parsely special:
1. The Format of the Book
I know, I know. I talk about formatting and presentation all the time. But Parsely really is something special. Here’s what a Parsely adventure looks like:
See how it looks almost like a script? The Parser just reads the black text to the players (text in blue is secret stuff). The players respond using simple commands to try and interact with the environment. It clearly outlines what you can interact with, room exits, etc.
The first few pages of the book explain how to interpret the text and give advice on how to make the game more engaging and fun.
This is REALLY easy, y’all. I talk about information presentation, and minimal prep; this adventure is just a script. You read the script to your friends, and if they say that right thing you read more of the script.
You don’t need to prepare anything or memorize details; just read the script.
It’s super easy. But more importantly…
2. You Are a Snarky Computer
The crappiest part of these old text-based video games was trying to read the mind of the computer. You might type the same command a dozen times trying to figure out if you’re on the wrong track, or just using the wrong words.
> grab key I don't understand that command. > take key I don't understand that command. > interact key I don't understand that command. > hold key I don't understand that command. > use key You use the key to open the lock.
But with a person interpreting commands there’s more freedom and forgiveness. Maybe you’ll respond like the computer would, just to be funny and give your friends a hard time. You can drop sarcastic hints to help them move along. Or just accept the wrong command because, hey, you know what they’re trying to say.
> grab key The key doesn't like being pawed at! > take key You take the key, hold it for a while, and then put it back in your pocket. > interact key You talk to the key, but it says nothing. > hold key It's sharp! And cold. You put it back. > use key You use the key to open the lock.
The interaction between the Parser and the players provides a lot of surprising comedy.
The party game aspect comes from the turn order rules. Each player can only give ONE command before it’s the next players turn. This has some interesting implications.
- Players have to work together, paying attention to what’s happening even when it’s not their turn. If the last player stepped into the cottage, the next player has to remember that they don’t have the key any more.
- Even if a player gives the wrong command, the next player can learn from their mistakes and make progress. Plus it’s funny when a player gives the wrong command; wasting their turn and groaning.
- It’s funny when players disagree on how to solve a puzzle. “I go left”, while the next player thinks differently, “I go right”.
- Players can talk and scheme and plan, but on their turn they can only speak a single command. This lets everyone be the leader, and feel the pressure/joy of the hotseat.
Just to be clear: This is not a tabletop roleplaying game. Most puzzles only have one solution, and the point of the game is to figure out that solution. There isn’t much freedom. Commands are limited and responses are also limited.
There’s only one way to defeat the troll.
Think of it like an escape room. It’s about solving the puzzles, more than telling a story.
It’s a Blast!
The Parsely book is beautiful, well laid out, and affordable. It includes 12 adventures, most of which take an hour or two to play through. Each adventure has an age rating and a difficulty level, which is nice. Makes it easy to know what you want to play depending on the group.
- The Action Castle I, II, III. The first adventure acts like a quick tutorial, and the two sequels are more complex fantasy adventures.
- Blackboard Jungle. A short adventure set in a high school.
- Dangertown Beatdown. An 80s gritty buddy cop mystery. Mature players only!
- Flaming Goat! A very short, bizarre puzzle.
- Jungle Adventure. Think Indiana Jones.
- Pumpkin Town. A spoopy holloween adventure where you’re a kid who gets pulled into a creepy adventure.
- Six-Gun Showdown. A clever spaghetti western setting.
- Space Station. A dangerous escape from a failing space station.
- Spooky Manor. One of the more complex adventures, you must deliver a package inside a strange victorian manor.
- Z-Ward. Another complex adventure about surviving the zombie apocalypse.
It’s a low-prep innovative adventure game that can be enjoyed with almost any number of people, any age range, stranger or family, and everyone in between. Buy it. It’s the perfect game to get your less nerdy friends-family into adveture games, or just make a thanksgiving dinner more engaging.