Parsex is Way Better than it Sounds
Want to hear a secret I haven’t told anyone else ever? I think 4X games kind of drag. I mean, you’ve got to explore, expand, and exploit, and by the time we finally reach that point, I’m all, enough already, but then you’ve gotta go exterminate everyone too. I mean, sheesh!
Alright, alright, put down those torches, you’ll make black spots on the ceiling. And anyway, I’m just being controversial to bait extra clicks. The real problem is that while I love 4X games, I rarely have enough time to get through the exploit part, let alone the meatier extermination bits.
Once again, Todd Sanders leaps to the rescue, this time with Parsex — pardon me, Parsec X, which for the life of me I cannot pronounce or spell properly. Here’s a game that’s 4X, compact, free (to print yourself, anyway), and takes about 30 minutes to play. Oh, and even though you wouldn’t expect a 30-minute 4X game to be any good, this one is actually pretty respectable.
Before you even settle in to play Parsec X for real, it already feels like a 4X game. While a few of Todd’s games begin with some sort of preparation play, whether learning majick to ready yourself for a wizard duel in Mage Clash, gathering silk and wine and glassware to ready your trade caravans in Serica: Plains of Dust, or assembling the best possible pirate airship in Aether Captains: Dread Supremacy, the early options in Parsec X are easily the most fluid, interesting, and full of more long-term import than I’ve seen yet in a Todd Sanders game. Not only do you begin by choosing whether your space-nation embraces flimsy (but affordable to upgrade) Wanderer-class starships or heftier albeit pricier Raiders, you also get to choose what sort of space-going species you’re commanding. Among others, you could, for instance, be the defense-oriented (and probably racist) Purist Hegemony, the ability-blocking Altair Divide, or the ultra-creepy “Conversation.” Why are they creepy, you ask? Duh — because they’re called “The Conversation.” It only gets worse when you read their national motto: “JOIN US FREE BEINGS.” Brrr.
To be fair, while it’s ultimately cool to select an imperial identity right at the start, not all of these starting options are fully balanced. You have an equal chance of being gifted with the Aiiji’s absurd income of space-pennies as you do of getting saddled with the Gaian Empire’s ore discount on Shield Tech, which since there isn’t any ore cost to upgrading Shields, it’s kind of like a leather coat manufacturer getting a discount on tapioca.
Still, from the very first moment, Parsec X presents you with a healthy offering of interesting decisions, especially considering the thing is already surprisingly small on the table. And the game itself hasn’t even started.
From there, you know the drill. Everything you’d expect from a 4X, you do here, only in micro.
Exploiting resources and assigning research? Check! Every turn sees you strip-mining, taxing, and squeezing your planets and colony moons for ore, energy, credits, and influence. Then you can spend those resources for all sorts of new technology, whether investing in faster and more efficient engines, better offensive and defensive weapons, or just training for better officer candidates aboard your vessels. You’ll also be factoring in the coming turn’s energy and resource needs, because if you don’t have power to launch your ships through the heavens, well… you suck. Also, you’ll want to leave a nest egg aside in case you happen upon a virgin world begging for colonization, which brings us to…
Exploration and expansion? Check! Not only will you stumble across various worlds ripe for colonization or terraforming, you also run the risk of meeting dangerous Xenophobic Empires that will happily blast your ships out of the sky until you show up with Fusion Cannons and turn their once-glorious statues into less-remembered Ozymandian relics. Or Elder Civilizations that require you to ply them with your limited influence reserves before they’ll deign to join your empire. These discoveries make every map different, full of tantalizing shipyard moons or defenseless farming worlds, all waiting to be added to your empire…
Extermination and diplomacy? Check! Since your goal is to add four planets to your empire, and since there aren’t enough worlds to go around, you’re going to butt heads with another player eventually. This doesn’t work as well in a two-player game, but with four, it’s sublime, as everyone is constantly nipping at each other’s heels, launching sudden raids to conquer an unprotected weak spot or preemptively eliminate an encroaching fleet. How much you talk is up to you and your group, but if you aren’t the kind of players who are vocal about ganging up on the lead player, then you probably don’t deserve to win any game ever, let alone Parsec X.
Best of all, it really does only take 30 minutes from start to finish. Sure, it might take an extra ten if you need to explain the rules, plus another five if everyone’s being truly cutthroat, and the occasional gap in the rules might make you spend one more minute figuring out how to house-rule a particular situation, but even with all those caveats it’s possibly the fastest 4X game I’ve ever played. Nothing else is springing to mind, that’s for certain. And even though you’d expect any 30-minute 4X game to be pared back beyond the point of interest — and it has been pared back, make no mistake; this isn’t some miracle-game, after all — it’s still surprisingly deep for what it is, and always fun with the right group that doesn’t require a flashy hex-board to hold their interest. So don’t play it with your ADHD Anonymous group or anything.
Todd Sanders was already a champion of solo print-and-play games, but Parsec X proves that he can do multiplayer games with all the panache, recognizable graphic language, and grasp of what makes games fun that he’s exhibited in the past. Since it’s free, there’s really very little reason not to check it out.
I really would have picked a different name though. Parsec X. Parsecks. Parsex. Parsecks…cks. Argh.