Review: Ribbon Drive

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Ribbon Drive

Ribbon Drive

Ribbon Drive is an indie RPG by Joe McDonald about road trips. I picked up a copy because I like the emotional space of a road trip, and because the system resonates with a weird idea I had for an RPG back in California. I had this 5 disc CD player and I wanted to load it up with one CD per player, then use the random shuffle as a task resolution system.

Ribbon Drive doesn’t do that. What it does do is have each player bring a mix CD. There’s no GM, by the by. So each player brings a mix CD and you choose one randomly and listen to the first song. That’s the nature of the road trip; that’s what you use to decide where you’re going, and why you’re all going there.

The second song is all about the characters. Same basic idea, but you come up with characters based on the second song and the frame determined by the first song. You have a name, two desired futures for the character, and three traits.

From there on in, you’re just framing scenes based on whatever song happens to be playing at the time. When a CD ends, you slot in another one, also at random. Anyone can jump into a scene, scenes are framed in round-robin order, and so forth. It’s pretty standard indie game scene-framing technique.

There’s a set of rules for introducing obstacles, which provide characters with opportunities to cross off (read: overcome) their traits. That’s one of the big narrative drivers. The other one is the futures. During play, you can either circle (achieve) or cross off (set aside) your futures; the first person to cross off both of her futures is the protagonist. You can see the assumptions of the game in that rule: Joe’s ideal road trip is one in which someone transcends their desires. And, hey, I can get behind that.

It is possible for a session to end without anyone reaching this state, of course, and that’s acknowledged in the rules. But I don’t think that’s really the intended outcome.

I would absolutely play this game. It looks like fun and it hits a bunch of my sweet spots. I love that it’s designed for play in a single session, and I love that the mechanics actually support that goal.

I’m not entirely sure that I love that I bought this game. OK, it comes in a DVD case with a nicely presented rulebook. Kevin Allen Jr. cranked out some great photography and layout on that sucker. Also there’s a mix CD included just in case you need the inspiration or whatever.

But man, thirty bucks. It’s like 24 pages of DVD-booklet sized text and if I’d gone just a little bit further with the description above, you’d have all the rules already. I would feel OK about this if I knew a cut of the sales was going to the artists on the CD, which it may well be for all I know.

The 24 pages are really solid. If I’d given you more rules, you’d have the rules, but you wouldn’t have the examples and a bunch of good advice about scene framing. Joe put a ton of work into this sucker, and as much as I’m not sure about the thirty bucks, I can’t say it ought to be free, either.

Edit: On reflection, and on clarification from Joe below — yeah, I think I did get what I paid for. It’s worth noting that a chunk of what I paid for was the production values, which are sky high, which is worth mentioning again. In the back of my brain I had something about thirty bucks versus the fifteen bucks or so I paid for My Life With Master. But that’s not fair. Joe deliberately went high end with this sucker in the same way that Pathfinder is a high end mainstream rulebook.

So I’m not unhappy about buying it at all. The bit that follows about deciding for yourself if you want to buy it, that stands.

I dunno, this isn’t a “don’t buy,” because you can figure that out for yourself given what I’ve said. I like the game a lot. If a good game about road trips and transcending your own desires (plus a CD) is worth thirty bucks to you, you ought to buy it.

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4 Responses to “Review: Ribbon Drive”

  1. buriedwithoutceremony Says:

    Hey Bryant,
    Great overview.

    Pricing is a really weird thing.

    Here’s why it costs this much:
    The game costs me $9 in base material costs, if I’m producing it in runs of 100. I don’t feel comfortable mentioning how much Kevin cost me, but it did add a few dollars to the cost of the first print run. I gave a copy of the game to each of the artists that contributed music, as well as ones to each of the people who inspired the project and some to reviewers.

    I wanted to be able to sell direct to stores. Stores expect 40%-50% off the cover price, so that they can make profits. I sell direct to stores for $16 (just over 50%). That gives me a few dollars off each direct-to-store sale.

    Selling direct-to-customers, I sort of make a killing. I’ve tried to offset that by offering free shipping to North America (which means I’m effectively charging $27 to Canadians and $25 to Americans, plus the cost of shipping). But, basically, if I’m going to sell to stores, and make a profit off the first 200 units, that’s the price I’m going to sell at.

    So, I hope that helps unpack my pricing decision. It’s steep, yes. But it’s a solid product, and a solid game, and I feel like it is worth $30.

    That said, one of my design goals for my next project is that I be able to sell it for $4. Because, yes, $30 is a lot of money.

    Other than the price, I”m glad you like it!

    • Bryant Says:

      Ow, nine bucks for base material? That explains a lot. I figured in the effect of selling direct to stores, but I didn’t figure nine bucks for the base material. (And obviously you can’t discount on direct sales, or stores will get snippy about stocking it.)

      I don’t think it’s /not/ worth it, I just think it’s fair to say yeah, you’re paying for the physical object (DVD case, CD, Kevin Allen design) in a way one might not expect. I should clarify that a bit in the review and I will.

      Thanks sincerely for commenting and the email as well, which I will respond to when I’m not on my way out the door. As soon as I can get some actual play out of this I’ll do an AP report.

  2. oberonthefool Says:

    Man, I wish I’d taken a closer look at this at the booth. You would have had me at “Thickets”.

  3. Ribbon Drive | Buried Without Ceremony Says:

    […] An Artist, Somewhere In Kansas… (pt. 1-4). Reviews at: The Gamer Traveller (Daniel M. Perez), Claw/Claw/Peck (Bryant Durrell), Robin D. Laws – Gencon Day 3, mentioned on This Just In… From Gencon (podcast, […]

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