Ralph Rosario: A Designer’s Dilemma

Don’t be afraid to try new things or implement new ideas

Ralph Rosario: A Designer’s Dilemma

Rosario was always one to step outside his comfort zone.  Growing up in a family of introverts, Ralph turned to sports and tabletop games for social interaction.

In college, Rosario’s mom sent him Catan and Carcassone.  Busy with sports and studies at the time, Rosario believed these games to be ‘too difficult’ to mess with.  Later, when his girlfriend had a major knee injury, boredom got the best of them and they dusted off the Euro games they would very quickly grow to love.  Jaunts to Goodwill and garage sales soon led to Rosario’s current collection of over 50 games.

Rosario became so immersed in games that he decided to try his hand at designing his own.  One day, Ralph was listening to a Ludology podcast discussing the prisoner’s dilemma.  Having majored in psychology, Ralph was naturally intrigued and knew he wanted to incorporate the powerful decision-making mechanic into a game.  He believes the mechanic not only forces tough choices, but also reveals the nature of each player.  As Rosario explains, “In desperate situations, players seek out everything for themselves.  [This mechanic] evokes emotions when someone betrays you.”  The Alpha, Ralph’s first published game, incorporates area control, conflict, risk, and perhaps most importantly, reading the room.  “People who are more outgoing or extroverted enjoy talking trash and the sabotage aspect because they will rile each other up or question people on their choices.  Introverts think carefully and won’t say anything to anyone. You need to try to get into everyone’s head.”

While carefully constructing the rules for The Alpha, Rosario unwittingly made a tabletop game and a mind game.  While the mechanic was locked, choosing an appropriate theme was a little more complicated.  Rosario says he toyed with the idea of using gangs, militaries, or even businesses fighting, but when he stumbled across various learnings about wolves, he knew he had the perfect fit.  “When hunting, the goal is the food, so there is a natural fight instinct.  However, wolves are actually able to recognize boundaries set by other packs and generally don’t cross them, so they aren’t necessarily trying to enter conflict with others.”

Once the theme was selected, in-depth play testing followed.  As a beloved counselor in a grade school, Ralph knows a thing or two about the importance of being a good listener and asking a lot of questions.  These life skills, as it turns out, lend themselves perfectly to the art of design iteration.  “The hardest part of play testing is weeding through all of it because feedback can be diverse.” Ralph says he learned to look for the overarching themes of play tester feedback as opposed to trying to incorporate each individual suggestion.

Rosario’s main objective was to create a memorable game, which he defines as a game that ‘creates an emotional response’.  In The Alpha, Ralph explains players may begin to feel frustrated because of other’s actions or the results of a die roll.  However, this tension keeps players engaged and forces them to adapt to win the game.  The game is very social in nature, but because you are acting as a wolf rather than a person, it keeps the interaction ‘psychologically safer’.

For other first time game inventors, Rosario has a few pieces of advice.  One could argue, however, that it’s just great life advice in general.  First, “Don’t be afraid to try new things or implement new ideas.  If I was stuck in my own ways, the game never would have [come to fruition].” Second, “Be willing to listen more than you are ready to defend yourself.  [Playtesters] are taking time out of their day for you.  Be vulnerable.”

They say adversity breeds opportunity.  For Ralph, it started with a dilemma.

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