Interview with Mark Cooke from PSC Games
I reached out to Mark from the Plastic Soldier Company’s games publishing sister company, PSC Games. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the company, its history, and its recent hits. Naturally, I couldn’t let the chance slip to talk about their hottest news from the last week or so, the announcement of a tie-in with Paradox Interactive’s smash hit game, Prison Architect.
Me: Hi, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. For starters, who are you, what do you do at Plastic Soldier Company, and which game is currently on your table the most?
Mark: I’m Mark Cooke, Operations Director for PSC Games. Day to day, I’m mainly overseeing the project management and production of our games, and working with publishing partners to produce our games in multiple languages. Unfortunately due to the current situation I’m not really playing many games on a table! I’ve been playing a few prototypes online though, including Prison Architect.
Me: For anyone reading this, who may not know much about Plastic Soldier Company and PSC Games, can you give us a quick summary of who they are, and what they make?
Mark: Plastic Soldier Company formed about 15 years ago and focused on making historic miniatures. PSC Games was formed about 5 years ago to publish board games with a historical or combat theme.
Me: I’ve noticed PSC Games seem to be moving into more mainstream-style games, in addition to their traditional war games. Is this part of a new direction for the company?
Mark: Yes, it has been quite organic though, as PSC Games built up a reputation for quality, fun, games, we’ve had more designers submitting games and other organisations wanting to partner with us. This has led to some exciting upcoming projects that I’m really looking forward to working on.
Me: Has the success of the Rome and Roll: Gladiators Kickstarter surprised you at all?
Mark: It’s always a bit nerve-wracking launching a new Kickstarter, you just never know how it’s going to do on the day, or what competition you might be going up against! But we were confident with this one, as it’s got a fabulous design team behind it, and there’s a lot of love for the base game.
Me: Are there any plans for more Rome and Roll expansions?
Mark: Dávid and Nick are always planning! We haven’t scheduled anything in yet, but that’s not to say there won’t be any.
Me: The announcement for Prison Architect: Cardboard County Penitentiary came out of the blue. It seems like a big coup, how did the partnership come about?
Mark: Mats at Paradox heads up their partnerships and licensing, and is always on the lookout for opportunities. He’s also an avid board gamer, and is a fan of some of PSC Games’ titles. At Essen Spiel a couple of years ago, he swung by the booth and got chatting to Will Townshend (owner of PSC Games), and a relationship developed from there. Some of the designers we work with are massive fans of their games so it seemed like a natural fit.
Me: I saw Dávid Turczi was playing a prototype of Prison Architect before Christmas, so how long has it been in development?
Mark: It’s been quite a while, coming up on a year. The initial stages of designing the bones of the game were relatively straightforward, but we were struggling to make it feel fun. After many months of iterations and hair-pulling, it became a really fun and clever game. There’s still some of that original design evident in its current form, but it’s also changed dramatically too!
Me: How closely are you working with Paradox Interactive / Double Eleven to create a physical version of their game?
Mark: We are working really closely with the Prison Architect team at Paradox. A lot of them are board gamers, so are really keen for us to make this game! They have also been really helpful in advising on what could be quite a sensitive topic in some countries, and sharing how they’ve approached this. We have regular meetings with them, and a Slack channel that we’re all able to communicate together on.
Me: How difficult a challenge is it to keep the same feel and aesthetic of Prison Architect, but come up with a game which works on tabletop instead of a screen?
Mark: The main challenge of pairing down a video game to be a fun board game is choosing what to include and what not to, as video games can be quite expansive compared to what you’re able to include in a box. The initial designs for the board game were taking over 4 hours to play! However, through playtesting and refining, we were able to bring some of that down, cut some stuff out without it losing the feel of Prison Architect, and make it a fun and enjoyable 90-120 minute time.
Me: What do you think will be the biggest potential hurdle to overcome in making Prison Architect a hit?
Mark: It will likely be the public perception of incarceration around the globe. This has been addressed in the game though with a twisted mirror effect, as a player you get to decide how you run your prison, “evil money grab” vs “happy rehabilitation”. Caring for the prisoners’ comfort and hygiene is very much a central mechanism that is directly rewarded in the game. However, the game is cartoony and caricature-like enough so that if you don’t wish to wrestle with the ethical dilemma of imprisonment, you don’t have to and can just enjoy the exciting auctions and tile laying aspects.
Me: Speaking of this perception of incarceration, what are PSC Games doing to make sure they approach the game with due sensitivity and research?
Mark: One of the ways we’re doing this is through working with a consultant who was previously incarcerated in the US, who then became a professor of humane architecture for prisons, and is now an architect.
Me: There seems to be a growing trend in bringing video games to the Tabletop. Frostpunk, Kingdom Rush, Stellaris, Stardew Valley to name just a few from recent memory. Do you think this is here to stay?
Mark: I think there’s a wealth of fun and interesting themes and stories within video games that would work well as board games. With the development in mechanics, game design and production techniques, and the growing interest in board games, I think we will continue to see big licences coming in cardboard form!
Me: Do you have anything in the planning stages you can tell us about? If not, are you working on anything you CAN’T tell us about?
Mark: At this stage all eyes are on fulfilling Procyon III, which will be coming to retail soon, as well as a new edition of Blitzkrieg! that combines the expansion in to the base game. We then have Rome & Roll: Gladiators, followed by Prison Architect in May. We have some other stuff lined up (we’re booked up well into 2022 now!), but can’t really talk about it at this stage.
Thanks again to Mark and PSC for talking to me, I’m really looking forward to seeing how both The Defence of Procyon III and Prison Architect turn out. You can be sure you’ll know as soon as I do.