Gaming Magazine

Why ‘Prison Architect’ is a Game You Should Be Playing

Posted on the 23 May 2013 by House Of Geekery @houseofgeekery

There’s a tendency for game developers, especially those on the tablet and handheld formats, to design games specifically to be addictive in order to nickel and dime the gamers over extra content and shortcuts. It is unbelievably refreshing to play a game that is addictive because it’s bloody good. Back in the day a production company called Bullfrog put out Theme Park and Theme Hospital, management sims that balanced the challenge of building and managing a business with a dark, cartoony humor. If you remember enjoying those games, or are sick of the billion Smurf Village knock-offs polluting the App Store, then you must - must – play Prison Architect.

Prison Architect

Look at all the fun!

It should be mentioned from the outset that this is a game in the alpha testing stage: it’s still buggy up the butt and missing many features that will be present in the final release. That said it is still immensely playable and will provide plenty of challenges for gamers, and the developers have a very open communication with the alpha players and respond to bug reports. The game is what it says on the cover – you’re challenge is to build a prison. Twenty-four hours after the game begins the first busload of prisoners get delivered to your gate, leaving you to set up a holding cell, canteen and yard and hiring wardens, guards and chefs. This is simple, good fun but it’s when the orange jump-suited charges turn up turn up at the door that things become a juggling act.

Keeping the prisoners settled and productive is the real aim of the game. They must be fed, entertained and provided with adequate hygiene and exercise. In addition the government grants that start out your mission does not stretch very far, leaving the player to put the prisoners to work producing license plates in order to fund changes. If you keep all your prisoners locked in the workshop day in and day out you can’t expect them to behave themselves, so you also need to ensure that their entertainment needs are met with visitor rooms, libraries, a yard, television, phone booths. Being an institution for voilent criminals it doesn’t take much for hostile activity to turn into hostile actions. Stabbings will occur if the guards aren’t vigilant enough searching prisoners and restless inmates may spend the night smashing up their cell. Not enough showers available will lead to beatings that the guards must break up. This can lead to lockdowns and solitary confinement. 


Whilst the player is driven by expanding their prison in order to accommodate more prisoners the real challenge is striking the balance between all the different factors in harmonious incarceration. The graphics are simple but effective and the cartoon characters (who resemble legless Zero Punctuation characters) add a very twisted sense of humor when juxtaposed against the pools of blood beneath the stabbing victims. There are some unintentionally funny moments – like when a lack of security in my first attempt saw a naked South Park-looking prisoner sprinting across the yard towards freedom, and it all adds to the charm of the game.

Prison Architect is in it’s infancy, making now the perfect time to get on board and offer input as it expands and grows. It’s unlikely that you’ll play a more unique, entertaining and addictive new indie game this year.

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