Prison Architect is one of the top tycoon games of 2018 where you assume the role of the warden of a new correctional facility and build it into a state-of-the-art prison. You are responsible for managing the needs of your prisoners, ensuring no one escapes, facilitating job training or education programs, and balancing income (through more prisoners). There is an incredible amount of depth to this game, and getting started is the most boring part. This is my guide to smooth the learning curve and dive right into the meat of the game!
**Prison Architect is on Sale at Humble Bundle for 75% off until Wednesday, September 12th**
The link to the sale page is here – buying the game using the link will help support this website at no additional cost to you!
Subscribing for $12 a month (link to the bundle here) will give you Overwatch to keep (regular price is $40.00).
1. Start with a General Holding Cell (Dormitory)
As the CEO letter suggests, the individual prison cells that you think of when you think of prisons is very expensive to maintain. At the start of each game you have extremely limited funds with barely enough to cover basic construction costs. Your warden office, kitchen, canteen, shower, bathroom, and holding cell all need to be set up just to meet the absolute basics of running a prison. Adding individual cells for ~20 prisoners drives up that starting cost considerably. For the sake of propelling your prison from some shanty into a state-of-the-art facility, save that money to be used to expand elsewhere.
General holding cells also allow you to bring in more prisoners (at the cost of their comfort) which can give another stimulus to your starting income. This gets a little bit more tricky later on if you don’t improve their quality of life. Holding a group of prisoners (some of which may be violent or hostile) in a room with no privacy will breed resentment and cause trouble for your guards. It is a good idea to build those individual prisons as soon as your finances stabilize.
2. Utilize Grants Effectively
How do you stabilize finances? Take advantage of the Prison Architect grants program that gives you a hefty sum of cash to improve your prison. It can be as simple as building a medical ward, or finding 10 illegal narcotics and yields thousands of dollars of cash. I would even go as far as to say that you should exclusively focus on grants until you finish Security Procedure Certification. This means that your prison will have all of the basics covered and none of your prisoners will escape easily. Nothing is worse than building a perfect prison and having your prisoners walking straight up like a literal walk in the park.
Grants are also very useful for gathering the funds to set up job training programs that can make you even more money. When you are ready to take your profits to the next level, the Prison Manufacturing Facility grant hands you $20,000 to produce 30 license plates – with a $10,000 completion bonus at the end. This will not cover the complete cost, but substantially smooths the start-up.
The same goes for any other improvements you may wish to make on your prison. Virtually anything you want to provide for your prisoners will have some sort of grant attached to it. Want to educate them? Taking on the grant and completing it nets you $55,000. Want to get your prisoners used to your prison and cut your own costs? Sending prisoners to do laundry, cooking, and cleaning will net you $20,000 total.
3. Remember to Enclose your Current Prison
When you first start, you won’t be using the entire map for your prison. With just a holding cell, dormitory, kitchen, canteen, etc. there is a limited area where your prisoners can go. The areas they are able to go to have to be fenced off. If they aren’t, then they won’t be able to access the canteen, shower, or anything that isn’t in the same building.
Imagine a prison with no perimeter. Ain’t nobody leaving the building.
It is also worth mentioning that you should use the cheap, $4 fences for this purpose. The expensive $200 ones are for later on when there is more of an escape risk and when you have more of a leeway with funds.
4. Use the Pre-Built Rooms to Start
The most fun part of this game is customizing your prison so that your rooms flow seamlessly between one another. However, starting off with your own designs will leave you frustrated at cash flow problems and space management issues. Use the basic pre-built rooms for your very first game to learn all of the basic game mechanics. It gives you an idea of how much space a prisoner really needs, as well as how to optimize the rest of your facilities.
It seems like they have patched almost all of the bugs to do with room errors so far and have tool-tips to tell you where you went wrong, but occasionally it may be difficult to figure out why your room is still not functional. The pre-built rooms can give you an idea of how to orient the basic structures to avoid this pitfall. On the other hand, this feature also saves you a ton of micromanaging. If you are not too into the specifics of each and every room, this function will help you save time and let you focus on the more enjoyable parts.
5. Maintain a Large Security Force
Attempt to maintain at least a 1:4 ratio of guards to prisoners throughout the game. This prevents many problems from overflowing your prison since your guard will have time to subdue unruly prisoners. There will be moments where you have to search specific cells for contraband and tunnels, and having a solid number of guards gives you more leeway. Instead of sacrificing patrols in certain areas to accomplish this, you will have enough guards to carry out the search with less impact on overall security.
Once you have access to K-9s, get at least 2-3. They are good at sniffing out the tunnels and contraband that your regular guards may miss. Sometimes these good boys find a tunnel with a prisoner still inside it – leading to a subsequent arrest and preventing any awkward PR issues.
Once you are comfortable with the game, there is a wiki for how to set up guard patrols to maximize their efficiency. Instead of a mob of guards randomly going from place to place, this secures the entirety of your prison. CCTVs, sniper towers, and armories are also options you should implement later in the game (when you have higher risk prisoners or more gang trouble).
6. Use Phone Booths instead of Visitation Rooms
After a few days, you will see a notification saying that there are families waiting to see prisoners. My first reaction was just to build an entirely new building for that purpose during the early game, and it turns out I really didn’t have to. If you place a phone booth in the yard, common room, or canteen the prisoners can call their families on their own time. This satisfies the requirement and your prisoners also have a higher average of happiness.
However, there is also a grant you can take on that will largely alleviate the financial cost of setting up the room. It just ends up becoming a logistical nightmare later on when you have a huge prison population trying to cram into a tiny 4-5 prisoner visitation room. Phone booths will save you a ton of headache over the course of this game.
7. Install Sprinklers
On my third game I forgot to install sprinklers. The entire workshop, all of the utilities, and one of the prisoner wings went up in flames and I got fired (ha puns). This usually isnt too much of a problem since you can easily call the fire department to put everything out, but I would recommend you at least put a few in the facilities (kitchen, canteen, classrooms, workshops, offices, etc.). If you lose a prisoner wing, you can throw people into the holding cell. If you lose your kitchen, get ready for a riot.
Carefully protecting your important facilities ensures you won’t be crippled by any sort of fire. In addition, design your prison so that there is a way for emergency personnel to quickly reach any part of the prison. Some people like to design staff only corridors, others like to just have spaces between buildings that firemen can go through. The choice is up to you, but keeping your buildings fire-free benefits your overall profits.
8. Place Showers and Toilets in the Yard
Put a few showers and toilets in your yard so that prisoners can spend more of their own time on hygiene. As soon as you hit 100 or so prisoners, your original shower will be overwhelmed during the designated showering time. Utilizing this space and their own free time to maintain their hygiene is a way to cut back logistical time issues. Nobody likes to be dirty 24/7 and surrounded by hundreds of men with terrible hygiene. Not giving your prisoners enough time to shower will literally cause a riot. This tip is one of the easiest ways to start managing your prisoners’ needs and preventing large-scale calamities.
However, you must remember to use small pipes for ALL of your showers/toilets. As the tool tip will tell you, these larger pipes are what prisoners use to escape and to transport contraband into your prison. Take the appropriate steps to prevent this by not giving them that window of opportunity.
9. Expand Your Kitchen
Food plays a HUGE role in maintaining a calm prison. Hungry prisoners do all sorts of crazy things. Starting riots, murdering each other, becoming suicidal, increasing contraband trade – all of these things are affected by how full a person is. As your prisoner population grows, you absolutely have to increase your kitchen and canteen size. Hire more cooks and set up larger eating areas. You do NOT want to have a hungry population.
If you’re ever wondering why your population really does not like you, take a look at how busy the kitchen and canteen is during meal times. Some prisoners may not even get a chance to get food, and others may get food just in time to have to go back. For the sake of their well-being (or your profits), FEED THEM.
10. Hire a Psychologist
Speaking of managing needs, having a psychologist on board gives you more data to work with. You can now view what the patient is feeling and, more importantly, how to fix it. If your entire population is suffering because you didn’t set up a laundry room, a psychologist will report that information to you. Same goes with things like suicidal thoughts, increasing aggression, and discovering traits the prisoner has that might make them more violent.
I would recommend you hire one as soon as you hit around ~50 or so prisoners. This is early enough in the game for you to have time to build missing facilities, while being late enough for you to have a stable cash flow. Again, there is a grant for this. Use that money to off-set how much a psychologist would actually cost.
11. Ready to Make Prisons Great Again?
Everyone makes a terribly designed prison their first time around. Nobody is able to perfectly map out the facilities to maximize efficiency, profit, and security. We’ve all had that awkward wall placement where you can’t quite fit in furniture and you just have these rows of unused space. Great thing is, there is an option in this game to sell your prison. This option lets you pass on your current establishment to a wealthy buyer, and start with a fresh map. You get to keep your cash. This way you can transition seamlessly through your first play-through and into your first venture into the shady world of abusing prisoners for profit.
Prison Architect is one of the easier games to get into due to its well-designed campaign and numerous tool tips. However, the small problems I faced really took away some of the enjoyability of an otherwise perfect tycoon game. Hopefully this guide will help you dive right into the more interest aspects of managing a prison!
Where to buy the game:
Humble Bundle currently has Prison Architect on sale for 75% off until Wednesday, September 12th. Follow the link here for the store page. Buying through this link will help support the running of this website at no additional cost to you as well!