How to Play "Prison Architect": A New Player's Guide to the Game

Updated on June 18, 2019
ZxRed profile image

Red is a computer and video game enthusiast working as a Freelance Computer Troubleshooter. When not tinkering, he is gaming.

What Is Prison Architect?

Prison Architect is a game published and developed by Introversion Software, the makers of DEFCON (2007), Darwinia (2005), and Uplink (2001). The goal of the game is for players to simulate the designing, building, and running a prison according to their tastes. It was released on October 6th, 2015 after years in Steam's Early Access and development. The game is available on Steam.

Prison Architect won the BAFTA Games Award 2016 for Best Persistent Game. It was also a nominee for the Best British Game award in that same year.

"Prison Architect" Trailer

Where Can I Play Prison Architect?

This game is playable on the following platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Xbox 360
  • PC
  • Mac
  • Linux
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Nintendo Switch

Creating Your First Prison

When running the game for the first time, you will be introduced to the game's tutorial story. You will be given the basic controls of the game during the introduction. You can opt to start a new game right away (press Esc) if you feel you already know the controls.

The game's Main Menu screen.
The game's Main Menu screen.
Creating a new prison menu.
Creating a new prison menu.

When you're on the Main Menu, select Create New Prison to start a new game. Here's what the options in this menu means:

  • Small - this determines the size of the map you will be building your prison on. The other options are Medium and Large.
  • Fog of War - If enabled, you will not be able to see areas where you have no guards or staff or CCTV coverage on. I suggest to disable it if you're just learning the game.
  • Continuous intake - Enabling this option will make your prison receive prisoners forever, regardless of the available cells you have. Leave it as disabled for beginners.
  • Generate forests - Trees will spawn on the map after you start the game. Trees are no problem. You can cut them down and sell the logs for extra income in-game.
  • Generate Lakes - A body of water will spawn randomly on the map. You can't build on water. Lakes are good looking on large maps.
  • Generate buildings - Not really a whole building, walls, floors, or pavement spawns randomly on the map. You can demolish them or use them as you see fit.
  • Failure conditions - If enabled, you will lose the game if your prisoners took over your prison in a riot, you've gone bancrupt, or lost too many prisoners to death or escapes.

After you're done customizing the map, go on and Play.

On this land will rise the coolest and hippiest prison in the world! :)
On this land will rise the coolest and hippiest prison in the world! :)
Good architects always starts with a plan.
Good architects always starts with a plan.
Planning sub-menu.
Planning sub-menu.

Designing Your Prison

Take a good look at the map generated. You will notice the two trucks coming. They're bringing in your construction workers and the materials for your prison. The game gives you 8 workers in the beginning of the game. You can hire more later. So, on to designing.

Look at the map and mentally picture what you want your prison to look like. The game helps you with that through the Planning menu. It's second from the right on that row of blue menus.

The Planning menu helps you design your prison without messing it up. It's one of the most important menus in the game. Like a real architect, you draw the walls, objects and pathways through this menu. In this way, you can be sure your prison will turn out as you pictured.

Here's a list of what you should do:

  • Draw the walls or fences around your prison. Some people do this last. But it is important to lay out your walls or fences first in case you forget it while you are already receiving prisoners. Prisoners in this game will escape every time they get a chance.
  • Layout your administration building. The administration building contains the offices for your warden, accountant, chief, etc.
  • Draw your utilities building. The utilities building houses your power station and water pump station. It could house your storage too and cleaning cupboard too.
  • Draw the layout for your canteen and kitchen. The canteen is where the prisoners eat. You should make it big enough depending on the number of prisoners you want to hold initially. The canteen and kitchen should be put in one building. You don't want your cooks to run from building to another bringing that hot pot for your hungry prisoners in the canteen.
  • Draw the cell blocks and/or the holding cell. Cell blocks contains cells 2x3 sq. in size. Holding cells are 5x5. A cell block is the whole building where all your cells are enclosed. Your cell block must have a shower room enough for all prisoners in that block too. Cells need to be enclosed, has a bed and a toilet. Holding cells need a bench and a toilet. Cells are where your prisoners stay for the duration of their sentence. Holding cells are temporary cells if your cell blocks are full.

Prison plan sample.
Prison plan sample.

You should also consider where to put these rooms in your layout:

  • Solitary cell - where the worst prisoners (violent ones who attacked your staff, smuggled a weapon and other contraband, attempted to escape, etc.) are held for a time depending on your prison policy or punishment.
  • Workshop - unlocked after you've research Prison Labor in Bureaucracy. Workshops are used in one of the recovery programs in your prison.
  • Infirmary - where your doctors work. Doctors heal your injured staff or prisoners.
  • Classroom - where prisoners study in one of your recovery programs.
  • Armory - needed to recruit armed guards.
  • Staff Room - where your tired workers and guards rest. Tired workers move slowly.
  • Visitation room - a place where your prisoners' family and friends can do their visit.

Building Your Prison

After you're done with your layout, it's now time to build. You should build your administration building first because you need an office for your warden. Your warden unlocks the Bureaucracy where you can research to unlock more facilities for your prison.

To build your building, you need to put the foundation first. To do that, click on the Foundations menu in the game.

Notice that once you click the Foundations menu, your layout lights up. To build over your layout, choose between Concrete or Bricks and drag over the layout of the administration building.

Add a door to the designated entrance by going to the Objects menu. I recommend using the Staff Door. Only the staff and guards can open the staff door.

Your workers will then start building the foundations for your administration building. You can add the division walls later.

While you're at it, start building the fence around your prison too. You can find the fence on the Materials menu.

Helpful Tip: Grants

You can take grants to help you with the construction and running of your prison. To do that, go to the Reports menu, then Grants tab. You should select Basic Detention Centre and Administrative Centre first. Aside from giving your cash, grants help you better your prison as well.

Another Helpful Tip

To prevent the prisoners from arriving while you are not yet ready, go to the Reports menu, then Prisoners tab and click on whatever that says open to close it. You can turn it open later once your prison is ready.

Building a Room

With our administration building done, it's now time to build an office for our warden. To do that, go the Rooms menu and select Office. An office size is 4x4 sq. Drag a 4x4 sq. in your administration building.

You will notice a warning sign in that tile. To complete the office, add an Office Desk, a Chair, and a Filing Cabinet from the Objects menu.

Once the office is complete, hire a warden to unlock Bureaucracy and start researching right away. To hire the Warden, go to the Staff menu and select the Warden. Put him in the newly build office. You will notice that the office now bocomes the Warden's Office.

To start a research, go to the Bureaucracy menu. Select whatever you want to accomplish first. Note that in order to research more, you need to hire the office responsible for that research. For example, in order to research Deployment, you must have a Chief of Security in office first. The Chief of Security is unlocked when you research Security.

I recommend researching Finance first to unlock the Accountant and to complete the Administrative Centre grant.

Building the Utilities

You probably notice above the electric sign in the warden's office. That is because we do not have power yet in our prison. We need to build the Utilities Building now.

To build a Power Station, go to the Utilities menu. Then connect the administrative building to the power by using the Electrical Cable.

Tips Again!

Note that you don't have to connect the Electric Cables to the light. You just have to supply the cables to the building. But this is different with other equipment such as the cooker, fridge, water pump station, etc.

The water pump stations works differently. You have to connect the pipes directly to the sink, toilet, showers, and washing machine. Do not use large pipes under your cell blocks. Use the small pipes instead. It is said that prisoners tunnel through the large pipes to escape.

Now that your Utilities and Administration are up and running. You can now build the cell blocks, the canteen and the kitchen. Build them up the same way you built the buildings above.

Don't forget to check on your research in the Bureaucracy. Once your first cell block is running, turn on the prisoner intake to receive your first prisoner.

I recommend to complete the Basic Detention Centre grant before you start receiving prisoners.

Check out this prison:

The prison at dawn.
The prison at dawn.
I put two sets of fences. The outer fence and the immediate fences near the buildings. I am playing in a large map.
I put two sets of fences. The outer fence and the immediate fences near the buildings. I am playing in a large map.
The gate of my prison.
The gate of my prison.
The Infirmary and Administrative Building
The Infirmary and Administrative Building
The Utility Building
The Utility Building
Canteen and Kitchen
Canteen and Kitchen
The Visitation Room and Holding Cell
The Visitation Room and Holding Cell
The Medium Security Cell Block. Note the Solitary Cells at the top. I installed metal detectors near the entrance of the cell block to catch prisoners bringing contrabands such as weapons and tools.
The Medium Security Cell Block. Note the Solitary Cells at the top. I installed metal detectors near the entrance of the cell block to catch prisoners bringing contrabands such as weapons and tools.
The Maximum Security Prison. I separated the Low Risk, Normal, and High Risk prisoners because they tend to fight a lot. High risk prisoners tend to attack their fellow prisoners.
The Maximum Security Prison. I separated the Low Risk, Normal, and High Risk prisoners because they tend to fight a lot. High risk prisoners tend to attack their fellow prisoners.
My prison facility.
My prison facility.

Want to Play as a Prisoner in Your Own Prison? Try "Prison Architect's" Escape Mode

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Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Red Fernan


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      • profile image


        5 weeks ago

        I Already have the game, im not good at layout's and im learning how to make them better along with security and stuff, this helped me alot, i would've never found out about this if not you, thank so much!

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        You are the best at helping people around the world

        and thank you for helping me.

      • profile image


        3 years ago


      • ZxRed profile imageAUTHOR

        Red Fernan 

        3 years ago from Philippines


      • ZxRed profile imageAUTHOR

        Red Fernan 

        3 years ago from Philippines

        Thanks. You can look it up on Steam :)

      • brittpinkie profile image

        Brittany Brown 

        3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

        Great guide, looks like my kind of game- I'll have to check it out! :D

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        your doing well

        thank u alot

      • ZxRed profile imageAUTHOR

        Red Fernan 

        4 years ago from Philippines

        You're welcome. Thank you!

      • doris and me profile image

        Mohammad Tanvir Ibne Amin 

        5 years ago from Dhaka

        Excellent beginner's guide for Prison Architect.. Thanks for sharing ...


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