Prison Architect is one of the happier stories to come out of crowdfunding for video games. The game’s pre-alpha build was made available in 2012 and saw its final release in 2015. In 2019, Paradox Interactive acquired the publishing rights for Prison Architect.
Prison Architect plays in a 2-D top-down view, giving the player the scope of the entire prison and allowing them to both build and manage the prison structures, building different facilities for inmates.
It’s a sandbox game that sees the player controlling the inmate populace by implementing reforms or labor programs to counter any rebellious behavior that might be growing.
Additionally, players can also alter various world conditions like weather conditions and gang activities, increasing the game’s difficulty and allowing more replayability for the game, which is to be expected from games like Prison Architect.
Speaking of prisoners, the majority of the game over conditions revolve around them. If there is an uncontrollable riot or escapes, it’s an instant game over. The core gameplay loop is to manage the prisoners and keep them from stirring any unrest while ensuring the prison doesn’t go bankrupt while trying to keep up with the prisoners.
Prisoners come in all forms, there are the harmless inmates that require minimum security, and there are death row inmates for whom sometimes players must carry out the sentence but be warned executing prisoners before their investigation determines their guilt might result in a game over not every inmate is guilty.
The game has left a positive impression on critics and has been a success with plenty of mods and expansion packs to keep you hooked for days. So without further ado, let’s take a look at other games like Prison Architect.
Drawing similarities between Prison Architect and Rimworld shouldn’t be a difficult task. Rimworld was released in 2018 and developed by Ludeon Studios.
Rimworld is a construction and management sim very much like Prison Architect, and the game begins with a handful of characters that players can control. These characters are referred to as “pawns”, and they each possess a unique set of stats that affect their contribution to building the player’s colony.
Players can also rescue more pawns as they crash land on to their world. But, of course, not every pawn might be a contributing member, and some might have negative traits like being a psychopath or a pyromancer who might set the entire colony ablaze.
Ensuring the happiness of the pawns is a significant aspect of the game. Keeping them well fed and engaged is an excellent way to ensure that they don’t go rogue on you and attack each other or harming the players’ structures to safeguard the pawns survival.
The unique aspect of this game is the AI storyteller that maintains the game’s difficulty and spaces out random events, keeping the player engaged and the game from feeling repetitive. There are numerous external and internal threats within the colony that the player will have to combat and ensure the colony’s survival.
Players can choose what kind of AI they want to use as some are more forgiving than others making the experience tailor-made for the player is entirely possible.
It’s honestly a demanding but rewarding experience beating this game.
2. Evil Genius 2: World Domination
Evil Genius 2 was released recently in March 2021, a sequel to a game released in 2004. Both the games offer gameplay similar to Prison Architect, but instead of holding the evil from society, you are the evil.
The game plays like an RTS simulation with management and construction elements embedded in it. Players start the game by choosing one of the four evil geniuses that determine their missions specialities and the doomsday device each genius has to build.
Players then have to select one of three islands as their starting location. A casino will be built as a cover for the nefarious underground operations; producing henchmen and having them go out into the world to commit crimes is an excellent way to get the revenue going.
The end goal is to develop the doomsday device by spending money on its research and development.
Of course, there are many obstacles other than money, and that is other agents trying to infiltrate the player’s casino. To combat this, players can train minions for specific tasks like Rimworld minions have their own stats, allowing or disallowing them to perform various actions.
So, for example, a smarter minion might be better at noticing suspicious behavior from a spy than, say, a muscle minion.
3. Dwarf Fortress
This 15-year-old game served as one of the inspirations for Prison Architect. It sees the player controlling a group of dwarves in a procedurally-generated fantasy type setting. It’s a construction and management sim with strictly emergent gameplay in mind, but due to the limitations of its time, it is a text-based game.
However, if that doesn’t deter you, you are sure to have a great time with this title since it inspired Prison Architect and one of the most popular games of all time – Minecraft.
The game starts by generating a random world with all sorts of geographical and historical details. Players then have to select a suitable site to establish their colony or fortress and ensure the survival of the dwarves inside.
However, very much like Rimworld or prison architect said, dwarves have a mind of their own, and their coding is unique right down to the tissue in their body, so some might not be good team players others might be downright psychopathic, so the player must be alert at all times.
The game is still under development, and according to its creator, version 1.0 is still a decade away at the very least. There is no end-game goal, so each fortress is destroyed with time, making the game unwinnable, but that only adds to its charm as the online community has adopted the motto “Losing is fun!”.
To be honest, it is in a game like Dwarf Fortress since every run comes with its set of lessons to be learnt and implemented in future runs. It’s a fun title that Prison Architect fans will love.
4. Theme Hospital
Those who were into gaming pre-half-life might remember this gem. Theme Hospital is a business simulation game that was developed by Bullfrog and published by EA in 1997.
The gameplay focuses on players managing and building a hospital populated by their selected staff and patients with unique and sometimes hilarious diseases like bloat head or alien infection (One in which the patient’s head grows and the other where patients turn into aliens).
Sometimes different patients might require different kinds of equipment and rooms to be treated; this is where the player comes in as they manage what facilities their hospital will provide and try to keep up with the repairs and make more room for new patients.
Various other elements require the player’s attention; from the furnishing to the patient’s health, everything needs to be managed by the player.
This can involve players juggling with placing fire extinguishers to where they may be necessary and constructing new facilities for the patients while assigning a handyman to fix machinery before the next bloaty-head explodes.
It’s a game that doesn’t take itself very seriously but is still a very challenging experience. The best way to enjoy this classic in 2021 is using the CrosixTH port that enhances the graphics and compatibility with newer hardware. So give this one a try. You won’t regret it.
I am having difficulty recommending this game; on the one hand, it is one of the better colony sims to come out recently. It looks beautiful and has an exciting narrative around it that pulls the player into the world.
On the other hand, it’s virtually non-replayable as every run features linear events that happen after set durations. Nevertheless, the game still features groundbreaking gameplay and narrative, so I think it at least deserves mention.
Frostpunk is a construction and management sim with survival elements built into it. It was developed by 11-bit studios and released in 2018.
The game starts as a small group of humans make way to the only place where they might find a life and perhaps is the only habitable place left in the world. What follows is a dark narrative and the reality of hardships that the player and their colony must endure to survive.
It’s a game made to put the player in a position where every decision taken will have negative repercussions, so not everything is black and white.
I won’t spoil anything from the game since it is linear; first-hand would be the best way to experience it.
6. Another Brick in The Mall
Another Brick in The Mall is basically Theme Hospital but in a mall setting. The game was released in 2020 and features graphics like Rimworld.
The fundamental objective of the game is to get an economy going by squeezing every last penny from the customers and investing that money back into the mall so the customers will have more to spend on when they come back.
The gameplay involves hiring staff and building various kinds of shops, restaurants and movie theatres, all to lure the consumerist people in and give away all their hard-earned money.
It’s available on steam for a reasonable price, and the developer has promised expansions and allowed the community to mod the game for increased replayability.
Factorio very loosely is like Prison Architect. While it does feature gameplay elements involving the construction and management of a factory, there are no elements of having NPCs and their personalities affecting the player world.
I’ve talked about this game before, and it is perhaps my go-to game when I am bored with whatever first-person shooter I was playing.
The core concept of the game involves the player’s character crashing into an alien world. Their task is to salvage parts and create the rocketship that will allow them to escape the planet and its hostile inhabitants.
Factorio is one of the highest-rated games on steam. If you enjoyed the construction mechanics of Prison Architect, then perhaps give this one a chance. While it doesn’t feature the same gameplay elements as PA, it does have its own refined take on the construction and management sim genre.
Colony sims are making a resurgence, no doubt thanks to the mobile and tablet platform taking off thanks to iOS and Android. I enjoy playing games like these which essentially allow me to control an entire society as they try to combat whatever hardships that come their way.
Prison Architect is the most fun I’ve had in a management sim title in a long time; it’s a polished experience that doesn’t disappoint and bore.
I only hope more developers will follow the trend of making something unique in a niche genre than releasing another generic First-person military shooter.