Prison Architect

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Prison Architect Game Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Deep prison simulation with violence, blood, sex, profanity.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 20 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Casts semi-critical eye on private penitentiaries, how such businesses can lead corrupt officials to profit from prisoners. Encourages players to make prisoners' lives comfortable, meet their needs, but permits more brutal, heartless tactics.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Shows examples of wardens, officials both good, bad, but largely up to player to choose how to handle most situations, including how much force to use, punishments dealt to serious offenders, whether or not to take care of prisoners, provide basic essentials of life, mental health.

Ease of Play

Very complex game with dozens of interconnected systems controlled by dense menus. Story mode acts as a sort of tutorial. Players can set difficulty, including whether or not to allow failure, how much money they have to work with, but will still take most players several hours to get a good grasp on how things work.


Prisoners -- presented as tiny wooden pegs with names, sometimes holding knives, guns, clubs -- riot, kill each other, guards, staff. Injured, dying prisoners lie in pools of blood. Story mode shows cartoon snapshots of moments before, during, after vicious crimes -- hostages shot in head, a man shooting his adulterous wife, her lover -- while describing these events through text.


Snapshots show a man, woman nude from waist up having sex in bed with moaning sounds. Later, they lie dead, almost naked in same bed, man's genitals covered by woman's sprawled arm.


Very strong, frequent language, including "f--k," "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Prisoners use drugs, alcohol, though players read about this in alerts, messages rather than see it. Programs can be created to help addicts, alcoholics in recovery.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Prison Architect is a prison-simulation game that pulls no punches. Players build and manage private prisons. They can opt to take good care of the prisoners -- providing proper facilities for hygiene, recreation, and laundry as well as programs for addiction and alcoholism -- or they can neglect their needs, save money, and use brute force when prisoners turn rowdy. Some officials not under the player's control prove to be hopelessly corrupt, turning a profit for keeping certain prisoners locked up. Convicts sometimes riot, killing each other, guards, and staff, while leaving bodies in pools of blood. Narrative sequences depict serious crimes, including prison murders, a half-naked woman and her lover murdered in bed, and hostages shot in the head. The bulk of the game has a very basic visual style, with characters presented as colorful wooden pegs, but a handful of cartoon snapshots show graphic scenes. Both prisoners and officials use plenty of strong language, including "f--k."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJohnDerek January 18, 2019

Prison Architect; Review

I believe it is rated for 12 + it does have some mature themes but personally I know that it does not show anything bad, throughout the story their is only the... Continue reading
Parent Written byDick M. July 8, 2017

I bought Prison Architect for my son and it was fine

A few months ago, I bought Prison Architect for my son who was 13 at the time. I had reserched the game and decided it would be fine as long as he didn't d... Continue reading

What's it about?

PRISON ARCHITECT attempts to make enjoyable a task that most people probably wouldn't think of as much fun: building and managing a private prison. Its story missions -- which tell tales of criminals, mobsters, and corrupt officials -- lead players through the basics of building and maintaining a prison. You'll learn how to construct specific types of rooms, how to manage power and water, how to deal with staffing and bureaucratic concerns, and how to cope with emergencies such as fires and riots. You'll even have the option of improving prisoners' lives by starting therapeutic programs and helping the guards rest and recuperate by constructing staff facilities. Once finished with these lengthy episodes, the real game begins. You'll get to build a prison from scratch, which includes clearing out a patch of natural land, designing and building each and every structure, and picking a warden and planning guard patrols. You can set your own modifiers, making the game as easy or as difficult as you like. Completed prisons can be uploaded and shared with the game's community.

Is it any good?

To get the most out of this strategy game, you need to be willing to spend the first five or six hours just learning how everything works. The designers have done a good job of injecting some narrative elements into these tutorials to keep them interesting, but this part of the game is nonetheless pretty linear. Once you get through that part of the experience, things start to loosen up, providing a wealth of freedom which you'll be fully trained to make the most of. You could just start playing around in the sandbox mode prior to completing the story missions, but you'd likely find yourself woefully lost as to how much of anything works.

That's not to say the game is poorly designed. Far from it. Its makers have done a terrific job of making all the menus intelligible and intuitive. But these menus create a massive web of interconnected systems that requires some instruction. Without working through at least a few good examples, it's hard to know the proper contexts in which to properly exploit buildings, staff, and infrastructure -- such as the intricacies of the water and power systems, both of which are a bit finicky but vital for prisoners' health, safety, and contentment. But if you take the time to properly learn about these parts of the game in the tutorial, you'll likely be itching to put your newfound knowledge to work constructing, staffing, maintaining, and managing your own penitentiary. And if somewhere along the way you discover you've learned something about the complexities and problems confronting real-world prisons, all the better.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impact of violence in media. Why are violent games often so popular? Do you feel different when playing games in which your character is the one carrying out violent acts versus those in which you merely witness acts of violence by nonplayer characters?

  • Discuss the concept of prisons, including their place in our society and how they're managed. Do you think they should be run by the government or by private enterprise? What sorts of rights should prisoners have while serving their sentences?

Game details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love simulating stuff

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate