37: Prison Architect (2015)
Developer: Introversion Software
Publisher: Introversion Software
Theme Hospital might be the first popular management game to dwell on the dark side of profiteering. Sure, you could add salt to snacks to ensure kids nagged their parents for more soda in Theme Park, but that was benign compared to the intro to Hospital, which showed privatised healthcare at its most ruthless. To a backing orchestra of sickly bottoms and bilious upheavals, you were tasked with finding the best way to cash in on the cure.
Prison Architect is an even darker proposition. Can you keep your inmates happy? Can you make a profit? How important is it to process death row residents efficiently? What happens when a riot breaks out?
The brilliance of Introversion’s game is in its recognition that a prison is a series of systems – of housing and treatment, of security and recreation – and then in its application of sturdy simulations to each of those systems. Like the best management games, it allows you to create a smoothly running machine, but it also embraces chaos and roleplaying.
During the most intricate planning, you can forget what the theme implies about the resources you’re processing, but Prison Architect is only ever a moment away from reminding you of the humanity within the machine.
Notes: Before Prison Architect, Introversion had been working on Subversion, a game of espionage and infiltration in procedurally generated cities, but it was indefinitely postponed in late 2011.
Where can I buy it: Direct from the developer.
What else should I be playing: RimWorld looks similar, on the surface, but is a much broader exploration of simulated people and the stories they can create.