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Video Game / Prison Architect

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Prison Architect is a management simulator developed by Introversion Software. Inspired by the likes of Dungeon Keeper and Theme Hospital, the idea behind this game is to lay out the plans for the buildings of a profitable and sustainable prison, capable of providing a caring environment for a variable amount of prisoners (or you could just keep them locked in their cells for 23 hours a day), while retaining a stable income from both government grants and manufacturing objects such as license plates. There are also deep investigations on the morality of the different situations you find yourself in, from having to administer the death penalty to a penitent man, to having to shakedown your compound after drugs are found on site, to putting down a prison riot to save your CEO, who it turns out was taking bribes to keep people in prison. Don't worry, they're criminals! They're the bad guys! They deserve filthy cells and long periods of solitary confinement... right?


The game was pre-released as an alpha on Steam in September 2012. The developers encouraged community involvement and released update videos (almost) every month to showcase various new features and improvements. The game was officially released on PC on 6 October 2015. It was then ported to PS4 on June 28th, 2016, Xbox One on July 1st, 2016, Xbox 360 on August 2nd, 2016 and iOS and Android on May 25th, 2017. In early 2019, it was acquired by Paradox Interactive. It is available on Steam here.


Prison Architect provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Area: If you select "Generate Buildings", the allotment your new prison will be built on comes with a few abandoned buildings you can convert.
  • Amoral Attorney: The lawyer you can hire for your prison in Alpha 31 is specifically there to let you bypass some legal restrictions, such as enabling indefinite confinement to solitary, reduced cell size, and death row.
  • Anachronism Stew: The developers admitted that they do not have a specific time frame the game is set in, and is instead a combination of different iterations of the American prison system.
  • Artificial Brilliance:
    • Prisoners are smart when it comes to smuggling in contraband, and you need to get smart to deal with them. Aside from smuggled objects coming in via deliveries, prisoners can actually phone out to family who will smuggle in contraband or even call friends from outside who will throw boxes of contraband over the walls. And they'll swipe anything they can from rooms with potential contraband if guards aren't watching them. Letting prisoners clean your office complex will result in piles of stolen cell phones and drugs, and unsupervised access to your workshops, cleaning cupboards, and even libraries will result in prisoners making off with improvised weapons. They'll even hide contraband in showers or inside library books!
    • Prisoners memorize patrol routes, and if they are up to something, will avoid those patrol routes if they can. If they can't, they'll take a route that minimizes contact as much as possible.
    • Prisoners pay attention to your guards' behavior. Prisoners up to shady behavior will try to avoid dog and guard patrols. If you order a cell block search every day while the prisoners are eating or in the yard to avoid pissing them off, they'll notice that all the guards are away and start fighting or rioting. If you pull an informant in to get his information during obvious times like lockup, yard, or mealtimes, they'll get suspicious and eventually kill him.
    • That one prisoner who looks like he got lost on the way to the yard or is wandering around the edge of the fence or walls during free time? No, he's not suffering a pathfinding glitch. He's up to something. Search him.
    • If you put a pumping station outside your perimeter wall, or even in a room that leaves a path that can lead outside the perimeter wall, prisoners will use the water pipes as an escape route.
    • Dogs whose handlers are killed will remember which prisoner murdered said handler, and will even hunt down and slay the prisoner who did it.
    • Janitors and Gardeners will deliberately avoid areas with large numbers of prisoners in them, for obvious reasons... unless the prisoners are asleep or guards are nearby.
    • Prisoners will steal contraband to pay for other contraband they can't access, or to pay off gangs who have claimed territory. Gangs themselves operate very intelligently, conserving their manpower and resources and making plays for territory that they can realistically control. If one gang member stumbles into rival territory, the other gang will only have a couple members attack him and take the ensuing punishments while the rest stand back and watch. And if you have shotgun toting guards in a room with shotguns AND free fire orders they won't even try anything at all and just walk back out.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: In the Execution Room tutorial the wife and her lover are butt naked but lack genitals. Averted in-game for female prisoners.
  • Berserk Button: If you leave a gap in your prison wall, usually while constructing an extension, some prisoners tend to destroy whatever doors are in their path to escape. With their bare hands.
    • Prisoners with the Snitch and Ex-Law Enforcement trait can become one for your inmates. If you don't put them in protective custody and give them separate facilities, expect violence.
    • Prisoners with the Cop Killer reputation, on the other hand, are this for your guards. If they so much as sneeze, your guards will get... enthusiastic with their beatings.
    • A prisoner with the Volatile trait can have anything become their Berserk Button.
    • Parole denial. Station a guard or two in your parole rooms, or at least leave guards stationed nearby during parole hearing times.
    • Locking up a gang leader will utterly infuriate all of the gang's members, and this will cause riots very quickly if the gang is big enough. So, y'know... don't let the gangs get too big. And if a gang leader is killed, expect a large riot from his gang.
  • Bowdlerise: The console version replace Don Palermo's line from a homophobic insult to saying "Son of a bitch" in italian.
  • Bullying a Dragon: When a Snitch or an Ex-Law Enforcement inmate happens to have Legendary traits . This won't stop his fellow inmates from trying to kill him.
  • Clipboard of Authority: Key staff members can be seen holding one of these up when unlocking something through the Bureaucracy page.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Prisoners wear different uniforms depending on which security level they are assigned to. Minimum are grey, normal are orange, and maximum security prisoners are red. Prisoners assigned to supermax are dark red/burgundy, and death row inmates are black, while ones under protective custody are yellow.
  • Construct Additional Pylons: Capacitors, if your current electricity demand outweighs your power capacity. There's a cap, and power stations won't work if two of them are on the same circuit, so you're likely to need to build more once you start constructing especially power-hungry equipment like Workshops or the Electric Chair.
  • Cop Killer: One of the reputations a prisoner can have. It makes guards have less restraint when dealing with them.
  • Creator Cameo: Chris Delay and Mark Morris both appear as prisoners in the game.
  • Cutlery Escape Aid: Inmates can steal cutlery from kitchens. Knives are weapons, and spoons can be used as digging tools.
  • Death Row: The player is instantly asked to construct an execution room for a single prisoner. As the tutorial. Actual death row and an execution procedure was eventually added in Alpha 31.
  • Dirty Cop: Prisoners with the Ex-Law Enforcement reputation. Such prisoners need to be protected, since they're favoured targets for murder by other inmates.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: A minor crime people can be sent to your jail for is 'video game piracy' and even worse 'indie video game piracy'. And as an added kick, prisoners who are guilty of piracy automatically have the hidden "clever" trait, which means that they're adept at digging escape tunnels.
  • Downer Beginning: As above, the tutorial follows a teacher named Edward, after being convicted of double murder of his wife and the man she was cheating on him with. At the end of it, you're forced to execute him via electric chair. Despite being short, it's presented in a very believable way, and sets the tone of the game quite nicely — this is a prison you're running, after all: you don't have the option on not executing him, because you are not tasked with the decision of whether he should live or die, whether he's repentant or not. You are only carrying out his sentence.
  • An Entrepreneur Is You:
    • You are running a privately-owned for-profit prison, which means you need to balance your prisoner intake with hiring and building the staff and facilities needed to house, care for, feed, clothe and contain them.
    • The primary source of income is the prison labour system, whereby you can assign prisoners to various jobs around your facility like the prison laundry service, sorting letters and books in the mail room and the library respectively, using the contents of the cleaning cupboard to clean the interiors of your prison as proto-janitors etc. Your prisoners earn an allowance from this which they can then use to purchase items at the prison shop, which is itself manned by at least two prisoners (one to take orders at the shop front, one to sort the goods and retrieve them from the shelves) for which you receive a portion of the profits as commission, thus forming a stable loop by which your prisoners get to improve the overall prison experience for themselves and others while making you money at the same time.
    • The two biggest sources of income from the mid-game onwards are the Forestry outdoors area and the Workshop. The former because it runs on a system whereby you purchase trees as saplings for $100, then grow them to maturity and harvest them for three logs each, which you then sell for $150 total, resulting in a small but regular and risk-free source of income. The latter because it features two cost-effective manufacturing systems designed to make your prison more money. The basic system involves purchasing sheets of metal ten at a time for $100, then cutting them down into slats you can convert into license plates, which sell twenty at a time for a total of $200, an effective $100 minus the wages of the prisoners who make them. The advanced system is a carpentry programme where logs purchased or produced from trees on your property are sawed into piles of wood and converted into high-quality beds that sell for $400 each. Since the conversion rate is one log produces four planks of wood, and it takes six planks to produce one bed, ergo one tree equals two beds, this results in an effective profit of $700 minus labour costs. To balance potentially-lucrative opportunities available, you need to train your prisoners to work there with a pair of induction courses conducted by the on-site Foreman, and tools stolen from the Workshop (such as hammers) are dangerously-effective weapons.
    • If you're playing with Sacharina, the crooked Warden, you can completely remove punishments for contrabrand and make it easy to bring in, which encourages more smuggling and the stealing of tools. However each time contraband is found you then get to fine convicts and receive a cut of the sales price for each piece of contraband found.
  • Enlightened Self-Interest: Besides the Video Game Caring Potential, a firm but fair prison that keeps inmates comfortable and respects their rights as long as they respect security is also an efficient prison, capable of turning a profit. Programs to rehabilitate drug users or start alcoholic support groups result in less contraband and more stable inmates. Lowering the re-offence rate gives your prison better grades and funding. Providing them with an education and training them to work in the kitchen or the workshop gives them transferable skills that will make it easier for them to be paroled and lower their chances of re-offending, but also allows you to increase your profit margins by employing less cooks and producing trade goods that sell very profitably. The list goes on.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Well, contraband and escape tunnel-detecting, at least. Dogs are the single most efficient means of picking up on contraband that a metal detector can't find, and the only way of detecting an escape tunnel in progress without checking the cell.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: This can happen to prisoners with the Cop Killer reputation, in which guards will not restrain themselves when dealing with the prisoner.
  • Fearless Fool: Prisoners with a Fearless reputation aren't intimidated by any guards with guns. This makes it a bit harder to keep them from getting themselves killed if you enable Freefire.
  • Fog of War: An optional gameplay feature. If turned on, any interior area of your prison will be blocked out of your vision unless you have a staff member or functioning CCTV cameras in there.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Up until Alpha 12, unless you install metal detectors in appropriate places, contraband was an example of this, as the least costly way to tell if a prisoner is carrying some kind of contraband is if you spot them holding it out in front of them for a very brief moment. After Alpha 12, the only way to detect contraband was to set up metal detectors and set appropriate guard dog patrols, and let the staff take care of the rest.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Sometimes prisoners will kick off and start fighting while completely in the buff. During a major riot it's not at all uncommon to see several naked prisoners participating.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • Defied in the case of the game's tutorial. When the game made it out of its Alpha stages, the campaign tutorial turned out noticeably better about this, as it added a lot more things to do to teach you how to play the game, including how to prep and assign prisoners for jobs, take care of your prisoners' needs, and what to do when things go horribly, horribly wrong.
    • The option to choose when prisoners arrive seemed like a broken option until you find out that the "Open/Closed" button on the pre-Alpha 30 Prisoners page does that when this option is enabled. Going through the game without figuring out how to manually control prisoner intake this way can result in space woes, and subsequently, financial woes.
  • Hairpin Lockpick: One of the possible items of contraband a guard can confiscate from prisoners.
  • Hard Mode Perks: The more dangerous sorts of prisoners are harder to control, but they also give you more money per head for your monthly income.
  • Hellhole Prison:
    • It's possible to run your prison as one in sandbox mode, but given that this tends to result in rioting, object destruction, and frequent deaths and injury, it's not recommended without having plenty of Sinister Surveillance equipment and a horde of guards to back it up.
    • The expanded campaign introduces one that really stands out. Prisoners have no beds, no toilets, are filthy because they have no showers or cleaning staff employed, and use their uniforms to block rat holes so said rats don't attack them in their sleep. Guards show no sympathy and are cruel and indifferent to an absurd degree, not caring about the absurd suicide rates inside the prison. Of course, it's your job to turn this around with the aid of a doctor.
  • Hypocrite: The Mayor is shown in the ending of the last chapter in the campaign debating Doctor Hurst, arguing that the latter is basically embezzeling funds to do so... although as we learned in Chapter 3, he himself was extending the stay of the prisoners just to make more money.
  • Instant Expert: Finally averted by the Alpha 18 release. Before, a new busload of prisoners could be dropped into a workshop full of saws and heavy machinery and immediately start pressing out plates. Now prisoners must complete a Workshop safety course to work in the workshop. Prisoners also have to complete a kitchen hygiene course in order to work in the kitchen.
  • An Interior Designer Is You: And indeed exterior, given the emphasis on layout and size.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure:
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: While the literal last-minuteness of the reprieve is situational, there's a small chance that any prisoner on Death Row will be exonerated or have their sentence reduced, turning them into a regular Maximum Security prisoner.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: You own and operate a privately-run prison.
  • Lawman Baton: The default weapon for your regular prison guards, unsurprisingly. It almost certainly will be used on prisoners, justifiably and otherwise.
  • Lock Down: Can be triggered whenever necessary. There is also the option to trigger "bangup", which has a similar, less forceful function for sending only willing prisoners back to their cells or the holding cell.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: At your own discretion, you can equip any or all prison cells with various amenities such as televisions and exercise equipment, allowing them to make use of them even when locked in their cells.
    • Alpha 33 adds the option to build nice, large, well-furnished prison cells, which are given numerical grades based on how nice they are, and they are assigned as rewards for good behavior. Prisoners in these cells are less likely to go off, because they don't want to lose their nice cells. However, if the majority of your cells are good quality, the effect is diminished, because everyone has access to nice cells regardless.
  • Made of Iron: Prisoners with the "Extremely Tough" trait can shrug off multiple tazer hits, will only be knocked out by being shot multiple times with shotguns, and in the case of uncontrolled riots, they can run through hails of gunfire from the National Guard to shank soldiers with knives.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: The CEO, who guides you through the first two tutorials, doesn't survive the prison riot tutorial.
  • Naked People Are Funny: The exact reason why people are so eager to mention bugs involving prisoners using the shower, particularly the two mentioned in Good Bad Bugs on the YMMV page.
  • New Game+: There is an option to "sell" your prison and start a new game with significantly more funds based on your previous prison's value. It is still possible to continue playing your old prison after selling it, however.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Though there are probably more examples, at the very least Billy Mays is a possible prisoner.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Prisoners with the Cop Killer reputation will experience these from your guards. If the National Guard has to be called in to quell an uncontrolled riot, they will exercise very little restraint, even going so far as to mow down previously-armed prisoners while they're surrendering.
  • Nobody Poops: Played straight for your staff and visitors, averted for your prisoners. Later averted for Staff if 'Staff Needs' is turned on.
  • Not the Intended Use: As demonstrated by youtuber The Spiffing Brit, it's possible to turn large profits by never accepting prisoners, hiring a bunch of workers, and running your "prison" as an illegal tree farm.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The given in-universe reason for the existence of the game's Tech Tree.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: Your prisoners will only dig escape tunnels during the night if the regime is set to "Sleep", so theoretically you could set the regime to "Lockdown" instead to prevent that from happening. Setting the regime to "Lockdown", however, makes your prisoners unhappy even during night, so it is not recommended in most situations.
  • Orcus on His Throne: Gang Leaders rarely, if ever, get their hands dirty and prefer to let their gang members and lieutenants do their dirty work for them instead. Gang leaders are also capable of exerting their influence from anywhere in the prison.
  • Paint the Town Red: Entire rooms can be turned red if a serious fight breaks out in an enclosed space, and not just because severely-damaged objects turn red.
  • Pariah Prisoner: Snitches and ex-law enforcement prisoners. Averted for rapists, though, who are treated like any other prisoner, in contrast to Real Life.
  • Police Brutality: Your prison guards will show no hesitation to straight-up murder a convicted Cop Killer for the slightest misstep.
  • Private Profit Prison: The entire point. You manage a prison, trying to make it as profitable as possible.
  • Prison Rape: Averted, though showers, nudity, and attacks against snitches are present.
  • Prison Riot: One can happen if the player isn't careful. It ain't pretty.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: Prisoners' needs include exercise — this can be fulfilled with a yard to walk or jog around in, or weightlifting equipment. As of Alpha 10, their exercise doesn't yet influence their combat abilities.
  • Punishment Box: The solitary confinement cells. They're a fertile ground for recruiting Confidential Informants, who will take deals in exchange for release from the box, and a stay in solitary leaves most prisoners Suppressed and much less likely to act up for a while.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • No, don't think you can just constantly order cell block searches at the same time every day while the prisoners are eating or in the yard to avoid pissing them off. The prisoners will notice all the guards disappearing to do the searches and riots have a much higher chance of kicking off.
    • Guard dogs have periodic false positives, resulting in an annoyed prisoner being unnecessarily searched. Metal detectors, meanwhile, will have much more false positives, resulting in lots of unnecessary searches.
    • If you rush an execution of a death row inmate without letting them run through the whole appeals process, and the inmate turns out to be innocent of their crimes, there is massive fallout.
    • Ordering a search while a Confidential Informant is active will cause said informant's suspicion meter to fill up faster. Your prisoners may have witnessed said informant being dragged away in shackles by your guards but a search happening afterwards is enough to garner plenty of suspicion. Keep doing this and your informant's cover will be blown, placing his life in danger.
    • Heavily suppressed prisoners will have a hard time passing reform programs, after all, it is really hard to concentrate when you are being punished.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Prisoners that see an Armed Guard with his shotgun out and free fire orders tend to take a 180 turn and head the other way.

  • Shipped in Shackles: All prisoners arriving at your new prison are this until escorted to either their cell or the holding cell. Alpha 31 adds a Reception room where newly-arrived prisoners are strip-searched by guards for contraband and then given new uniforms.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Hence why armed guards tend to favour them.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: The developers extensively studied how prison gangs operate and accurately replicated many of the aspects of said gangs, such as the way they take territory, how their leaders are chosen and operate, and how they act and react to one another.
  • Sinister Shiv: Tools that can be wielded as or fashioned into improvised weapons are a common form of contraband.
  • Slave to PR: The most wonderful and beloved Mayor, who is such a slave to PR that the moment the media starts harrassing him about ANYTHING prison-related, he'll slam you with stupid edits like "Remove all exercise equipment from the yards in 24 hours or be fined massively until you do." Of course, nobody asked you about this, so have fun with prisoners getting so angry they start a riot.
  • Spiritual Successor: Word of God frequently cites Dungeon Keeper, but the resemblance to Theme Hospital is more obvious. Either way, the Bullfrog influence is pretty apparent.
    • Fans of both games have referred to it as "Dwarf Fortress with graphics, IN PRISON!" (With varying degrees of cynicism depending on which side of the fence you stand.)
    • Other fans will just cut to the chase and call it Sim Prison.
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: Armed guards will avoid using their guns unless they feel threatened. Snipers will fire a warning shot, which tends to swiftly end most any conflict in a hurry. They both forego any restraint, though, if Freefire is active, and Snipers will also pick off escapees without wasting time on warning shots.
  • Stun Guns: Introduced in Alpha 18 as a usable weapon against violent inmates. While it causes slight damage, what matters is that the prisoners are incapacitated.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Edward, the main character of the tutorial.
    • No Sympathy: One of the guards sees him as a two-bit thug though.
  • Tailor-Made Prison: The new legendary prisoners introduced in Alpha 25 can warrant to build one of these.
  • Tech Tree: The Bureaucracy page. It's more realistic in that you're not creating new technology; you're actually acquiring permits and navigating all the red tape necessary for the upgrades.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Armed guards are this by default, until authorised to do so.
  • Time Lapse: Introduced in Alpha 13, where one can record the prison as its constructed, and play it all back at a faster rate.
  • Tunnel King: Every prisoner as of Alpha 13 has the ability to attempt escape by way of digging a tunnel out of their cells using tools stolen from places such as the canteen. Prisoners will join tunnels together and tunnel under each other's toilets. One of the worst situations is when a tunnel starts in a dormitory, because the majority of the dormitory will take the opportunity to crawl out. Never place your dormitories anywhere near the fence, even packed with minimum-security prisoners.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: One of the failure conditions introduced in Alpha 20 has the prison manager (i.e. The player) arrested and kept in his own prison until a certain period of time has passed, or if he somehow manages to outsmart his own security system and escape.
    • Now a game mode you can choose in the extras menu.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: A man killed his wife and her lover. That one act sets off a chain of events that took down an entire mob family. The fallout from that sets off a riot that killed the prison company's CEO and installed the player as his successor.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: You could always run a prison that cared for inmates' needs, and it was recommended that you play in such a way to prevent riots and fights. Now with Alpha 18 released, you can set up programs to rehabilitate prisoners and help them reintegrate into society. You never see the end result of such programs on the outside, but the thought is nice.
    • Now you sort of do with the parole addition. Successfully rehabilitated prisoners don't re-offend (the chance is checked the moment they're paroled), while re-offenders actually result in fines to your prison for paroling them.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: On the other hand, you can also ignore their needs and just keep them in constant lockdown while you suppress them with armed guard patrols. You can also hand out arbitrary punishments to inmates who didn't do anything.
    • Locking someone up in Solitary until they starve to death is a recommended player strategy for dealing with Legendary prisoners. As of Alpha 30, guards bring meals to prisoners in lockdown and solitary to avoid this, but with the Lawyer's research, you can just assign the prisoner to a permanent solitary cell... and there's nothing to stop you from walling the prisoner off entirely.
    • One player developed what was best called a "prisoner meatgrinder." It consisted of a single large empty room which max-security prisoners were dumped in and left to stew until they rioted. The room was surrounded by armed guard patrols, and the moment the prisoners kicked off, free fire would be turned on and the rioters would be immediately mowed down. Clean up the bodies, and bring in the next batch....
    • Feel like the gangs are getting too powerful? Put ALL gang members in Supermax in a separate dormitory. They'll be too busy bickering with each other to set up or protect territory, since they'll be constantly in and out of Solitary, Lockdown and the Infirmary for fighting - if they don't kill each other first.
    • If a trouble-making prisoner overdoses, you can lock the door on them and they'll die within an hour or two.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment:
    • As of Alpha 30, high rates of recidivism among released prisoners will result in lowered grades and fines of the ineffective prison they were released from.
    • With Alpha 31, executing a Death Row prisoner before a certain clemency threshold has been crossed in the appeals process incurs a hefty fine and causes the state to take back any other prisoners on Death Row either in your prison or that have been slated for future reassignment. Do this three times, and you're fired.
    • Prisoners who are injured or who die will reduce the overall sense of safety in a prison, which can push things to a riot. Even minimum security prisoners will start rioting if you push them too far and your prison feels unsafe.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Gang members will walk around without any shirts on to show off their tattoos, particularly when staking claims to territory or attacking a territory you're trying to evict them from.
  • Wall of Weapons: The gun racks, introduced in Alpha 17 with the armed guards. Like just about every other piece of furniture in the game, prisoners can and very much will swipe guns if they gain access; never allow your prisoners access to the armory, no matter how obedient they seem!
  • Would Hurt a Child: In Escape Mode, if you are feeling sadistic you can go to visitor room and murder innocent visitors. And some visitors are children.
  • You Have Researched Breathing: Hiring janitorial staff for both indoor and outdoor cleaning work requires the two be unlocked separately, and only then after unlocking the option to hire a foreman. Again, justified by the Tech Tree being part of an Obstructive Bureaucracy. Regulations demand separate certifications and foremen on staff as a prerequisite for hiring janitorial staff. It can be truly infuriating to see how filthy your prison can get in the first few hours, with your prisoners endlessly annoyed by the dirt, and you can't even hire a guy to use a mop.
    • You also need to go through hiring a security chief and research just so you can start assigning guards specific stations or to patrol routes.


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