The Best City Building Games: Boss Builders

Best City Building Games

best city bulding games

[Updated: August 2018]

There aren’t many games that include themselves in the city builder genre. It’s a simple premise: you take on the role of planner, and mayor of a city. You look down upon your creation from above, and you are entirely responsible for its growth and management. City building games are exceptionally time consuming, and each game can go on forever—or at least until the city you are working on gets stale and you make a new one for different challenges.

Despite originally established in 1989 with the release of Will Wright’s SimCity, city builders haven’t had all that many releases in their 24 years of existence. In addition, they aren’t all that similar to each other in gameplay style.

Because it’s a genre full of duds and great titles are few and far between, we’ve compiled a list of the ten best city building video games. Likewise, we’ve included some bonus titles at the end.


The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom

  • Developer: Blue Byte
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Platforms: PC
  • Release: March 2010

The Settlers 7 is the latest title in the kingdom building strategy series that began in 1993. The game puts you in the role of a king or queen who’s with the challenge to build up a colony into a mighty kingdom. As your kingdom expands, you’ll face opposition from rival monarchs whom you must fight for both territory and natural resources.

Settlers 7 returns the series to its origins from the real-time strategy oriented 5th and 6th installments, which many fans considered too divergent from the Settlers formula.

The latest game also offers a new element to the typical Settlers formula of building a kingdom, enriching your civilians and securing your borders with the addition of the Victory Points system. You’ll earn more Victory Points as you conquer sectors across the map, and increase the productivity of your followers by plying them with food, drink, and gold.


Cities in Motion 2

  • Developer: Colossal Order
  • Publisher: Paradox Interactive
  • Platforms: PC
  • Release: April 2013

Cities in Motion 2 is a follow up to Colossal Order’s Cities in Motion. The particular video game series has a focus on public transportation where players must create efficient routes and systems within different cities around the world.

Depending on how well you are able to craft a decent transportation system will determine the impact of your city growth. Likewise, there are cooperative and competitive game modes to enjoy the city building and management titles with friends.


Aven Colony

  • Developer: Mothership Entertainment
  • Publisher: Team17
  • Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO
  • Release: July 2017

Aven Colony is a relatively new title at the time of writing this. The video game just released this July and pins players into crafting and maintaining a futuristic city.

Overall, the narrative around Aven Colony is based on a human colonization within an alien planet. Because of this, there are various hazards you will have to deal with such as freezing night temperatures, alien plagues, and keeping your residents happy.


Cities XL 2012

  • Developer: Focus Home Interactive
  • Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
  • Platforms: PC
  • Release: October 2011

Made by Focus Home Interactive, Cities XL 2012 is the third and latest game in the Cities XL franchise.

Unlike SimCity and its strong focus on multiplayer, Cities XL 2012 places a singular emphasis on single-player mode and includes new structures, maps, and a starter guide to ease players into the game. Earlier versions were considered very difficult to get into due to their complexity.

As of this writing, the game’s a couple years old, but it remains one of the better city building sims out there


Banished

  • Developer: Shining Rock Software
  • Publisher: Shining Rock Software
  • Platforms: PC
  • Release: February 2014

Banished is an interesting title as it’s not a typical city builder. Instead of the common day cities or futuristic worlds, Banished follows an outcast group of citizens who must live in a remote community. This small group will rely on players carefully managing the various resources for their survival.

Starting from scratch, gamers can build up their community into a thriving city which can be maintained from the birth of children to accepting wandering citizens out in the world. Speaking of citizens, in Banished, as players grow their cities, citizens will age and eventually die which results as citizens being a precious resource to account for.


Anno 2205

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  • Developer: Blue Byte Mainz
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Platforms: PC
  • Release: November 2015

Set in the distant future, Anno 2205 brings the long-running Anno series of games all the way to the Moon. At first, you “conquer” all of Earth, building large, bustling technologically-driven cities and grand industrial complexes before you run out of space and travel to the stars.


Tropico 5

  • Developer: Haemimont Games
  • Publisher: Kalypso Media
  • Platforms: PC, PS4, XB 360, XBO
  • Release: May 2014

The banana republic simulator (not to be confused with the clothing brand) goes into the fifth iteration, progressing into the direction of a full-on SimCity-style city building simulation. For the first time in the series, Tropico 5 will also feature competitive and cooperative online multiplayer features where the players can compete or cooperate with other, potentially rival dictators. It’ll be out for both the PC and PlayStation 4.


Anno 2070

  • Developer: Related Designs, Blue Byte
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Platforms: PC
  • Release: November 2011

Anno 2070 is a lot like previous games in the series, including Dawn of Discovery, but with the crucial difference in that it’s set in the future. The game plays upon the looming catastrophe of the sea level rise and the melting polar ice caps, as humanity continues to grow and expand well beyond sustainable levels.

It’s your job as a manager to build a sustainable island city while currying favor with each of the game’s three factions—industrialists, environmentalists, and technologists. In return for your support, each faction provides you access with unique technologies and advancements for your city.

In addition to the game’s single player campaign and freeplay modes, Anno 2070 comes with an online component which adds weekly challenges for players and a live voting system for passive bonuses to your city, which can change the dynamic of how you build, and manage your city.


Cities: Skylines

  • Developer: Colossal Order
  • Publisher: Paradox Interactive
  • Platforms: PC, XBO, PS4
  • Release: March 2015

Cities: Skylines offers players the ability to construct gigantic cities unrestrained by small land plots, and extensive modding capabilities. Inspired by the likes of the SimCity series of games from Maxis, Cities: Skylines is everything a city-building fanatic could ever ask for in a game.


SimCity 2013

  • Developer: Maxis
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Platforms: PC,
  • Release: March 2013

SimCity might be regarded by many as a dud for its smaller environments, restrictive DRM, and host of limitations, but it is by no means a bad city builder, or even a bad game. It’s a good game that’s only getting better with the passage of time and the release of more and more updates based on suggestions and feedback from the community.

What SimCity brings to the table in terms of improvements is expansion. Previously the games focused more on controlling the game at-large. The new game incorporates some degree of micromanagement as well. While it’s not Sims level of control, we are able to interact with the citizens. Basically, there’s multiple things to keep in mind whenever you’re building something, regardless of what it is.

Also in the new SimCity are interconnected cities, which are called regions. This allows you to use friends to better manage your own city. For instance, you can build a city where your citizens work, another friend builds a city where they live, and another friend can have a city where they go to have fun. All parties involved would benefit and this would allow players to focus their efforts in specific ways—should that be of interest. Unfortunately, the region system is tied into the game’s online DRM, which makes it impossible to play offline and forces players into a pseudo-online mode.

The game is certainly a step forward for the genre in some ways and a step backward in others.


Planetbase

  • Developer: Madruga Works
  • Publisher: Madruga Works
  • Platforms: PC, XBO
  • Release: October 2015

In Planetbase, players guide a group of space settlers in an attempt to establish a base on a remote and uninhabitable planet that doesn’t look too different from Mars. Grow food, collect and mine resource, survive disasters, and build a sufficient colony in an environment unfit for human habitation. It’s basically The Martian in the form of a city building sim.


Valhalla Hills

  • Developer: Funatics Software GmbH
  • Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
  • Platforms: PC
  • Release: December 2015

A smaller, more modest independently developed title than the rest of the games on this list, Valhalla Hills is a throwback to the original Settlers games (before they turned into RTS titles) and invites players to build Viking settlements and earn a place in the halls of Valhalla.


Tropico 4

  • Developer: Haemimont Games, Feral Interactive
  • Publisher: Kalypso Media, FX Interactive, Feral Interactive
  • Platforms: PC, XB 360
  • Release: August 2011

Tropico 4 allows you to fill the shoes of the dictator of a small banana republic called Tropico, which is not unlike Cuba. You’re the El Presidente, and it’s up to you to play the role of a tyrant or that of a benevolent dictator.

The power to develop your city is at your fingertips as you manage an economy and handle dozens of projects to ensure the happiness and prosperity of your citizens. You can rely upon a multitude of sources to generate wealth, including plantations, factories, or even tourism. If you want, you can even play the game like Kim Jong Il and turn your city into a dystopia.


SimCity 2000

  • Developer: Maxis
  • Publisher: Maxis
  • Platforms: PC, SNES, Sega Saturn, PSX, N64, GBA
  • Release: 1993

SimCity may have been the foundation of the city building genre, but it was SimCity 2000 that brought the genre to my attention. The game, as it was, was sophisticated but not too complicated for a twelve year old to grasp—nor did it ever give me the impression that it was “made for children.” If there was one thing I hated about games when I was younger, it was being pandered to with a game clearly made for kids—like the SimTown, also from Maxis, which came out a year or two after SimCity 2000.

SimCity 2000 is a game which allowed me to pretend at being a civil engineer. It let me construct a city which I’d have been proud to live in, made up of neat little grids with buildings placed in an ideal donut shape—not unlike the layout of Barcelona. It’s a game that taught me the broader impacts of pollution, traffic congestion, and what happens to a city when you reduce the subsidies to your police force and fire stations.

In other words, the game gave me a pretty decent understanding of how the world works, at least on a localized level—a topic that The Wire, a HBO series, took to an even more personal level.

I’ll be the first to admit that the game is an abstract simulation, but it’s one which encouraged me to think while other games only encouraged me to jump when instructed or shoot at the target in my crosshairs.


SimCity 4

  • Developer: Maxis
  • Publisher: EA Games, Aspyr Media
  • Platforms: PC
  • Release: January 2003

After the somewhat disappointing SimCity 3, Maxis’s release of SimCity 4 was a true return to form for both the company and the city building sim. More than just a city builder, the game is an architectural playground for those of us who wish to have the power of god—and Daniel H. Burnham—at our fingertips.

SimCity 4 provides an impressive level of detail to a game where detail is absolutely essential, ranging from street traffic to large scale urban planning.

The amount of time I spent playing SimCity 4 couldn’t be measured in hours, or even days—but in months and years. It is without a doubt the best SimCity game and city builder in existence.


Frostpunk

  • Developer: 11bit studios
  • Publisher: 11 bit studios
  • Platforms: PC
  • Release: April 24, 2018

Frostpunk is set in an alternate 1886 timeline where an unusual global winter has struck the world leaving millions in a frozen tundra. In order to survive, innocent civilians fled to cities built around a generator that uses rich coal resources which helps to keep the city warm. Players will take control of a generator city as they build it up along with managing the resources to keep the civilians safe and warm.

The game offers three modes to go through all of which feature different gameplay storylines. For instance, depending on the game mode, players may lead a group of explorers on an expedition to find a new coal reserve north of London or you could find yourself playing as a leader of a refugee group that has taken control of a generator city reservation made exclusively for the wealthy.

Currently, Frostpunk is available on the PC platform, but it seems that the 11 bit studios are working on a console release for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.


Prison Architect

  • Developer: Introversion Software
  • Publisher: Introversion Software
  • Platforms: PC, PS4, X360, XBO, Ios, Android
  • Release: October 6, 2015

Prison Architect puts players in control of operating and building a private prison. There are several elements that go into the building and maintaining your private prison which include building cells, connecting utilities along with hiring various staff members.

Outside of actually building up the prison, Prison Architect also puts players into the shoes of governor where you will micromanage your prison in hopes of establishing a positive reform program. However, there are other game modes available if you grow tired of actually building and managing.

Escape mode was introduced when the game released which allows players to step into the shoes of a convict. Instead of maintaining order, convicts are tasked with creating chaos while also attempting to escape the prison.