Best City Building Games
[Updated: April 2019]
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.
#18 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.
#17 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.
#16 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.