There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes with building your own tiny village, town or city, watching it grow and seeing your inhabitants thrive. Or you could watch them suffer through devastating natural disasters as you panic and desperately press buttons to make it go away… Either way, it’s certainly entertaining. The city builder genre however, has become somewhat difficult to navigate with several long-standing successful franchises to choose from and more than a few poorly executed cash-ins. Here is our guide to the genre; the top ten city building games.
First, we take a trip back in time to the Viking age with Valhalla Hills. The incentive here is more than just to watch your inhabitants survive, you have to lead your band of outcast viking warriors to the top of a mountain where a portal will take them to Valhalla, the viking afterlife. This is trickier than you may think as these warriors have a strong thirst for mead and are more than a little lazy. They have their own wants and desires, so the gameplay mainly centres around making sure they can get to what they want as quickly and efficiently as possible, even if that means ignoring their work. This certainly makes for a challenge as you protect and feed them, help them fight off beasts and just generally survive the harsh mountain environment. With varying mountain terrains, day/night cycles and procedurally generated maps, there’s tonnes of variety and infinite possibilities for new challenges.
From the past we journey to the future and to another planet (and of course, build a city on it) in Planetbase! Take control of a group of settlers as they colonise a whole new planet. It’s simple enough in terms of gameplay; you instruct your colonists to build structures in order to survive, ensuring they have a supply of water, food and, of course, oxygen all the while. On a quest for the colony to become self-sufficient, you must help your colonists grow crops in bio-domes, mine metal, collect energy, find water and so on. Your colonists can also build bots, adding to your workforce and increasing the need for prioritising your workers into suitable roles. With 4 different planets to conquer, each more challenging than the last, and natural events such as sandstorms and meteors to endure, Planetbase provides a nice level of challenge that will have you committed to expanding your colony.
Next up is Ubisoft taking us back to the future again with Anno 2205. With a focus on business simulation, you must build up your city and take over regions belonging to competing corporations in order to build the greatest corporation known to earth. Then you’ve got to take it to the moon. Of course, many argue that gameplay is oversimplified in 2205, especially if you’re looking for a real challenge from your city builder. In which case, Anno 2070 would be the way to go. It really depends on the kind of experience you want; the more relaxed Anno 2205, or the challenge of 2070. Either way, it’s a guaranteed solid play.
What could be better than relaxing on a tropical island? Building an empire to stand the test of time on a tropical island of course! At number 7 it’s Tropico 5. Improving on previous titles in the series, Tropico 5 adds new features such as co-op play, multiplayer and the ability to move through eras! Can your colony withstand the great wars? Is your technology advanced enough to make it from the early colonial era right through to beyond the 21st century? Put your dictator skills to the test and build up your colony in this light humoured take on the city builder genre.
Another Viking adventure at number 6 but this time, we’ve got a lot more control and much more solid construction mechanics. The Viking elders have sent their bravest warriors to conquer Northgard; A picturesque new continent in which the warriors must survive, building up their colony all while battling dire wolves, undead warriors and giants. While Northgardis arguably more of a real-time strategy game, construction definitely plays a massive part, affecting access to resources and the like. For satisfying strategy and addictive gameplay, Northgard is one to try.
What kind of City Builder list would this be without SimCity? SimCity 2013 has everything we love from previous titles and adds more detailed simuation, multiplayer and of course more up to date graphics. It’s one of the most solid urban planning simulations out there, letting you build the city of your dreams, be that to benefit the sims living there or to slowly kill them with horrific pollution due to over-industrialisation… Anything is possible!
Now, number 4 is, strictly speaking, a turn-based strategy game but there’s no doubt that its city building elements are the backbone of its gameplay. Civilization V was a triumph upon its release and still reigns supreme as a TBS but the strategy of figuring out where to build a city, how to optimize the income of resources and expanding your civilization are all aspects of a solid city builder too, making Civ 5 an excellent choice. If you’re looking to hunker down and invest a solid 6 hours into some seriously deep strategic city building, this is the one for you.
This next one is not so much about keeping your little people happy as it is about keeping them inside. OK, you aren’t building a city, but rather, a prison – yet it works similar. In Prison Architect, your role is to build and maintain a maximum-security prison with the intention of keeping the inmates securely inside. But strong walls and iron bars aren’t the only strategies you’ll need when faced with the challenge of keeping your prisoners content as well, just in case they decide to have an unscheduled brawl. The simple top-down 2D graphics are pleasing enough and the humour ensures Prison Architect is a more relaxed, light-hearted play. With just enough micromanaging (such as hiring staff, connecting drains and lighting) to keep you busy and engaged. For a simple yet satisfying builder, Prison Architect is definitely worth a try.
At number 2 we have the deceptively calming Banished. It’s the fine balancing acts of growing your colony that keep you fully invested in this one. Have too many kids, famine breaks out. Have no kids, your workforce gets old and inefficient. Then there’s the harsh winters. Banished is simple to understand while its core mechanics add a subtle, yet nonetheless potentially devastating, layer of challenge. That being said, its overall ambience, music, sound effects and quaint atmosphere means you could easily spend hours in Banished. We recommend losing yourself in the world of Banished. But watch out, winter is coming.
Finally, at number one we have Cities: Skylines. With the opportunity to create vast, sprawling cities that really live and breathe, Cities: Skylines has to be close to perfection in terms of the city building genre. Starting with a tiny plot of land just off a motorway, building roads, residential and industrial areas draws in residents who can be given jobs. Skylines also features an intuitive transportation system, meaning optimizing your roads and reducing traffic plays a big role in how quickly you can progress. As your population increases, so does the repertoire of what you can build; schools, healthcare facilities, police stations and much more until your tiny square has grown into a bustling city. And with the inclusion of mod capabilities, the possibilities are practically endless. For an excellent all-round city builder, there’s nothing quite like Cities: Skylines. It’s a thoroughly rewarding experience that we totally recommend for veterans of the genre and newbies alike.
That’s it for our rundown of the top 10 city building games! We hope you enjoy trying some of them out and seeing what you can build. Just try not to run your residents into the ground… Happy building!