15 Best City Building Games Of All Time

Rose Hansen

City life isn’t always a walk in the park (unless you’re actually walking through a park, that is). It’s noisy, crowded, and commutes can be frustrating. If only there was a way to design the perfect city to end all your urban woes… RELATED: The Best Simulation Games Luckily, game […]

City life isn’t always a walk in the park (unless you’re actually walking through a park, that is). It’s noisy, crowded, and commutes can be frustrating. If only there was a way to design the perfect city to end all your urban woes…

RELATED: The Best Simulation Games

Luckily, game designers feel your pain and for years they have provided us with an outlet to play God and construct our very own utopias. Why brave the real streets when you can just build your own to go anywhere your heart desires? We’ve constructed our very own list of the Best City Building Games of All Time so that you can find the ideal way to create a world of your very own.

Updated July 10, 2021 by Tom Bowen: The simulation genre has come an awfully long way since its humble beginnings back in the late eighties and early nineties. Since then, a ridiculous amount of smaller subgenres have spawned from it, with city-builders among the most popular. As a result, there are plenty of great city-building games available for those looking to test their city-planning skills or reign supreme over a kingdom of subordinates. Some allow players to visit the past, while others venture deep into the future; visiting alien planets or technologically advanced versions of earth.


15
Cities XL

Developer: Monte Cristo
Publisher: Monte Cristo
Platform(s): PC
Initial Release Date: October 9, 2009
Era(s): Modern
Metacritic Rating: 69
User Score: 4.1

Cities XL deserves a spot on this list alone for how ambitious it was back in the time it was released. On the surface, it appeared to be a simple city-building game but it had an online multiplayer component which was interesting, to say the least. Cities XL also allowed players to interact with one another in a persistent planet. Each city belongs to a player and each player can even trade with others, basically running a simulated world.

Sadly this online service was closed several months later and Cities XL became just a single-player game instead of an MMO based around city-building. Even so, it was a big deal back in its time and was one of the best city-building games back then before SimCity and Cities: Skylines improved on the 3D city-builder formula.

14
SimCity

SimCity
Developer: Maxis Emeryville
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform(s): PC
Initial Release Date: March 6, 2013
Era(s): Modern
Metacritic Rating: 64
User Score: 2.2

The Sim City franchise has been around a long time. The first entry in the series dates back almost 30 years. It is essentially the grandfather of all city-building games and paved the way (no pun intended) for many games to come. These titles are still relevant in the gaming sphere, extending from PC and consoles to find a new home on mobile devices.

It may not be the most innovative title on this list, but the formula they created is still solid today and definitely worth your time. You can even check out the final entry in the series, SimCity: Buildit, for free on your favorite mobile device.

13
Valhalla Hills

Valhalla Hills
Developer: Funatics Software
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One & PC
Initial Release Date: December 2, 2015
Era(s): Viking
Metacritic Rating: 69
User Score: 6.9

If your greatest goal in life is to gain favor with a Nordic God and earn your place in Valhalla, have we got a game for you! Valhalla Hills is a throwback to the popular Settlers games in which players will build settlements in an attempt to earn favor with Odin. If you’re looking for a more laid-back city-building experience, this is one we highly recommend.

The colorful, cartoonish art style is appealing and there is less of a focus on combat than some of our other titles. You will need to fight for resources with the local Dwarven population and there are some monsters to contend with, but for the most part, you can focus on expanding your Nordic empire.

12
Urban Empire

Urban Empire
Developer: Reborn Games
Publisher: Kalypso Media Digital
Platform(s): PC
Initial Release Date: January 21, 2017
Era(s): Industrial, Nationalist, World War, Cold War & Modern
Metacritic Rating: 62
User Score: 5.3

Urban Empire is a city-building sim that takes a slightly different approach. Rather than focusing on the building aspect, Urban Empire tasks you with furthering your civilization through diplomacy. You spend the bulk of your time competing for votes and favor among your citizen.

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You will build relationships as frequently as you destroy them, all the while researching ways to improve life in your empire. This entry is for players keen to witness the unraveling of a “historical family drama” rather than participate in a true strategy game.

11
Surviving Mars

Surviving Mars
Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One & PC
Initial Release Date: March 15, 2018
Era(s): Future
Metacritic Rating: 76
User Score: 6.4

If space colonies are more your thing, Surviving Mars is a great option to feed the explorer in you. You will begin your journey on Mars, which is currently a barren wasteland. Luckily, the game provides all the tools required to make it habitable. This title is not for the faint of heart, however.

You will be battling the deadly atmosphere, lack of oxygen, and infertile land, making your job all the more difficult. After you’ve established a livable settlement, you will start attracting humans to your colony. It is now your job to ensure their survival and trust us, it’s not easy. Get ready to micro-manage!

10
Aven Colony

Aven Colony
Developer: Mothership Entertainment
Publisher: Team17
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One & PC
Initial Release Date: July 25, 2017
Era(s): Future
Metacritic Rating: 77
User Score: 7.9

In Aven Colony, players will face a barrage of alien abnormalities as they try to establish their otherworldly civilizations. Alien plagues, extreme weather, and hostile species await you as you attempt to carve out your own little corner of space.

Your job as overseer is to ensure the survival of your citizens. This involves mining minerals for resources, building hospitals, and maintaining order. Once your city is stable, the game then introduces bigger goals to entice you further. This may include large-scale military operations or exploration missions.

9
The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom

The Settlers
Developer: Blue Byte
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform(s): PC
Initial Release Date: March 25, 2010
Era(s): Middle Ages
Metacritic Rating: 79
User Score: 5.2

The Settlers have always been one of the longest-running hybrid video games in modern history and it oddly combines city-building with real-time strategy (RTS) and many other elements from other genres. This depends on which Settler game we’re talking about but The Settlers: Rise of an Empire is one of the rare gems in the franchise.

It takes place in a medieval world, making it a unique title in this list as well for its ingenuity alone. It borrows mechanics from Civilization games where you get to pick a leader or faction and build your mere plot of land into your own empire through military actions, development, and many more aspects no present in other city builders.

8
Banished

Banished
Developer: Shining Rock Software
Publisher: Shining Rock Software
Platform(s): PC
Initial Release Date: February 18, 2014
Era(s): Early Modern
Metacritic Rating: 73
User Score: 8.1

Banished is one of the most unique takes on the city-building formula for this list since it delves into a setting that’s practically unexplored in its genre: medieval era. In that regard, you control a group of exiled travelers in Banished whereupon you’re forced to build your village and eventually city from scratch after being banished by a feudal lord.

RELATED: The Best City Building Tabletop Games

This also makes Banished a survival title on top of a city-builder– something you don’t usually experience in city-builder games. The game even makes it so that your primary resource is townspeople who get old, get sick, and even die, making managing them an important element of this game. It’s worth playing alone for its unique take.

7
Planetbase

Planet Base
Developer: Madruga Works
Publisher: Madruga Works
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One & PC
Initial Release Date: October 16, 2015
Era(s): Future
Metacritic Rating: 70
User Score: 7.2

Continuing with our space theme, we have Madruga Works’ Planet Base. All the usual suspects are here: base building, resource management, and citizen satisfaction. Where Planet Base sets itself apart is its varying types of planets.

The game allows you to choose between 4 different planets, each with increasing difficulty and different environmental hazards to contend with. For instance, the frozen planet will pit you against sub-zero temperatures, while the Storm Planet will hit you with a deluge of storm effects. It is up to you to keep your pioneers alive long enough to create a stable and liveable colony.

6
Frostpunk

Frostpunk
Developer: 11 bit studios
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC & Mobile
Initial Release Date: April 24, 2018
Era(s): Late 19th Century
Metacritic Rating: 84
User Score: 8.4

Frostpunk, as the title suggests, focuses on the importance of warmth and surviving the harsh cold. In an alternate version of history, humanity has been defeated by climate change and been forced to contend with extreme cold that has decimated most of the planet. The tale is a grim one, to be sure.

As the leader of humanity’s last hope, you must use what little resources are left to try and construct a haven to keep the dwindling population alive. Frostpunk is not for the weak-willed and will challenge you both technically and morally. As the story unfolds you will be faced with difficult choices that will ultimately change the world around you. The level of depth and storytelling in Frostpunk is rarely seen in this genre.

5
Anno 2070

Anno 2070
Developer: Related Designs
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform(s): PC
Initial Release Date: November 17, 2011
Era(s): Future
Metacritic Rating: 83
User Score: 7.1

Few games are as addictive in nature as Anno 2070. The game intrigues players by using the carrot-on-a-stick method that rewards you consistently the more you play. Set in the not-so-distant future, Anno 2070 provides players the opportunity to reshape civilization after disasters have decimated much of the planet (we’re sensing a common theme).

There is a little something for everyone here: large-scale economies to manage, warfare among other factions, and deep gameplay. No seriously, you can build a city underwater! Embrace the future and build a new world.

4
Tropico 6

Tropico 6
Developer: Limbic Entertainment
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch & PC
Initial Release Date: March 29, 2019
Era(s): Colonial, World Wars, Cold War & Modern
Metacritic Rating: 78
User Score: 6.5

Tropico is a far lighter take on the city-building genre than our last few entries. That is to say, it is far more comedic in nature. The gameplay here is still complex enough to keep you busy for hours on end. In Tropico 6, you begin as a governor in the Colonial era, with aspirations of becoming “El Presidente” of your ever-evolving island nation.

RELATED: Tropico 6: The Best Industry To Make Money

You will lead the inhabitants of your tropical paradise through the ages while trying to hold your seat in office. You must do whatever it takes to maintain your power, whether it’s rigging elections, bribing officials, or flexing your military muscle by issuing edicts. Politics will play a huge part in this game so get ready to get dirty.

3
Caesar III

Caesar III
Developer: Impressions Games
Publisher: Sierra Studios
Platform(s): PC
Initial Release Date: September 30, 1998
Era(s): Roman
Metacritic Rating: N/A
User Score: N/A

Impressions Games have always been veterans of the city-builder genre as many old gamers will know. Back in their heyday, one of their finest games was Caesar III where the players take on the role of a classical Roman governor trying to improve your own Roman city – or even Rome itself – amidst the turmoil and barbarian threats.

While the graphics are badly outdated by today’s standards, Caesar III’s gameplay is enough to hook many players today, even the young ones. It introduces layer upon layer of mechanics and cause-and-effect gameplay designs where every improvement or building in your city can initiate a domino effect. Do note that it has a steep learning curve.

2
Pharaoh

Pharaoh
Developer: Impressions Games
Publisher: Sierra Studios
Platform(s): PC
Initial Release Date: October 31, 1999
Era(s): Ancient Egyptian
GameRankings Score: 82%
User Score: N/A

Pharaoh is another game made by Impressions Games and to best sum it up, it’s Caesar III but with an ancient Egyptian skin. That sounds like a derivatively bad thing but Pharaoh is often considered as one of the finest city-building games of its time. Pharaoh also makes some significant alterations to its city-building formula compared to the Caesar games.

For one, players have more control over the management of the civilians and their quality of life. Pharaoh also encompasses many of the quirks of ancient Egyptian culture (such as god worshipping) and seamlessly combines it into gameplay, making the game appear like a history lesson as well. If you ever tried and even liked it, there’s also an expansion pack that wedges Cleopatra into the game.

1
Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines
Developer: Colossal Order
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch & PC
Initial Release Date: March 10, 2015
Era(s): Modern
Metacritic Rating: 85
User Score: 8.8

The draw of Cities Skylines, compared to similar games in the genre, is the sheer scope and scale of what this game offers. You will not have to contend with earth-shattering disasters or warring factions here. Instead, players will focus on building a grandiose city with a life of its own. The level of micromanagement here is staggering and there are plenty of great mods for those looking for even more control.

Designing a fully functioning city means managing taxes, establishing businesses, exploiting resources, and of course, it all has to function. Building roads, transit systems, creating city zones, laying water pipes, and more await you in this intricate city-sim. By the time your city is “complete,” you will have a sprawling metropolis with a population that lives, works, and functions much like a real-world counterpart. When it comes to the best city-building games, none can match Skylines when it comes to depth or detail.

NEXT: Cities: Skylines: The Best DLCs You Can Get Today


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