The Best City Builder Games06 Sep 2020 4
It might be the quarantine talking, but I've been in a strong management mood over the past few weeks. The ability to shape and mould the fate of entire cities is something deeply attractive at a time the whole world is on standby, and if you're into that kind of thing, too, here's a list of five great city-building/management games that can keep you busy during this lockdown and beyond.
Before you slide into my DMs, they're in no particular order and there are of course plenty more we could mention as well.
Best City Builder Games
- Surviving Mars
- Anno 2205
- Cities: Skylines
A small yet surprisingly competent game, this is one of the few 'survival sims' that actually managed to hit the spot and make something challenging yet fun. In charge of controlling a village from inception to... well, forever, Banished features one of the best colony management games/city building games around. The harsh winters, amazing soundtrack, and overall excellent level of polish made this one of my favourite indie strategy games ever.
First of all, this game is harsh. The atmosphere is very neutral, but actually keep the city growing and everyone fed and warm can be quite difficult, due to how suddenly things can go wrong. Unlike most survival games, which give you a certain breathing room, Banished requires you to keep your eye on the ball the whole time and treat this survival business with the utmost respect, as it takes quite a few winters before your village is stable enough that you can let go of the wheel for a bit.
As such, it ends up being an extremely engrossing game that actually requires you to think instead of just click around going through the motions, and it looks nice to boot. Plus, the full game download is around 300MB and it can be played on a potato, which makes Banished a great option even for those without super rigs. There are also several great mods you can check out if you want to spice up your game.
There's been a lot of space colonisation games over the years, but none has the heart and feel of Surviving Mars. Picking everything from sponsors and mission commander profiles to the specific rocket loadout based on available funds and tonnage, you set down on Mars loaded with drones tasked with building up the infrastructure for a future colony, including power, water, and oxygen as well as the domes the future colonists will live in.
Once that is established, you can call in a rocket from Earth loaded with select people from an extensive list of applicants -- people you select yourself, based on age, gender, specialisation, and even quirks like "Gamer", "Sexy", or "Vegan". When those people are on Mars, it's your job to keep them alive and reproducing, as well as turning the colony self-dependent so you can stop calling rockets from Earth loaded with advanced materials.
While there's a packed research tree and DLC that allows actual Terraforming to round up the package, it's the game's atmosphere that's unbeatable. Surviving Mars is well aware of the dichotomy born of the excitement of colonising a new planet and the homesickness and hardships caused when, well, surviving Mars. As a result, the game is packed with little touches that make it that much more human and warm, including multiple radio stations that perfectly grasp that mix of sorrow and optimism the colonists face every day. Like any strategy game, this one also suffers from that mid-game lull once the colony is up and running and you don't need to expand unless you want to, but Haemimont Games' strategy title is worth a shot even then -- this is without a doubt the most endearing and comprehensive experience available when it comes to colonising the Red Planet.
I know I'm gonna get flak for this, but Anno 2205 is an amazing game. The new (and well received) Anno 1800 is 95% exactly the same as Anno 2205, but with a colonial paint coating on top -- all the mechanics, tier economy, and even interface are lifted straight from its predecessor (that's why buildings and roads are placed via anachronistic futuristic holographic squares, which is very weird for a game set during the Age of Sailing).
Since I have no attachment to the 1800s, 2205 hits the spot way more effectively for me. It's a capable game that keeps the same constant ebb and flow of demand and supply, all made better by the sheer amount of space you have to work with. Temperate, cold, and even Lunar maps are available, each with its own unique resources that need to be produced then shipped to different sectors via space elevators. One DLC even adds a space station in orbit whose sole purpose for expansion is giving you massive bonuses in all other sectors.
To make things better, Anno never bugs you with anything. Everything can be done when you want it as you want it, including combat missions (which can be completely ignored past the tutorial). The game asks you to be on top of several different types of citizens, goods, and money flows at every single second of gameplay, but it also allows you simply sitback and survey your beautiful territories. It even notifies you to take a break once you play for more than two hours -- it's amazing, it's relaxing, and it's honestly one of the most satisfying management games I've ever played.
Ah, Frostpunk. The coldest game to ever warm my heart. Set in a world where all of Earth has been covered by an eternal ice age, this game from the developers of This War of Mine sees the remnants of society huddled up against a giant heat generator trying to survive the eternal winter.
While the game features city building in its purest form, it's actually more of a societal and moral management game. The harsh environment and scarcity of resources raises many difficult questions, and you will need to make choices both as a leader that will change the future of your city. Do you allow child labour to benefit the city now, or keep children in schools for a more hopeful future? Do you risk spreading medicine around and saving everyone, or you triage the patients and let a third of sick people die?
Do you send scouts to a distant interest point against an incoming snowstorm in hopes of finding people and resources, or do you pull them back and risk surviving a blizzard understaffed? And do you keep order by faith and religious wisdom, or by police force and vigilant brutality? All of those choices and more shape your city and you as a person, and the final montage of your city growing through the campaign makes it all worth it. Let's just hope you don't regret the creature you choose to become at the end.
We can't talk about city management without bringing up Cities: Skylines, the de facto spiritual successor of SimCity. Featuring everything from power, water, and gas to metros, buses, universities, and airports, Paradox' only city-building game so far is a staple of the genre.
Unlike other games in this list, this is less about building an infrastructure and more about playing mayor. You are not raising a colony or village or corporation, but a bonafide city that goes from a few suburbs to giant downtown districts filled with skyscrapers. You are utterly free to have buildings in any way, shape, or form you desire, and the end result is a very personal, highly sandbox-y experience where you literally build your own city.
The one problem with it is the sheer amount of DLC available, which puts many people off trying it due to the huge entry cost. If it helps, we've put together a Cities: Skylines DLC guide to help try and tackle this problem. Ig you take the plunge and like city management games, you will definitely get at least a few days of enjoyment off Cities: Skylines - especially if you then check out the mod scene.
Upcoming City Builder & Management Games
There's more games to celebrate than just the above, and there's plenty more on the horizon as well that have us excited! Here's a few of our top picks coming down the pipe:
- Builders of Egypt
- Surviving: The Aftermath
- Manor Lords
- Distant Kingdoms
What are you favourite city builders? Let us know in the comments!