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…
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 1, 2023 by Ryan Bamsey: City builders are some of the most gratifying games out there – the ability to construct sprawling metropolises from the most humble beginnings evokes a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. We’ve added an indie gem to this list for those looking for a new experience!
Little Cities VR
One of the most satisfying things about city builders is that they allow you to create sprawling settlements that you’d love to live in. Little Cities takes that compelling gameplay and takes you right into the city you build thanks to the wonders of virtual reality, allowing you to see close-up the inner workings of your metropolis. It has all the usual trappings of a city builder – laying roads, deciding which buildings go where, etcetera, but brings it to a whole new level of immersion.
You actually get to interact with the people who live in your city, too. You can wave at them and watch them as they go about their daily lives, whether they’re indulging in some exciting skiing or hot air ballooning, or simply taking a breather to eat their lunch. This makes the world feel far more alive and capitalizes on the strengths of virtual reality really well, and the delightful soundtrack accentuates the cosy, calming direction the game takes.
With the recent Sandbox update, you now have even more control over your Little City! In such a chill game, it’s refreshing that you can sculpt your own perfect island to build a city on. This update adds a ton of new objects and attractions to place around, too, from pirate coves to ancient ruins. This sort of hassle-free city builder experience is perfect for VR.
Little Cities is only available for the Quest line of virtual reality headsets.
Set in ancient Mesopotamia, Sumerians allows you to build up a small settlement into a sprawling city. This game stands out from its contemporaries by utilizing zoning mechanics most often seen in modern city builders, which helps the settlements you make feel more realistic and alive.
While in Early Access at the time of writing, Sumerians receives frequent updates from its solo developer. It’s an underrated gem that proves to be as educational as it is enjoyable.
Most cities are built by and inhabited by humans – most. In Timberborn, settlements are built by beavers, who are under your control – it’s your job to direct these furry critters around as they build houses, gather resources, and do what beavers do best – dam.
As you’d imagine, water plays a very important part of the game, and this is one of the ways that Timberborn sets itself apart from its compatriots on the city builder scene. The game is currently in Early Access, but enjoys a dedicated fanbase and oodles of positive reviews.
The Architect: Paris
The Architect: Paris is a very different type of city builder, but it’ll appeal to those detail-oriented and aesthetic-obsessed gamers out there. This game has you customizing and designing buildings down to the minutiae, from heights to awnings and foliage.
In reality, The Architect: Paris is more a city designer game than a city builder, but it offers a unique take on the genre. It encourages creative thinking and perfectionism, and can end up stealing hours of your time.
Cities XL deserves a spot on this list alone for how ambitious it was back at 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.
Against The Storm
Roguelikes are very popular a the moment, getting blended with every other genre you can think of. Against the Storm blends roguelike progression into the city builder genre, and adds a dash of fantasy in for good measure.
This game is incredibly compelling – turning a city builder into a ‘just one more game’ experience works incredibly well, and the randomized nature of the game means you won’t get bored easily. It feels like a well-rounded, full experience, despite still being in Early Access.
Kingdoms Reborn is a city builder that mostly revolves around resource management and the betterment of your residents’ lives. You’re responsible for choosing their location, providing them with food and luxuries, and expanding your territory to attract more people.
Interestingly, Kingdoms Reborn can be played online with other players in real-time on the same map. You can play cooperatively with gifts and planning to share resources or competitively by cornering the global markets or using the game’s basic military mechanics to flex your might. It’s a very interesting game that shines when you play with a pal.
Songs Of Syx
If incredibly complex colony simulators are what you enjoy, Songs of Syx might scratch the eternal itch. Less a city builder and more a city-state builder, Songs of Syx lets you dive into the minutiae of your residents’ lives and encourages micromanagement.
It cannot be understated that the scale of this game is immense, and it’s a truly impressive feeling to watch your tiny colony grow into an empire capable of defending itself.
If you’re looking for a relaxing yet still compelling experience, Ostriv might be exactly what you need. In this game, you build a village in the countryside of Ukraine, tending to the needs of your villagers and becoming prosperous.
The attention to detail in Ostriv is very impressive. Of particular note is the way that your residents will make use of their land to grow crops or keep livestock, which they can then use to make money or simply survive.
Going Medieval is a colony sim game that follows a small group of people who find themselves without a home thanks to the Black Death. You’ll start out with a handful of raw material and eventually work your way towards building a whole settlement.
While the game is still in Early Access, Going Medieval boasts a great deal of content, consistent updates, and the capability to pull of some really impressive building projects, if you have the time and patience to pursue such a thing.
While Townscaper isn’t a city builder in the traditional sense, there is no doubt that the whole purpose of this game is to build a settlement. You have many options for colors and styles, and it’s a very calming experience overall.
Townscaper has come into its own as a tool for those who wish to use their manufactured towns as set pieces in their tabletop games. It lets you make a town exactly as you need it in exactly the configurations you need.
The SimCity 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.
Medieval Dynasty is an odd one where rather than being some omniscient figure dictating where buildings are built and what your residents do, you are instead just some guy who dictates where buildings are built and what your residents do.
The settlement-building features of this game are incredibly fun to interact with and they turn the game from a simple survival game with a generations system into something far grander.
A small settlement with villagers from Foundation on the PC
While this title is currently in Early Access, Foundation is a very promising medieval-era city builder from Polymorph Games who proudly advertise their game’s lack of a grid and focus on the procedural nature of settlement building.
The game is very good at emulating what it must have felt like to manage a medieval settlement, with many events being out of your hands and the enforcement of a reactive rather than proactive gameplay style. In addition to that, the game has a thriving modding community sure to extend the title’s lifespan many years.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The Settlers 7: Paths To A Kingdom
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: Paths to a Kingdom 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 not present in other city builders.
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.
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.