The 11 Best City-Building Games of 2020

Construct and manage your own city

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The Rundown
"You will not only focus on building cities but learn to adapt to and manage technological breakthroughs and ideological uprisings."
"Will please any city-building fan with its layers of complex gameplay in micromanaging every little detail."
"You’ll guide a group of space settlers in hopes to ultimately set up a base colony that can operate on self-sufficiency."
"Carry out your fantasy of designing, building, and being in charge of your own super mall."
Best Futuristic City:
Ubisoft Anno 2205 at Amazon
"Sci-fi, city-building game puts you in the role of a CEO whose goal is to expand an enterprise while facing unique challenges."
"A survival-based, strategic city-building game where every decision you make comes with a lasting effect."
"Build and manage your own dinosaur amusement park from the ground up."
"Construction/management game that involves taking a band of dwarves to build a miniature civilization."
Runner-Up Best for Colonizing Space:
Paradox Interactive Surviving Mars at Steampowered.com
"Inspired by classic sci-fi stories by Asimov and sporting a retro-futuristic aesthetic that calls back to the 1960s Atomic Craze."
"The in-game day/night cycle affects citizen schedules and what tasks you can complete at any given time."

The best city-building games allow you to get creative in the way you run your dream utopia. Not only do you get to be imaginative, but these games are by design creative. These are not regular cities you will be designing. The games in this list do involve the internet, however, there are offline building options with just as much inventiveness.

You have a chance to colonize space with Madruga Works Planetbase at steampowered.com! Players can reform prisons in Paradox Interactive Prison Architect at steampowered.com. Traditional cities have their spotlight in Colossal Order Cities: Skylines (view on Amazon), which allows players to learn about urban planning from public transport to health care, and everything in between making this city 100 percent controlled by you. You have the power to create your own fantasy world when playing one of the best city-building games.

Best for Politics: Kalypso Media Urban Empire

What We Like
  • Over 1000 dynamic events

  • Adaptive learning curve

What We Don't Like
  • Slow bug patch rollout

Urban Empire deals with the nitty-gritty of politics where you will not only focus on building cities but learn to adapt to and manage technological breakthroughs and ideological uprisings. Every decision you make will directly affect both the civil infrastructure of your growing utopia and the price of politics that comes with it.​

You’re the mayor, and you come from a background of one of four ruling dynasties with specific history and traditions. For the next 200 years, it’ll be up to you to establish city districts, debate in governmental decisions at city council meetings, and even blackmail and bribe your political adversaries for leverage.

Through time, from the years 1820 to 2020, you’ll research technologies in five-year increments, deploying electric trams, antibiotics, and even video games, all of which will affect the happiness of your citizens. Urban Empire has over 1,000 dynamic events that challenge players to make crucial decisions involving everything from child labor, raising taxes, and what to do with the hippies.

Best Prison: Paradox Interactive Prison Architect

What We Like
  • Deep resource management system

  • detailed Wiki for tips and tricks

What We Don't Like
  • Difficult learning curve for genre newcomers

Prison Architect is all about managing and constructing your own private prison while detaining as much chaos as possible and turning a profit. The top-down, 2D, cartoony, visual sandbox game will please any city-building fan with its layers of complex gameplay in micromanaging every little detail.

You may need to read up on the Wikipedia page of Prison Architect to feel fully confident in your multiple approaches of management. You’ll first start off slow by building pathways to cells, and then gradually incorporate more patrols, CCTV cameras to break through the fog of war when guards aren’t looking, construct an isolated kitchen to avoid inmates potentially acquiring knives, and so many other subtleties that’ll go a long way in ensuring the flow of order.

On top of all this, you’ll need to find a way (or not) to meet the various needs of your prisoners, including sanitation, food, and clothes while stomping out fires, seizing, contraband, breaking up gangs, and ultimately, expanding out your prison. Even a clogged up toilet can start a riot, so you’ll need to be prepared for everything.

Best for Colonizing Space: Madruga Works Planetbase

What We Like
  • Easy resource management

What We Don't Like
  • No controller support

You're headed to space on a mission to colonize a remote planet in the city-building and management game Planetbase. Upon arrival, you’ll guide a group of space settlers in hopes to ultimately set up a base colony that can operate on self-sufficiency.

Planetbase has you commanding a group of colonists who construct numerous buildings and structures like wind turbines and solar panels that’ll provide oxygen and water for an ever-growing population. Your space settlers all come with different roles, including biologists who will look after food with armed security guards to defend it, engineers who can repair buildings and build components for robots who’ll do your dirty work, and medics who’ll heal people like your damaged miners that collect ore. You’ll need to brace yourself for disasters, too, including pirates who’ll ransack your turf and meteor impacts that can take out important supply depots, which can mean the difference between life and death. 

Best for Building A Mall: The Quadsphere Another Brick in The Mall

What We Like
  • Good balance between building and business management

What We Don't Like
  • Deep accounting mechanics may turn some players off

The cleverly titled Another Brick In The Mall lets you carry out your fantasy of designing, building, and being in charge of your own super mall. You’ll have your selection of various shops, supermarkets, restaurants, and more while hiring and managing a well-trained staff to keep everything in order.

You’ll start from the ground up in Another Brick In The Mall, optimally laying out every road with designated parking spots for customers and deliveries while building up each wall, tile floor, door, and more before you jump into the goods and services markets. Ultimately, you’ll want to turn a profit, which relies on seeing the finer details in the bigger picture like how well your staff performs while balancing their satisfaction, checking which items sell the best, and making sure you satisfy every customer because they may not ever come back if you’re charging too much on hotdogs.

Accounting is paramount in Another Brick In The Mall, and you’ll have thousands of characters and vehicles on the screen that, when zoomed out, looks like an ant colony.

Best Futuristic City: Ubisoft Anno 2205

What We Like
  • Varying biomes and construction zones

  • Complex economy

What We Don't Like
  • Online-only play

It’s the 23rd century and you’re ready to build the foundation of a futuristic city with eyes on the moon in Anno 2205. The strategic, sci-fi, city-building game puts you in the role of a CEO whose goal is to expand an enterprise while facing unique challenges, including stomping out competitors and meeting investor demands.

Anno 2205 has you starting out on Earth where you’ll gradually build houses and clear land for farms while acquiring resources such as purified water, energy, and minerals and upgrading the tier of your working class populous to operators, executives, and investors. As you thrive, you’ll enter new zones like the arctic where you’ll build science outposts that’ll eventually lead you to construct shield generators to protect your industrious moon factories from space debris.

Anno 2205’s complex economy and interstellar supply lines will keep you busy juggling a staff of thousands while jumping between your three settlements of your expanding corporate empire.

Best for Survival: 11 bit studios Frostpunk

What We Like
  • Decisions have lasting effects

  • Plenty of DLC

What We Don't Like
  • Controller support can be finnicky

You are in charge of the last bastion of humanity in Frostpunk, a survival-based, strategic city-building game where every decision you make comes with a lasting effect. It’s up to you to spark both fires of warmth and hope in your civilization in order to bear a worldwide volcanic winter.​​​

Frostpunk will draw you in with its outstanding story using a unique presentation of animation detailing a climate change catastrophe that plagues the late 1800s. You’ll rely and call upon your finite number of workers — all with their own needs and who prefer working on sunny days — who’ll trudge through the snow to gather resources while you push your limits in judgment calls over what vital life-saving structure to build next.

A number of ambiguous tough decisions will pop up as you write the law, shaping the fate of your society and leading to long-lasting consequences like whether you left the gravely ill to die or stretched food supplies by making a bad soup that everyone has to eat.

Best for Dinosaur Amusement Parks: Frontier Developments Jurassic World Evolution

What We Like
  • Effectively captures the spirit of the films

  • Extensive DLC

What We Don't Like
  • Micromanagement heavy

  • Lack many quality of life features present in other titles

Childhood dreams come alive with Jurassic World: Evolution where you’ll get to build and manage your own dinosaur amusement park from the ground up. You’ll be in charge of maintaining the safety and entertainment of your customers while creating a livable environment for your sensitive and needy dinosaurs.

Jurassic World: Evolution has you taking contracts from three factions as you start out with plotting your land and sending expedition teams to dig up fossils for DNA to make your own dinosaurs. The more different types of dinosaurs you have, the more customers you’ll get, but you’ll need to carefully balance both of their safeties by dividing them with electric fences and gates, making sure they’re not crowded, and having plenty of things to eat. You’ll get to tinker with building management, including adjusting prices of items and employing ranger stations to take care of your dinosaurs and contain them just in case any of them decide to escape and eat everyone.

Most Difficult: Kitfox Games Dwarf Fortress

What We Like
  • Procedurally generated worlds

  • Open-ended play

What We Don't Like
  • Brutal difficulty

  • Text-based play may not be for everyone

Dwarf Fortress (which inspired the second best-selling game in history: Minecraft) is considered to be one of the most difficult games in existence, but with that, comes the challenge of both conquering and cherishing its every moment. The construction/management game involves taking a band of dwarves to build a miniature civilization while managing resources, delegating jobs, reserving goods, building and using structures, and defending against goblins.

Each time you play Dwarf Fortress you’ll randomly generate an entire world with a passage of geological time, history, drainage and erosions, mineral deposits, Dwarf personalities, and so much more, which will all be factored into where you first set up your base.

From there, you’ll assign tasks to each dwarf, accumulating wood and food, crafting pickaxes, and eventually burrowing into a mountain where you’ll set up your fortress. Dwarf Fortress is open-ended and plays out like a book. Despite its graphics (which can be altered with graphic packs), a lot of the game is imagined in your head as you read a scroll of text about everything that occurs in the game.

Runner-Up Best for Colonizing Space: Paradox Interactive Surviving Mars

What We Like
  • Extensive developer and mod support

  • Tons of DLC

What We Don't Like
  • Micromanagement can be tedious at times

  • Endgame is a bit ambiguous

Inspired by classic sci-fi stories by Asimov and sporting a retro-futuristic aesthetic that calls back to the 1960s Atomic Craze, Surviving Mars is a wonderful city building and space colonization game. Players choose between different agencies for financial support and supply drops while learning how to best grow their own food and mine Mars for minerals and other resources. 

Colonists are controlled by their own AI scripts so no two people are the same and create dynamic relationships within the community. Research trees are randomized for different progression routes for each playthrough. You can research everything from oxygen supply systems to creating drones for more efficient and safer terraforming. For players who have mastered the base game, there is plenty of DLC available that provides more story elements and robust mod support for user-created narratives and items.

Best Urban Planning: Colossal Order Cities: Skylines

What We Like
  • Tons of DLC

  • Mod support

  • Deep economy

What We Don't Like
  • Difficult learning curve

For players looking to sink their teeth into actual urban planning, Cities: Skylines delivers the perfect play experience. As the mayor of your city, you'll have to manage everything from education and infrastructure to healthcare and law enforcement. This multi-tiered playstyle paired with the deep and realistic in-game economy causes your citizens to react in genuine and fluid ways to almost any scenario, good or bad. 

Your city will even have a fully realized traffic system complete with public transportation, private vehicles, and prime time rush hours. The in-game day/night cycle affects citizen schedules and what tasks you can complete at any given time, creating more dynamic play. There are 26 DLC packs available for players looking for extra challenges as well as mod support for player-created items and UI elements.

Best Island Development: Kalypso Media Tropico 6

What We Like
  • Revised election system

  • Build on multiple islands

What We Don't Like
  • No official mod support

The Tropico series is best-known for its humorous parody depictions of the Cold War as well as the Banana Wars, but the latest entry introduces some great new concepts. Players can now control large island archipelagos, building an empire on several landmasses at once. This creates new dynamics for infrastructure and transportation planning as well as empire expansion. The research system has been revised to focus more on political ideologies and policies to help you become the greatest dictator or statesman. 

Tropico 6 sees the return of the election speech mechanic to help you create a campaign platform to either uphold or ignore as you see fit. The citizens of your island nation will react to your actions either positively or negatively. This includes productivity declines and political revolt when subjected to inhumane conditions and totalitarian policies. You can play with up to four friends online to see who can reign supreme.

What to Look for in a City Building Game

Complex systems - The best city-building games are elegant on the surface but hide underlying complex systems. If you’re looking for a great city-building game that will keep you occupied for hundreds of hours, choose one with gameplay that’s easy to pick up, but takes time to master.

Innovative settings - The city-building genre isn’t just limited to mundane city planning. If you’ve had your fill of Sim City and Cities Skylines, why not check out a game that uses similar mechanics in a totally different setting, like a mall, prison, outer space, or even fantasy world?

Open-Ended vs. campaigns - Most city-building games are open-ended (letting you do whatever you want), and many don’t have any conditions for winning the game at all. If you want a little more structure to your play, without taking away from the fun and creativity, look for titles like the Anno series, which give you the option of playing through single-player campaigns while you build your cities.