The 8 Best City-Building Games to Buy in 2018

Construct and manage your own city

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

Ever since SimCity hit it big time back in 1989, city-building games have laid down their territory as a video game genre best experienced on the PC. The gameplay takes a break from the conventionality of a more action-oriented shooter or platformer by evoking both the free-range of endless creativity and strategized thinking of its players.

Below you’ll find the best city-building games for PC. Each title offers a unique twist and feel on the genre, so whether you want to manage a colony and adapt to an atmosphere on a distant planet in Planetbase, manage a private prison, dinosaur park, or mall, or even struggle to survive as the last city on Earth in Frostpunk, you'll find something for you here. So if you’re looking for more critical thinking based games that reward you on your hard work and decision making, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to see our picks for the best city-building games to buy today.

Our Top Picks

Best for Politics: Urban Empire

Urban Empire
Courtesy of Amazon

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: Prison Architect

Prison Architect
Courtesy of Steam

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: Planetbase

Courtesy of Steam

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: Another Brick In The Mall

Another Brick In The Mall
Courtesy of Steam

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: Anno 2205

It’s the 23rd century and you’re ready to erect 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: Frostpunk

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: Jurassic World: Evolution

Jurassic World: Evolution
Courtesy of Steam

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: Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress
Courtesy of Dwarf Fortress

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.