The 9 Best City-Building Games

Construct and manage your own city

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The Rundown
"You’ll guide a group of space settlers in hopes to ultimately set up a base colony that can operate on self-sufficiency."
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."
"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."
"A charming new take on the familiar system where players build the most efficient transit stations—or not."
"Disarmingly clever and cute, Two Point Hospital nails the humorous elements while also showcasing an increasingly complex simulation game."
"Bind together with other survivors to cover your basic survival needs, scavenge for resources, and then expand out into the world."

Creativity knows no bounds when it comes to the best city-building simulation games, especially when paired with the latest gaming laptops or the newest consoles. The best games not only wow us with their gameplay mechanics, but use their unique, cinematic art and storytelling to take our breath away while they tear our hearts out—or our colonists’ hearts, but who’s keeping track?

Whether you’re into post-apocalyptic survival of the fittest, urban development, space colonization, or operating the latest and greatest transit station or hospital in town, there’s a little bit of something for everyone out there these days. We particularly appreciate simulation games with lots of customizable setup options, as we find that these often offer high replayability value.

Build your dream city—and then vicariously destroy it. The best simulation games offer ease of play, resource management systems that encourage complex solutions that aren’t one-size-fits-all, and are up-front about in-game mechanics, so while the twists in the storytelling may knock you off your feet, you’re always equipped to make the best judgment call for your simulation.

Best for Colonizing Space: Madruga Works Planetbase

Planetbase
What We Like
  • Easy-to-use resource management system

  • Fun, unique premise for a city-building strategy game

What We Don't Like
  • Endgame falls a bit flat

  • Lack of controller support

  • Tutorial doesn’t capture all aspects of gameplay

  • Random maps don’t always support colony expansion

Your mission in Planetbase is to colonize a barren planet with a specialized group of settlers. Environments your settlers will suffer through—sorry, bravely colonize—vary wildly in needs. These range from a frozen planet, a desert planet, a barren moon, and a storm planet. You’ll plan and build an elite, interconnected colony by managing an economy of resources as well as a power grid, which provides power, water, and oxygen to buildings and their inhabitants.

In Planetbase, keeping your settlers alive presents its own special brand of challenges, and we loved the layers of complexity this added to the gameplay. Be careful you don’t expand too quickly, however, or your strategy can quickly turn on you when disaster strikes!

One drawback to the game is that, while it’s incredibly fun to play, the tutorial doesn’t capture all of the different buildings available. This means there’s a bit of a learning curve for the unfamiliar content. Random maps, while they can create unique, exciting challenges, don’t always set a player up in the most build-friendly locations.

Best Futuristic City: Ubisoft Anno 2205

What We Like
  • Complex, interconnected economy

  • Varied environments make for fun, unique city-building challenges

What We Don't Like
  • Endgame falls a bit flat

  • No multiplayer functionality

  • Shallow combat mechanics

A great addition to the Anno game family, Anno 2205 is a beautifully designed futuristic city and economic management game. You’re a CEO in the 23rd century, your goal: beat out other corporations to establish settlements on the moon’s surface and harvest its helium-3 for energy. Earth is in a resource and energy crisis—and it needs sweet, sweet fusion reactor energy, stat!

To accomplish your task, you have to build and manage nine main sectors, beginning on Earth and eventually ending on the lunar surface. Each sector produces unique, essential resources. These sectors are beautifully designed, with independent needs and challenges. Strangely, this CEO is forced to balance the needs of their whiny employees versus the needs of the planet in this multi-city strategic management game.

The occasional combat missions crop up, although the inclusion of these missions feels like an afterthought. They only use four set maps instead of randomly generated maps, which become incredibly repetitive as a result of this treatment. Thankfully, they are skippable content and not really the focus of the game. Interplanetary supply chains and trade routes especially shine through in the late game, but the same thing that makes them satisfying to watch succeed also means that, if you’ve done your job well, the end falls a bit flat and feels more like busywork than anything else.

Best for Survival: 11 bit studios Frostpunk

Frostpunk
What We Like
  • Decisions have lasting effects

  • Well-balanced gameplay mechanics

  • Lots of DLC available for expanded gameplay

  • Beautiful animations and engrossing storytelling

What We Don't Like
  • No more planned DLC content

From the creators of This War of Mine, Frostpunk imagines what the world might look like after the onset of volcanic winter due to cataclysmic, doomsday events—but the jury’s out on the cause. Whether it’s the volcanic eruptions or the dimming of the sun, does it really matter?

Build and manage a steampunk city set in 1886. Heat is vital to your existence, and you’re constantly battling the ever-encroaching cold. Make hard, strategic choices to get and keep the city up and running. Workers need to harvest resources such as coal, wood, food, and steel, or your city won’t make it to tomorrow. And you need to make it to tomorrow, for you’re the last bastion of humanity in a cold, cruel world.

Players familiar with simulation games will notice familiar pieces among Frostpunk’s mechanics, which include an interconnected Technology tree and society’s rules of governance in the Book of Law.  With plenty of DLC available and high replayability, thanks to the customizable options when selecting a scenario, it’s a surprisingly addictive game for how bleak the world appears.

Best for Dinosaur Amusement Parks: Frontier Developments Jurassic World Evolution

Jurassic World: Evolution
What We Like
  • Effectively captures the spirit of the films

  • Extensive DLC

  • Jeff Goldblum

What We Don't Like
  • Micromanagement heavy

  • Lack many quality of life features present in other titles

  • Some Objectives feel like busy work

Frontier Developments knows how to have fun with real-time strategy, business management games, and Jurassic World Evolution is a tycoon-style game that’s no different. That the Frontier team was able to involve the ineffable Jeff Goldblum is the icing on the cake. It’s a satisfying feeling, building a theme park with live dinosaurs that not only entertains customers but keeps them safe—or safe enough, anyway.

It’s a fun experience, especially once disaster strikes, but one thing that this title does that’s a break from Frontier’s earlier title Planet Coaster is it has lost a lot of the features that made Planet Coaster great, such as the ability to speed up or slow down time. Losing quality-of-life features like these are, frankly, quite painful—especially as it relates to the micromanagement of the research tree. This feature is included in competitor games, such as Tropico 6 and Cities: Skylines, thankfully. The power management system in Jurassic World Evolution is also cumbersome, taking some trial and error to get used to, but as with most in-game disasters, at least it’s fun when it goes off the rails!

Best for Colonizing Space: Paradox Interactive Surviving Mars

Surviving Mars
What We Like
  • Complex resource economy

  • Customizable difficulty options

  • Lots of DLC and great mod support available

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

  • Endgame is a bit ambiguous

  • Supply chain hiccups can have massive consequences

Your goal is to establish a human colony on the Red Planet, and so begins the rugged colonization of Mars. There’s an unexpected charm that lies within this wonderful city-building and space-colonization simulation game where survival is paramount. With an edge for realism so precise, some scientists have even turned to Surviving Mars for simulations of the Red Planet’s colonization and exploration.

In this desolate wasteland, survival and city-building are delicately intertwined as you seek out resources and expand your colony while avoiding environmental catastrophes. Randomized tech trees ensure each playthrough feels unique. The complex resource economy is especially interesting, but the interrelated systems mean that if any interruptions occur within the supply chain, it can have deadly consequences for the colonists.

“While Surviving Mars is marred by slowness and micromanagement, the unique gameplay and setting make for a true sci-fi treat.”Rebecca Isaacs, Product Tester

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

As mayor, you have the power to create and maintain a city, lay down roads and zones, establish districts and policies, and customize the city to your will with a snap of your fingers. An urban-planning strategy treat that starts small and expands bigtime as you grow in population, Cities: Skylines hearkens back to the days of SimCity. Here, you’ll find a city simulator that takes on a genuine, fun personality and life of its own thanks to its residents’ reactions to your actions as you rule with an iron fist—sorry, scratch that—with their best interests at heart.

Unlike other games of the genre, there are no natural disasters or calamities to contend with—unless you’d like there to be, just to see what happens. If that’s the case, a litany of DLC packs and are mods available, including the Natural Disasters expansion, so there are lots of ways to delve deeper into new gameplay mechanics and customize the city further to your liking.

As is sometimes the case with city-building games, when things go wrong diagnosing the problems can be challenging. Managing the city is also often more tedious than building the city and customizing it. But, even with those drawbacks, this is still a great game and the reigning champ of the city-building simulation world.

“Skylines is the perfect sandbox for someone who wants to dip their toes into a city-building game without the wild scenarios. If you want a more challenging experience, be prepared to shell out for the many expansions and content packs that are sold separately.” — Rebecca Isaacs, Product Tester

Best Commuter Simulation: SquarePlay Games Overcrowd: A Commute 'Em Up

Overcrowd
What We Like
  • Creative, fun design

  • Lots of replayability

  • Customizable sandbox and daily challenge gameplay options

What We Don't Like
  • UI leaves a little to be desired

Overcrowd: A Commute ‘Em Up is a fantastic addition to the legion of city-building games on the market today. It offers a charming new take on the familiar system where players build the most efficient transit stations—or not, which is surprisingly fun in its own way. Officially in version 1.0, this train has left the Early Access station as of Oct. 6th, and the results are great.

Excavate and build up your metro line, invest in infrastructure and advancements, hire and maintain a staff, and respond to commuters. Commuters with a variety of needs—so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a mix of strategy, creativity, and a quest for efficiency.

Similar to other tycoon games, it requires that you not only turn a profit when managing your metro station, but you gain a positive reputation over time. Its gameplay is challenging, but easy to pick up and play, even as its complexity increases. Offering three game modes—network sandbox, commute of the day, and station sandbox—so there’s always a new, fresh challenge or you can create your own, customized scenario with your own set of win conditions.

Best Business Management: Two Point Studios Two Point Hospital

Two Point Hospital
What We Like
  • Addictively fun thanks to its whimsical, clever gameplay

  • Quirky, British-style humor

  • DLC available

What We Don't Like
  • Seriously, it’s addictive—hours you’ll never get back

  • Complexity grows quickly, but we love a good challenge

Run 15 hospitals as a business in this tycoon-style hospital management game—and if you’re good, as a bonus, you’ll keep your patients alive! Cure their various ailments, which range from the benign to the ridiculous, including “lightheaded” sufferers, whose heads have become actual light bulbs, and those poor disco-dancing souls who can’t stop jamming to the greatest hits of the 1970s. If you can’t save them—well, the janitors can probably handle the impending ghost infestation, right?

Disarmingly clever and cute, Two Point Hospital nails the humorous elements while also showcasing an increasingly complex simulation game. You have to balance the needs of your staff, your patients, and your business, all while finding efficiencies as you work to raise your reputation and turn a profit in the illustrious Two Point County.

Best Post-Apocalyptic: Paradox Interactive Surviving the Aftermath

Surviving the aftermath
What We Like
  • Fun, creative spinoff from Surviving Mars

  • Catastrophes and story events liven up gameplay

  • Customizable difficulty, set at the start of gameplay

What We Don't Like
  • Micromanagement heavy

  • Early Access only, so it’s a bit rough around the edges

Similar to Surviving Mars, the science-fiction city-building simulation game which envisioned the rugged colonization of the Red Planet, Surviving the Aftermath instead envisions the destruction of our own planet—and here the game begins as you set out to rebuild your post-apocalyptic world.

In this game, you’ll bind together with other survivors to cover your basic survival needs, scavenge for resources, and then expand out into the world. Your goal is to use these resources to build a colony that’s as disaster-proof as you can make it. This is especially important given the random catastrophes, such as heatwaves and magnetic storms, and other story events that occur throughout the game.

The game is still in Early Access, so it’s a bit rough around the edges, and it still feels a bit incomplete because of it. The endgame in particular is a bit ambiguous, not unlike its predecessor. That said, it’s still incredibly fun to play and has a lot of potential.

Final Verdict

Cities: Skylines is the best overall city-building game available on the market today. Sure, it’s complex to master and it has its quirks, but the game’s beautiful design, high customizability, library of DLC and mod support, and replayability make this a surefire winner in our book. If urban-planning city-building games aren’t quite your thing, Two Point Hospital is our contender for run best runner-up. Thanks to its clever ailments, British-style humor, and increasingly complex challenges, as well as DLC support, this tycoon-style hospital management simulation game is an easy fan favorite.

About Our Trusted Experts

Emily Isaacs is a Chicago-based technology writer who's been teaming-up with Lifewire since 2019. Her areas of expertise include video games, consumer technology, and gadgets.

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.

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