SimCity is a complex game, and the more you play, the deeper its mechanics get. Keeping a massive city afloat is far different from juggling a few residential blocks. Fortunately, you can do well for yourself by following a few key principles.
These tips will help you start and maintain a growing city. As you expand, they become even more crucial. Keep these in mind and pay attention to what's happening in your city, and you'll be a popular mayor in no time.
When beginning your city, you'll need to start construction in a particular order. In order, your first steps should be:
1. Lay roads.
2. Zone residential, commercial, and industrial areas.
3. Build a power station.
4. Build a water tower.
5. Build a sewage treatment plant.
6. Build a town hall.
7. Build garbage dumps, firehouses, hospitals, and police stations.
8. Build remaining services.
Follow these beginning steps to get your economy going. After that, start building whatever you need.
Of course, you need a bit of everything. Don't ignore firehouses, or buildings will burn. Don't ignore schools, or your Sims will never get educated. In SimCity, everything works like a giant game of rock-paper-scissors; everything serves a purpose.
As you progress, you'll require more than just one of each construct. For example, you'll need enough police stations to cover crime in all regions of the city. Think of each building as a web - each one can only cover so much ground. If you don't like web metaphors, think of it this way: divide your city up into districts (which you've probably already thought about anyway). Do you have enough services in place to collect trash, fight fires, cure sick, and stop crime in each district?
Nearly every buildable object can tweaked. Hospitals can have more ambulances; firehouses can have more trucks. Don't get caught up in maxing out every aspect of these buildings so soon. The more sprawling your city, the more you'll need to place.
Each building has a limited response time: maxing out a firehouse in the northern part of town does no good if the trucks can't reach the southern part of town in time. Make sure you place enough services to adequately cover your city, then begin upgrading them.
The bottom right corner of the menu shows three bars: green, blue, and yellow. These represent residential demand, commercial demand, and industrial demand respectively. When you being your city, start zoning in a 2:1 ratio that favors residential. In other words, build twice the residential zones as you build commercial or industrial: the amount commercial and industrial zones combined should equal residential.
As the city grows, keep an eye on these demand meters. If commercial demand starts rising, zone more commercial space. Pay attention to the meters and build accordingly, and you'll keep your employment and income rates steady.
Every city starts small; that's just the way it is. Don't expect to have tidal waves of money rolling in at the city's start. As you expand, costlier items become available, but everything starts in a meager state.
Tweaks to the budget and increases in commercial and industrial zones will increase income. Balancing the budget, which becomes more complex as you upgrade your city hall, is the best way to organize money coming in versus money going out.
Of course, the quickest way to increase city income is to raise taxes. Keeping them high, however, leads to unhappy citizens and a low approval rating. Fortunately, you can play a bit of tug-o-war to keep people happy while still creating an income spike.
Basically, your approval and happiness will be just fine if you raise taxes temporarily. If you need to build a new hospital, the $120,000 cost is going to hit hard. However, you can raise taxes for just a few days to raise that $120,000. Get the money, build the hospital, and drop taxes back to normal - the period of time in between won't damage your reputation much.
Eventually, you'll be trapped by the city's boundaries. You don't have quite as much room as you'd like. At this point, the only way to expand is through density, and that's where certain roads come into play.
Low density streets and avenues work nicely for creating neighborhoods and linking areas, but the can't support larger structures. Medium density roads can support larger buildings, but only high density roads can support skyscrapers. You'll need a mix of all three types to keep your city expanding and running properly.
When claiming land in a new region, don't freak out over the resource meters. See what's available, and build your city accordingly. For example, don't rely on a coal plant for power if the area has no coal to speak of.
By the same token, there is no harm in dropping multiple types of power plants - if you have the money and workers to keep them running. You might even find you only need the original plant to keep the whole city going.
Right off the bat, keep Thought Bubbles on in the settings menu (they're on by default). As you scroll around, you'll notice green and red thought bubbles. These offer hints as to how to improve your city.
In the same vein, make sure to click on Mission Bubbles - the grey speech bubbles that sometimes appear - when they pop up. These missions are usually very simple, and they come with a monetary reward most of the time. In addition, these are usually based on the current needs of your city.
Mini-tutorials pop up to help you out when things go south. It's hard enough to keep a few blocks running smoothly, much less your entire city. Keeping these on will allow the game to notify you when you're missing something important.
By the same token, the blue information icon on the left side of any build menu will give you a complete rundown of everything those constructs will affect. Take a look at it if you're unsure how the new building will affect the surrounding area.
Listen: we know SimCity can be overwhelming at first. That's just the kind of game it is, and it takes all players some time to grow accustomed to the mechanics. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll be fine.
In the end, the best city building comes with time. It's too bad you can't use Cheetah Speed to learn it all more quickly...