The best city building games are like top-down windows into another world; one where you're the mayor/dictator/bureaucrat/king of your own little metropolis, and no one can argue otherwise. The genre is one of progress, micro-management, and the tension between urban growth and urban health that we so often see reflected in our own modern lives. They're also tons of fun, even while presenting some of the most complex and mechanical gameplay that interactive entertainment can offer.
From your standard cities to colonies on space, there’s a lot out there to scratch your urban development itch with the best city building games listed below, and more and more are being released all the time. Building and maintaining a city isn’t easy, but you can have a lot of fun trying. So dust off those architectural plans and get your hard hat on as we take you through our pick of the best city building games you can play right now.
1. Cities: Skylines
Available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Calling all aspiring mayors - Cities: Skylines wants you to build the next best city. Yes, as the new mayor in town, you construct the city from the ground up, managing every aspect of its realistic economy, to its roadworks and healthcare. As fun as it is challenging, Skylines has so much depth and detail, you’ll find that mastering everything is a bit of juggling act, but once you do you’ll truly feel like a management expert. There’s nothing quite like transforming empty green fields of land into a flourishing megalopolis that every virtual citizen wants to call home. Facing the elements with natural disasters, pollution, day and night cycles, traffic accidents, and pretty much anything else you can imagine, you’ll be tested in plenty of different ways. A whole line-up of DLCs are also on offer to take your city building escapades to new heights by introducing other transit systems, alternative designs and looks, new weather conditions, and so much more. The hustle and bustle of the city will certainly keep you busy.
Available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4
You’re the ruler of the last city on Earth in a post-apocalyptic world stuck in an everlasting winter. Yeah, no pressure. As you can imagine this role is no walk in the park. Frostpunk mixes up the genre by bringing in a survival element that will push your management skills to the limit. With the threat of extinction at your door, every decision you make could mean life or death for the citizens of your city. The snowy landscapes present you with plenty of challenges, but it’s also means heating will be your number one priority. Maintaining and managing the temperature is vital, but that’s just one of the many things you’ll have to manage to keep everyone alive. Starting out with simple shelters, you’ll build your way up to an impressive city powered by steam, with technology trees to advance and development to invest in to improve your settlement and their chances of survival. At the heart of 11 bit studios unrelenting survival city builder lies a campaign peppered with choice. You can decide how to govern your people by choosing different paths, setting laws and managing the routines of their day-today lives. It’s all left up to you.
3. Anno 1800
Available on: PC
It’s the dawn of a pivotal new era and you’re about to build a city that will thrive or fall as technology continues to change and advance. Will you change along with it? Or will you crumble under the pressure? Anno 1800 plants you at the start of the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the 19th century, and demands that you craft and maintain a city built on the innovation of your research and technological advancement. Building trade routes and going out on expeditions to further your research and uncover useful resources will help your newly established metropolis prosper. But as your city grows, you’ll have to deal with more problems, like competing rulers, civil strife and political warfare to name a few. Whether you’re diplomatic or a bit of tyrant, you can experiment with different playstyles as you seek your fame and fortune in the industrious age.
4. Surviving Mars
Available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Space: the final frontier. Mars has always been the go to spot when it comes to imaging where the next home world would be when, god forbid, Earth meets with its untimely demise. But the hostile world isn’t exactly human-friendly. With no oxygen, cold temperatures and barren landscapes, settling down there and calling it home presents its own unique challenges. And that’s exactly what you have to try and achieve in Surviving Mars. Taking up residence on the dusty red planet, you work to set up a sustainable colony, and - in case the name wasn’t a dead give away - work to ensure it survives. By exploring the unknown terrains of the alien planet with drones and investing in research and development, you can improve your chances of surviving the harsh environment. Every colonist also has a unique personality with their own strengths and weakness, which can add to your problems or improve them. The retro-futuristic vibes of the domes you build makes Mars look more stylish than it’s ever been before, and with some careful planning, you can create a prospering colony that will continue to spread across the alien world.
5. Tropico 6
Available on: PC (coming soon to Xbox One, PS4)
Ever wanted to build and rule your very own island paradise? El presidente returns once again and it’s your job to fill their shoes as the tyrannical dictator or the peaceful ruler you were always born to be. Shifting its focus onto the political side of affairs, Tropico 6 introduces a new research tree that enhances your political strategies so you be the best dictator the tropical world has ever seen. Instead of just one island, you now build up and manage multiple cities spread across several large islands that all have different challenges to overcome and conquer. Constructing transport systems and bridges to connect your islands is a must if you want to build up your burgeoning empire. And a big part of being a good leader is giving grandiose speeches to your citizens and giving them lots of empty promises to keep them in the palm of your hand, right? Well, maybe you’re not a good leader, but you can give a good election speech and that’s got to count for something. Oh, and don’t forget you can customise your very own palace - it’s one of the perks of the job, after all.
6. Aven Colony
Available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Home is where you make it, and it just so happens that home for you is now an alien world. Seriously, if you thought moving to a new house or a new country was difficult, just imagine moving planets. Aven Colony is another city builder set in space that sees you try to colonize an alien planet with the aim of successfully settling in and expanding. But of course, not all planets are like Earth. The alien world you’ve found yourself in doesn’t have much oxygen and wild electrical storms fill the skies while toxic gas erupts from vents in the planet’s surface. Doesn’t sound too homely, does it? Therein lies the challenge, though. The world has an array of biomes dotted around the surface for you to explore and settle in and some are more habitable than others. The wetlands, for example, will give you a solid water source for your colony, whereas the desert lands won’t have much to offer at all. You start off as the governor of the colony and as you manage the welfare and development of your settlement, you can eventually rise up in ranks to president. Topped off with lots of secrets to uncover and plenty of room to explore the strange new world, there’s plenty to do and see as you establish a comfy colony for your people.
7. Pocket City
Available on: iOS and Android
If you're after a city building fix during your daily commute, Pocket City is one of the most enjoyable mobile city builders around and it successfully makes the genre feel right at home on touch screens. Wrapped up in a delightful art style, you can design and build your very own city from a little town to a busy metropolis with the swipe of your finger. The little city builder is formed of two main modes: one lets you unlock buildings gradually by completing quests and objectives which adds a nice rewarding sense of progression to the development of your city, or you can play in a sandbox mode where all the buildings are open to you, so you can just spend your time crafting the perfect city and watch it flourish. For a mobile title, this city-builder is impressively detailed and won’t push any in-app purchases on you, so you can build the little city of your dreams without any limitations.
8. Factory Town
Available on: PC
Currently still in early access, this little indie number sees you transform a colourful 3D terrain into a well-oiled factory town, decked out with conveyor belts and chutes to process all the resources the landscapes have to offer you. You start out with a few workers and a single building, but after collecting minerals and crops around the procedurally generated area, you can work to transform your little lone building into a money-making hub of activity. Researching will unlock all kinds of machinery to take some of the work out of processing resources and help your production chains flourish. Oh, and there’s also magic. Yep, you can also unlock magic-powered machines to make it all run like clockwork. Even though it's in early access, the delightful city-building sim is already showing a lot of potential, and it’s an interesting take on the genre that'll whittle your hours away without you even realising it.
9. The Colonists
Available on: PC
If you’re after a relaxing experience that also has a cute factor, The Colonists is a pleasantly paced city-builder with adorable little robot inhabitants. As the one in charge, you control a group of robots who have escaped from Earth in search of a new home out in the galaxy. Your little Wall-E like robo friends all have the same sole dream - to be human. Since they’re robots that’s not exactly possible, but you can create a colony that resembles a human settlement and nurture them as if they were actually people. Aww. Drawing inspiration from the Settlers and Anno series, The Colonists sees you harvest resources (because the robots want to be human, so they need to eat and drink of course), set up farms, research new technologies, advance through different ages, and explore the mysterious lands you settled on. Building up your colony still requires some strategy, with roads, transport systems and different infrastructures to place and create, but its gentle pace and lack of threat makes for a rewarding, chilled out time-stealer.
Available on: PC
Being exiled doesn't sound like good thing, but when you band them together and build up a new settlement, it can be. Banished might be a little older than some of the other titles in our list, but it still holds up as one of the more interesting entries in the genre. Since you start with handful of exiled travelers, you start out by relying solely on the resources they brought with them, which means you have to be quite strategical about how you use those resources to create a new home for the exiled townspeople. The settlers will grow, have families and eventually die, a little like the Sims, and it’s your job to keep everyone happy to ensure your little settlement continues to grow. Since there’s no currency or skill trees, you’re reliant on resources for trade and construction, so you have to distribute hunting and gathering tasks to your citizens to get things ticking along nicely. With 20 occupations for your settlers, including teaching, mining and healing, you and work to advance the town of exiles into the best settlement around.