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The best city building games to rule the urban jungle

Cities Skylines

The best city building games give you power. Like, a lot of power. All the power, sometimes. And, depending on your own sensibilities, sometimes too much power. Which is to say: the best city building games can teach you a wee bit about yourself. From mayor to king to, my goodness, dictator, will your thirst for power ever be quenched? From Earth to Mars to the farthest folds of alien universes and back again, grab your hard hat, your patience, a generous helping of micromanagement, and a penchant for progression systems, and let’s look at the best city building games available right now.   

1. Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines

(Image credit: Paradox Interactive)

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 a 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. 

2. Frostpunk

Frostpunk

(Image credit: 11 Bit Studios)

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-to-day lives. It’s all left up to you. 

3. Anno 1800

Anno 1800

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

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 a tyrant, you can experiment with different playstyles as you seek your fame and fortune in the industrious age. 

4. Surviving Mars

Surviving Mars

(Image credit: Paradox)

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 homeworld 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 giveaway - 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 make 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. Townscaper

Townscaper

(Image credit: Oskar Stålberg)

Available on: PC (early access) 

Townscaper from developer Oskar Stålberg is a delightfully vibrant city builder that really lets your creativity flourish. As a sandbox-style game in the genre, you have the freedom to build up your own little towns, cities, hamlets, and more. In fact, you can even make your very own city up high in the sky if you want to. Built block by block with different colors to choose from, it's incredibly satisfying to see the blocks form into buildings and expand into your very own miniature city or construction.  

In Townscaper it really is all about the building, so if you're looking to scratch that particular itch, you can't go wrong with this wonderful indie number. With plenty of tools to create vast structures or quaint little towns with colorful houses, bridges, harbors, and more,  you can marvel at your own creations and fall into the relaxing flow of bringing your designs to life. 

6. Tropico 6

Tropico 6

(Image credit: Kalypso Media)

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 customize your very own palace - it’s one of the perks of the job, after all.  

7. Aven Colony

Aven Colony

(Image credit: Team17)

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 the 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. 

8. Pocket City

Pocket City

(Image credit: Code Brew)

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. 

9. Factory Town

Factory Town

(Image credit: Erik Asmussen)

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. 

10. The Colonists

The Colonists

(Image credit: Mode7)

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.  

Heather Wald

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.