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City building is a classic gaming genre that is traditionally made for the PC. It has recently found itself in something of a renaissance. We’ve seen a lot of city building games popping up lately, often with dedicated and passionate cult followings. But city building games are typically very time consuming, and they can take a while to learn and get into, so we did the work and determined some of the most popular city building games out there to help you find the one that suits you. So instead of wasting tens of hours on a game only to find that it isn’t really for you, check out our reviews of the best games available.
City building games are loved by their dedicated niche of fans, but not many have broken out into the mainstream, so we decided to shed some light on the genre and answer a few frequently asked questions.
1. What is a City Building Game?
A city building game or a “city builder” is a game, usually played from a bird’s-eye perspective, in which the player creates and manages the development of a city, settlement, or civilization. Most city builders are relatively slow-paced and best played in long sessions, as they are known for being very time consuming.
2. What Do We Look for in the Best City Building Games?
The best city building games have a good amount of depth. These games are meant to be played for long periods of time, and they must give us a good reason to come back to them and replay them over and over. That’s why we want our city builders to be deep, complex, sufficiently varied in game-play style.
A goal worth pursuing is important to us. Okay, yes, sometimes it can be fun to create a city from scratch with no reason other than to create it, but the best city building games offer us a satisfying carrot on a stick to chase as we’re crafting. An interesting win condition and an exciting progression make these games even more fun to play.
A well-crafted theme is also vital. Whether it be a colorful alien planet based or a true-to-history medieval settlement, a well-executed theme really makes the world we’re building feel fleshed out and interesting. Even a realistic city based on the contemporary world can be a great theme if it feels real and believable.
3. What Makes a Bad City Building Game?
- Bad AI
- Too repetitive
- Not enough freedom
- Weak difficulty settings
4. Would I Like a City Building Game?
City builders are not for everyone. They occupy a rather unique space in the gaming world, so if you’re on the fence about whether you should give them a shot, consider a few things about them. They are slow, require a serious time commitment, and it can take a lot of time and patience to learn the rules and behaviors.
However, the best city building games truly have a lot to offer. Compared with most genres of video games, city builders provide an outlet for your creativity. Building your own city in your own way and on your own terms feels extremely rewarding and keeps you coming back. They demand creative thinking and problem-solving skills that aren’t often utilized in other games. If you’re interested in the idea of investing your time and creating something unique, city building games might be right up your alley.
How We Reviewed
The following city building games were reviewed based on their features, freedom of game play, ability to replay, immersion, and our overall enjoyment of the game. Of course, all of these criteria are subjective in their own way, so weigh our rankings along with your own personal interests, likes, and dislikes.
Overall Price Range of City Building Games
We included in our list some games of varying price points. None of them will cost you more than your standard AAA PC game, but a few of the older games and those made by Indie developers can be purchased for $20 or less, and there’s a free-to-play game on our list also. With frequent price drops, discounted bundles, and the much-adored Steam sales, the price of PC games today is more unpredictable than ever, so keep an eye out for sales.
What We Reviewed
So here it is! Check out our ranking of the 10 best city building games to play on PC in 2018.
Forge of Empires is the only game on our list that isn’t available on Steam. It is a quick and simple entry point into the world of city builders that is available for free through your web browser. As far as game-play goes, it’s something of a classic real-time strategy game in which you build up an army and battle other players along the lines of Rise of Nations or Age of Empires.
But there’s a reason that it falls below both of those games in our list. While it’s fun, easy to pick up, and free to play, it doesn’t quite boast the depth and polish of the best city building games out there. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a quick sample of the game-play of a real-time strategy city builder, this might be the game for you.
A classic in the genre of real-time strategy games, Stronghold Crusader HD is one of the greats. In this game, you build and control a settlement in the Middle East with a powerful army and aim to take down your rivaling factions. This is perhaps the most action-packed game on our list, so it’s a great option for players who aren’t quite sure that they’re ready for the slow pace of a city builder like SimCity or Cities XXL.
We also love the added experience of the historical solo campaigns and skirmish scenarios packed in the game. Though it’s a bit old by this point, Stronghold Crusader HD is a classic in the genre, and it’s still a ton of fun to play
Just released in 2017, Aven Colony is the lone true sci-fi title on our list. This game earns its place on our list on the merit of its many features. It offers a lengthy, scripted campaign for those looking for a traditional narrative experience, as well as challenging scenario missions, and of course, an unfettered sandbox mode that allows your creativity to run wild.
The visuals are beautiful and feature a stunning art design that we really like. Nearly everything about Aven Colony hits the mark. Unfortunately though, that mark is rarely exceeded. Aven Colony does almost everything well, but it is never truly outstanding or groundbreaking. It’s a solid, modern entry in the broad genre of city builders with an interesting sci-fi twist.
What can we say about Rise of Nations that hasn’t been said thousands of times? It’s a classic in the genre, widely respected as one of the best simulation games ever made. Control 1 of 18 nations with unique special abilities, build up your army, and take down your enemies.
Fitting for this game, we’ll keep our review short and sweet. Rise of Nations, along with its contemporary Age of Empires, is the quintessential real-time strategy city builder. It isn’t the newest nor the most feature-heavy game in the world, but according to many city building game enthusiasts, its pure and simple mechanics make it the best of its class.
The classic city builder, SimCity hit its peak with SimCity 4. Originally released in 2003, SimCity 4 Deluxe edition is a by-the-books city building simulator in which you manage a realistic city in a modern world. This game is certainly showing its age by now though, so it you’re looking for modern graphics to take advantage of your high-performance PC, this is not the game for you.
If you’re looking for solid city building, finely-tuned mechanics, and hundreds of hours of fun in a modern realistic city setting, it’s well worth your time. In fact, SimCity 4 is something of a gold standard for city building games, and ranking it all the way down at number 6 kind of hurts us. Only for lack of modern visuals and some of the features of newer games, Sim City 4 Deluxe Edition lags a bit behind some of the best city building games on our list.
Another game originally released quite a long time ago (1999 in this case), Age of Empires II was given a welcome HD re-release in 2013. Age of Empires II is a Real Time Strategy game set in a historic era in which you race to build your civilization and conquer one or more enemies. It can be played alone against the computer player, or you can play online and battle against your friends.
Our favorite thing about the re-mastered Age of Empires II HD is that it comes with much more than just updated graphics. The HD edition packs in new features, new content, updated AI, community customization options, and more. This is a great city building game for history buffs or players who want a competitive experience.
An update to Cities XL, Cities XXL is a clean, beautiful city building game that is simply fun. This game landed in a bit of controversy among city builder enthusiasts. The game itself is not much different from the previous title, Cities XL, despite being somewhat unfairly marketed as a new experience.
Hard feelings aside, Cities XXL is a simple, back-to-basics city building game that won us over on the merit of its entertainment value. It isn’t the deepest or most complex game on our list, but it serves as an excellent entry point for players who want to jump into the world of city building with a slick interface and a fun experience.
This game really caught us by surprise. With probably the most unique premise of any game on our list, Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadville puts you in control of a small group of survivors of the zombie outbreak and asks you to rebuild civilization in its wake. With a fun, dark humor and the unique challenge of playing around the threat of zombie infestation, Rebuild 3: Games of Deadville is a pure delight to play.
Randomized cities, a separate campaign mode, and options to play in either real-time or turn-based game modes provide this game with a ton of re-playability and reasons to come back to it. It’s also one of the most fun games we’ve played in the genre.
From Kalypso Media, Tropico 5 puts you in charge of building cities and managing your government over small tropical islands. The feature set in Tropico 5 is massive, with plenty of systems to manage and designing tasks to utilize your creativity.
With diverse gameplay made up of progression through several eras of development, rich and complex trading mechanics, research trees, exploration, beautiful artwork, and freedom to manage your cities as you please, Tropico 5 is one of the best city building games out there.
Our favorite game we reviewed and our choice for the best city building game to play in 2018 is a game that has gone under the radar of most casual gamers out there. Banished is perhaps the city building community’s best kept secret. There’s a lot to love about this charming game, but here is a quick introduction.
In Banished, you play as a group of exiled travelers starting a new life on new lands. Banished manages to feel fresh and unique in the world of city builders by flipping a few of the conventions of the genre. In Banished, there are no skill trees or ages. You can theoretically build any building at any time, provided you have acquired the necessary resources. This opens up the game to be more free for the player and, in our opinion, more enjoyable.
The gameplay in Banished offers a surprising amount of depth and variety based on the player and the conditions of the land that you adopt at the start of each game. Another somewhat unique feature for city builders today is that Banished has no combat. It’s a pure city builder to satisfy our creative side and thirst for problem solving. It may not be the best choice if you’re looking for an action-packed experience, but then again, that’s not quite the draw of city builders to begin with. Its unique gameplay, potential for varied experiences, charming visuals, and enjoyable gameplay make Banished our #1 choice.
Our Final Thoughts
Though we chose to put these games in an ordered ranking, each of the 10 best city building games that we chose to highlight has something unique to offer. For diehard fans of the genre, they are probably all must-plays. For a newcomer, we think they can all be safely recommended. We sincerely hope you found something that suits your tastes and soon end up shut-in and immersed in your own crafted world with one of these fantastic games. We know we sure have.