You’re the planner, the leader, the major, and the one above. If you want to feel responsible for a city, a town, or an empire, then we’re looking for the best city-building games for PC.
We’re diving into a rich genre, full of creative and ever-growing titles such as the Civilization saga. Our goal is not to overwhelm you; we’re here to showcase your next potential time-consuming experience.
That is, in essence,m what city-building games offer. Their mechanics and modes are wide enough to give you hours of game time without paying anything extra.
Selecting the Best City-Building Games on PC
City-building games have existed since a 1964 text-based game, The Sumerian Game.
Decades have passed, and the genre has remained a staple of PC gaming. It can’t exist elsewhere, as these types of games require many keys, clicks, and button combinations to work.
That said, selecting the games in the category requires understanding the genre. So, the best city-building games feature a mix or a twist of the following aspects:
- Gameplay: The experience revolves around collecting, managing, and building a city. You’d do it through a birds-eye view or similar.
- Single-player: City-building games are always offline experiences. So, they should have enough content to keep you playing for months.
- Game Modes: That said, these games require some campaigns. Additionally, it should offer other creative ways to explore its mechanics and goals.
- Variety: Similarly, there should be some variety in these games. That may come in the form of civilizations or tech trees mainly.
- Tech Trees: Some of these games allow you to research technologies as you grow your city and stockpiles. It will make your empire stronger and more efficient.
- Economic Challenges: The economy is the primary concern of city building or management sim games. The challenge is two ways -finding the resources and using them.
- Construction Mechanism: The way you construct these types differs. You generally place buildings on empty slots if you can cover the cost.
- Storylines: These games feature a story that influences the mechanics. They vary wildly and also significantly affect the game’s quality.
- Goals: Similarly, depending on the storyline, the goals may differ. You may fight against the climate or play as a dictator evolving a country.
- Interface: Lastly, the interface will make or break these types of games. It should be simple to use and understand but also offer all of the tools within a few clicks of distance.
Overall, city-building games should be both complex and fun. They offer the thrill and the challenge of building a city, managing its resources, and facing story-driven challenges.
Naturally, city-building is part of the management simulation genre, so we’re exploring the more fantastic genre as well -as long as it delivers a similar experience.
Best City-Building Games on PC
- Developer: Firaxis Games
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Release Date: October 2016
- Platform: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android
Civilization VI is the latest game of the 4X saga. 4X stands for “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate.” That is the main gameplay, and you do it on a board, per turn, and with a birds-eye view.
You start a campaign by selecting a civilization. Then, you join a massive world map, but everything is covered in fog. The beginning is about developing a small town until you eventually dominate the world by conquest, economy, or tech.
You may use your resources each turn to build structures or research technologies. You also move units across the map to explore the world and start diplomatic or hostile relations with other nations. And when you end the turn, the other civilizations will do the same.
These elements allow you to play entirely new campaigns each time you join. There’re no pre-set paths, as you can pursue victory in many ways. Moreover, as you play, you’ll see your choices play out, relationships flourish, and cities grow.
- Developer: 11 bit studios
- Publisher: 11 bit studios
- Release Date: April 2018
- Platform: Windows, macOS, iOS, PS4, Xbox One, Android
Frostpunk mixes city-building with survival mechanics. The story makes you play as the leader of a post-apocalyptic society, trying to survive a cold and hazardous environment.
The setting is the 19th century, and your city follows a steam-punk design. In fact, through engines, you can survive a volcanic winter and go through various story missions. Each one features different goals, but the mechanics are the same.
For instance, the main resource is coal; you must manage your survivors to gather coal for energy. Another key mechanic is politics; your citizens will react to your rule and influence your playthrough greatly.
Lastly, the game features a campaign, plus various scenarios and extra game modes. It’s also quite challenging, as it can take you multiple tries to grasp its mechanics. Still, as one of the newest city-builders, it offers a refined experience.
- Developer: Limbic Entertainment
- Publisher: Kalypso Media
- Release Date: March 2019
- Platform: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Windows, macOS, Linux
Tropico 6 is a construction and management simulator. The setting is the fictional Tropico archipelago in the Caribbean sea. You play as “El Presidente,” a customizable leader who can rule in many ways.
The gameplay is similar to older games in the series. You start in the Colonial Era and go through the World Wars, the Cold Era, and the modern era. You’re to build, expand, and evolve your nation throughout the decades.
Your goal is to turn islands into an all-powerful country. You manage resources, buildings, and citizens. Whatever you do affects productivity, as your citizens react to your government.
The game simulates hundreds of citizens and complex building features across various islands. In particular, you start on a small colony and can expand towards other islands by building bridges and similar.
Pharaoh + Cleopatra
- Developer: Impressions Games
- Publisher: Activision
- Release Date: October 1999
- Platform: Windows
Pharaoh + Cleopatra is available on Steam for PC. It’s not a remaster, though, so the 1999 game may look old. However, it’s one of the best city-building games in history. You should definitely try it if you like retro -there’s a 4K remaster on the way.
The setting is Ancient Egypt. You’re the governor of an Egyptian empire, and you handle almost every aspect of the empire. Culture, religion, military training, trading, diplomacy, roads, water, residencies, commerce, farms, and everything you can imagine is part of the game.
In particular, the title (and its expansion) feature a campaign with creative levels. Most of the experience revolves around building around the Nile valley and growing a city. Goals vary, as you may need to gather resources, build notable buildings, or defeat an enemy.
And if you’re not a good Pharaoh, your city will suffer. Fire, hunger, pillagers, and economic ruin will be your enemies. These enemies will be the same across the generations the game story covers. That said, there’s a similar game in Ancient Rome – Caesars 3, but the port for modern PCs is very unreliable.
- Developer: Paranoid Interactive
- Publisher: Hyperstrange
- Release Date: June 2022
- Platform: Microsoft Windows
Frozenheim is a colony simulator game adding settlement management and city-building mechanics. It also offers various progression trees and a storyline that influences the mechanics.
Here, you manage a Norse colony, and the goal is surviving winter. There’re elements of RTS combat, though, so you’ll need to prepare to defend against enemies and raiders. In particular, some of your buildings produce unit squads, and you can use these units to defend or raid.
The game follows a single-player campaign with 21 missions. There’s also a free-form city-building game mode, skirmish, survival, co-op, and competitive multiplayer. For the latter option, up to eight players can join together in a match.
The mechanics are the same in every game mode, though. You build a small Viking village into a mighty empire. You forage, hunt, grow and fish to stockpile resources for the winter. And you research technologies to improve your overall empire.
- Developer: Maxis
- Publisher: EA Games, Aspyr Media
- Release Date: January 2003
- Platform: Windows, macOS
Sim City 4 is the final part of EA’s city-building and simulation game. Even though it’s old, it’s known for its deep terraforming tools and multiple mechanics to manage many aspects of a city.
The game also offers a lot of freedom to players. You develop a city by placing commercial, industrial, residential, and other plot types. Then, you add services, transport, education, police, and similar to keep citizen needs in check. Lastly, resources come from taxes and trading with other cities.
There are various game modes -god mode, mayor mode, and MySims mode. The latter version becomes available after establishing your first city. It allows you to create Sims to populate a city or import characters from your copy of The Sims.
Lastly, The Sims 4 features tools to create content and add user-created content. That means you can have any kind of third-party buildings and content on your game and customize your experience.
- Developer: Colossal Order
- Publisher: Paradox Interactive
- Release Date: March 2015
- Platform: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia
Cities: Skylines is a newer alternative to SimCity. It offers a classic approach to managing, developing, and building a city. However, it has a unique focus on urban planning, which can be fun and challenging.
For example, you take care of zoning, roads, public services, transportation, and taxes. You also manage the city’s budget, employment, traffic, pollution, health, etc.
You can play the city-building experience in sandbox mode and other creative modes. Regardless of the game mode, you build plots (commercial, residential, industrial, and more), roads, public services, and more.
And as the city grows, you must keep your citizens’ necessities and desires in check. That includes mainly energy, security, education, traffic, and employment. Additionally, you can add mods to the game to customize the experience.
- Developer: Blue Byte
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Release Date: April 2019
- Platform: Windows
Anno 1800 blends city-building and real-time strategy. It’s also the seventh and latest game in the Anno series. The setting is historical and takes you to the 19th Century Industrial Revolution.
The game features classical city-building mechanics plus ocean combat mechanics. There’s also a plethora of tools and features related to industrialization. For example, your industries generate resources, but make the city less attractive for tourists, create unrest, and create pollution.
You play in the “Old World” as a city leader. You’re to meet the needs of your workers, artisans, and citizens. They are the means of production and the people behind your supply chains. Additionally, you build trade routes with the New World and grow your empire.
The experience is available through a sandbox mode, a story campaign, or a multiplayer mode. These modes feature combat and city-building, and these two mechanics happen in real-time against the AI or other players.
- Developer: Haemimont Games, Abstraction Games
- Publisher: Paradox Interactive
- Release Date: March 2018
- Platform: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Surviving mars is a city-building and colony simulator. It places you on Mars, where you play as an overseer of a rising colony. Your job is to ensure the colony survives the planet’s harsh conditions.
You start by choosing a sponsoring nation. Each offers unique benefits, buildings, and vehicles. Then, you begin terraforming Mars with rovers and drones. The robotic helpers will prepare the planet for colonists, arriving as the campaign continues.
Here, rather than building “plots,” you’ll make “domes.” These are oxygen, power, or water generators, resource depots, residential domes, and food generation domes. And as your colony grows, you’ll receive rockets from Earth with colonists ready to move in.
Lastly, the game models Mars and its conditions after actual Mars data. That makes the planet as hostile as it is immersive. That said, you can exploit its resources for Earth, research, follow mysteries (storylines), go through events (like wars and AI revolts), and face the weather.
Surviving the Aftermath
- Developer: Iceflake Studios
- Publisher: Paradox Interactive
- Release Date: November 2021
- Platform: Windows
Surviving the Aftermath is another colony management and building simulator. The game places you on a post-apocalyptic Earth, and your goal is to survive a harsh and hazardous world.
The building system is not as complex as other titles but feels unique and fresh. The title includes over 130 building types and 80 types of specialists -the colonists- to fill different jobs.
So, you manage your colonists and order them to work for resources. You also gear up the specialists to help defend the colony from raiders and wildlife.
Lastly, the game features a procedurally generated world. The engine also creates rival leaders, trade resources, and events. In particular, you must fight for these resources to ensure survival.
- Developer: Froxy Voxel, Gramophone Games
- Publisher: The Irregular Corporation
- Release Date: June 2021 (Early Access)
- Platform: Windows, Linux
Going Medieval is a city-building simulator. It’s pretty straightforward and friendly to genre newcomers. So, if you’re looking for your entry-level game, this is it.
Here, you construct multi-level villages and fortresses in the wild. The goal is to defend your villagers from increasingly bigger raids. And as your fortress grows, you will shape the world around you.
The setting is the 14th Century. A plague killed 95% of the population, and some of the survivors fled within your walls. Outside of your small realm, wildlife, raiders, and other perils are waiting to take what’s yours.
So, you use simple 3D terraforming tools to grow your stronghold. You can build beneath the surface or above the surface. There’s great freedom in what you can build. Then, you create traps, equip your villagers with weapons, and research tech to improve your survival.
- Developer: Ludeon Studios
- Publisher: Ludeon Studios
- Release Date: October 2018
- Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux – Xbox, PS5 (Pre-order)
RimWorld is a construction and colony management sim that will still appeal to city-building fans. That’s because it has a mechanic you won’t find elsewhere: an AI storyteller.
In Rimworld, you start with two randomized crash survivors on an alien planet. The gameplay tells the colonists what to do: where to work, what to explore, what to build, and similar.
As your colony grows, more colonists will move in. Each one features randomized perks. Moreover, the game’s system will simulate and evaluate dozens of variables influencing how these colonists behave. That includes health, happiness, stress, hunger, and anything you can imagine.
On top of that, there’s the AI storyteller. You get to choose one of these, and they alter the game’s difficulty and tone. It takes care of procedurally generating events and chaining causes with consequences. It creates a narrative experience that will be different every time you play.