A massive sandbox simulator is perhaps what you are looking for here. Games like Spore are about “playing God” with a series of complex mechanics you could enjoy for years.
Spore never reached mainstream success, but it’s a “cult-following” title. That’s why there have been about 1K concurrent players every day on Steam since its 2012 debut.
Selecting Games Like Spore
Spore is one of the most complex games available. It mixes elements from the grand-strategy, RTS, 4X, social sim, and live sim genres.
It means selecting games like Spore is not an easy endeavor. However, we have a formula. We believe fans of Maxis’ entry would like games featuring a mix of Spore’s elements:
- Genre: Spore is a life/God simulation real-time strategy sandbox game. It happens within an open world, and it includes action-RPG elements.
- Plot: You start as a unicellular being. From there on, you play 5 evolution stages of your species, from water to interstellar exploration.
- Scenario: The setting is a procedurally alien planet, at first, full of alien creatures. As you evolve, you may see other planets and stars.
- Exploration: You can explore the open-world planet to find other creatures. Further down the road, there’s also interstellar exploration.
- Action: You play in first-person perspective. Like so, you can interact with other creatures, or take them as your prey.
- Open-ended Evolution: Unlike most strategy games, there’s not a single evolution path. There’re hundreds, and it’s up to you to decide.
- Procedurally Generated Gameplay: Hundreds of NPC creatures are doing the same as you. They are evolving as the game goes on.
- Evolving Game: You’ll get the ability to form tribes and cities, conquer tribes and cities, build and customize ships, etc.
- Stages: The game happens in various “stages,” and the result of its phase affects the conditions and challenges of the next. Each features increasingly complex gameplay.
- Phases: The stages’ names indicate the type of gameplay you expect. These are Cell, Creature, Tribe, Civilization, and Space.
- Long-lasting Choices: Because the game happens in various phases, your evolution choices will affect your species for generations.
- Civilization Management: You’ll be able to manage an entire civilization through various systems that mix adventure and strategy.
- Win Condition: Unlike most social sim games, you can win a “campaign” by reaching a supermassive black hole.
- Online Sharing: The game shares everything you create in-game with other players and vice-versa.
- Infinite Exploration: Because of online sharing, there’s almost an endless number of planets to explore.
Spore was ahead of its time, and it still. There’re other games like it, though, titles that travel across the various genres Spore tackles.
Matching the Spore formula is quite tough. It manages too many things at the same time, like RTS, action-RPG, open-world, evolution-sim, etc.
If we can’t find enough evolution sims to recommend, we have a solution: games like Spore should feel equally unique, as the kind of sim/God-sim/RTS genres mix that happens once in a lifetime.
Games Like Spore
- Developer: Revolutionary Games Studio
- Publisher: Revolutionary Games Studio
- Release Date: November 2021
- Platform: Windows, Linux, MacOS
Thrive is an evolution simulator sandbox where you take control of an organism on an alien planet. You begin your “campaign” with the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) and, like Spore, your goal is evolving your species.
Your species can adapt by adding mutations. However, other species will come to compete against you for survival. Mutations, as well as species, are random, so the game is completely open-ended.
There’s also a system that handles dynamic simulation to evolve your population. Meanwhile, you must spread your pieces across the 2D open world, and improve your chances of survival.
The game also goes through various Stages, like Spore. You begin as a nucleus, become a cell, become sentient, create a society, manage a society, manage an empire, and “Ascent” to become a God. There’re seven stages, and whatever you do affects your survival chances in the following phase.
Overall, Thrive is quite similar to Spore, it’s just newer and shiny. It doesn’t include action, and most of the experience happens before you’re sentient, as a cell, hungry to eat chemicals in the world. Also, it’s not at all popular, but it may be exactly what you’re looking for.
Populous: The Beginning
- Developer: Bullfrog Productions
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Release Date: November 1998
- Platform: Windows, PlayStation
Populous: The Beginning is the third part of an old-school strategy game. As the prequel to the story, though, newcomers can try it without issue. And we recommend it great, as this is a classic, once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. The god-sim/RTS is available at the GoG store if you’re wondering.
You play as the leader of a tribe across a series of 25 episodes, on 25 different planets. On each planet, you must defeat a rivaling tribe and their shaman. However, each new tribe may have a new power or a new military unit, and you can learn powers and tech by praying on key locations.
The mechanics are simple, but the game itself is challenging. You start most chapters with a couple of villagers, and they can chop wood to make houses and various kinds of barracks. Meanwhile, your shaman has a growing list of powers, like thunderbolts, firebolts, volcanoes, death swarms, and more.
Then, villagers can enter houses to reproduce and create new citizens. You can also send citizens into a barracks queue, where they become military units. Or you can send them to docks and similar, where they build ships. The city building is, in essence, somehow realistic -albeit there’s no food.
The plot follows your shaman on a quest to become a deity. Each new quest is harder as rivaling shamans use earth-shattering spells and natural disasters. Never forget, though, that the more villagers you have, the more “mana” your shaman has for powers.
- Developer: Crytivo Games
- Publisher: Crytivo Games
- Release Date: August 2018 (Early Access)
- Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux, SteamOS
Next on our list is a planet management simulator. You can guide a whimsical civilization through the ages in one of the newest “play God” games available.
The game starts in the Stone Age, where you start fulfilling the basic needs of your creatures, like fire and shelter. Slowly but surely, your society will evolve into a civilization. However, you have to gather food, create cloth, and supply power. Then, you can colonize any territory and planet as you evolve.
The gameplay will evolve as your civilization grows in power. Once you reach the Space era, you’ll be able to colonize other planets, harvest their resources, and expand your territory. That said, the game procedurally generates every planet. Moreover, there are weather simulations, seasons, catastrophes, and dynamic events in every place.
Interestingly, our citizens (the “Nuggets”) can make their own decisions. This may lead to dangerous and yet interesting problems. Your influence may lead them to the paths you create. Yet, you need to gather Power from completing tasks to properly influence your followers.
Wrath happens when your Nuggets create disasters. You may use it to unleash destruction and scare your citizens into action. Managing Power and Wrath is part of how you’re going to make your followers believe, follow, and obey. On top of pollution, weather, seasons, wild animals, and more, it’s a complex experience.
Grow: Song of the Evertree
- Developer: Prideful Sloth
- Publisher: 505 Games
- Release Date: November 2021
- Platform:Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
Song of Evertree, like Spore, mixes various genres for a unique strategy experience. It’s an immersive sandbox life-management sim with adventure, farming-sim, and world-crafting elements.
You’re to grow your worlds, and see how your actions change the environment. It has an open-ended gameplay that goes alongside gorgeous music and a fantastic and detailed art design. For these reasons, it’s the most special game on the list.
You play in the Worlds of Alardia, a barren place where nothing grows. You can change it, though, as you have ancestral knowledge that may heal the land. With such a plot, you explore the world for places to build, farm, and generate fauna and flora with your ancient skills.
Other elements include solving puzzles, exploring caves, collecting flowers, mining minerals, catching bugs, and fishing. You also meet other NPCs you can help or make happy by giving them jobs or healing their lands.
Lastly, the building mechanics allow you to craft a huge array of cute structures to customize your town. You can place buildings freely to make a place you’d call home.
Species: Artificial Life, Real Evolution
- Developer: Quasar
- Publisher: Quasar
- Release Date: September, 2018
- Platform: Microsoft Windows, Linux, macOS
“Species” is what the name implies. It’s an evolution simulator with old-school graphics. Here, you create, observe, tinker, and destroy life. The goal is to create the perfect lifeform by understanding the principles of evolution and biology. It’s a tough task, though, and it requires plenty of trial and error.
That’s because every creature you create is unique. The differentiating element of all beings is their genes. Moreover, children come out with slightly modified versions of their parent’s genes, adding a new complex layer to the title.
Then, the environment affects the creatures as they struggle to survive. Natural selection will do its part. You will get to see the fruits of your efforts in the death, survival, or reproduction of your species. Also, global and dynamic catastrophes like an ice age can affect the species further.
You can observe the creatures to study their genes, advantages, disadvantages, and more. Or you can guide their development by feeding them in isolated areas, tinkering with their gene pools, deciding which creatures they can eat, and more.
In any case, Species is a sandbox evolutionary sim. You have the tools for an open-ended experience. That would allow you to tinker with every minor detail, or let everything go according to nature.
- Developer: Dan Dixon
- Publisher: Dan Dixon
- Release Date: October 2012
- Platform: Windows
Universe Sandbox is an interactive space simulator with a hefty physics engine. It allows you to create, interact, and destroy thousands of objects on a massive scale.
The engine manages collisions, material interactions, climate, and gravity. These systems deliver a beautiful, realistic, and endless universe to master. That said, you can either “see” the universe, or you can “create” your solar systems.
The core experience is not a “game,” though. Instead, it works more as an educational platform, where users can learn about how things in outer space interact with each other. Notably, the engine includes real-life simulations, so, for example, it has the eight planets of the Solar System, five minor planets, over 160 moons, and hundreds of asteroids.
Because of the simulation, the system can predict the future of the Milky Way galaxy, and the Andromeda galaxy. And as you “play,” you can discover over 70 galaxies, thousands of stars, and fictional simulations. All of this happens aboard the New Horizons or Juno spacecraft.
Lastly, if you want to play, you can create your systems. You start by creating a star, then planets, then moons, comets, rings, asteroids, black holes, and more. Then, you keep moving, evolving, and changing your creation.
Kerbal Space Program
- Developer: Squad
- Publisher: Squad
- Release Date: June 2011
- Platform: Linux, macOS, Microsoft Windows, PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X/S
Kerbal Space Program is about you controlling a space program for the Kerbals, an alien race. That gives you access to a series of complex mechanics you could enjoy for years. In other words, it’s a grand-strategy simulator.
First, mistakes, errors, and disasters are an integral part of the game, and it never fails to be funny. You could, for example, assemble a ship that can’t fly, based on realistic orbital and aerodynamic physics.
Anyhow, the goal is to launch a Kerbal crew into orbit, and beyond. Then, perhaps, keeping them alive to explore the planets and satellites of the Kerbol solar system.
That said, there’re three gameplay modes. In Science, you can perform experiments to unlock techs. In Career Mode, you manage every aspect of the program (construction, strategy, upgrades, funding, tech, etc.). Lastly, the Sandbox mode allows you to freely build a spacecraft, with all kinds of technology and parts.
Regardless, the other modes also include vehicle building. Moreover, you get to fly the ship, manage the crewmembers (like training, hiring, and assigning tasks), and explore space.
- Developer: TastyHamGames
- Publisher: TastyHamGames
- Release Date: July 2017 (in development)
- Platform: Windows
Planetoid 3 is an RTS title in space with, so the thematic feels similar. You can choose a race to expand an empire, and grow in multiple ways. Like Spore, the game evolves, so you’ll be able to train ships to declare war, negotiate, or explore the stars.
The main game mode is Freemode, which doesn’t have a win condition. Instead, you start on a randomly-generated star system. The engine then populates planets with resources, races, and events.
The journey is open-ended, though. You’ll get to expand your civilization, interact with other alien races, conquer planets, destroy buildings, manage resources, and have lots of fun.
Researching technology is also key for the experience. It allows you to build better ships, explore the solar system, colonize other worlds, trade, communicate, and go to war against other races.
Lastly, Planetoid 3 is a freeware indie title. The developers used the engine Game Maker to create the experience, and you can download it for free. Moreover, it’s currently in development, so whatever you see will probably grow over time.
- Developer: Firaxis Games
- Publisher: Aspyr Media
- Release Date: October 2016
- Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux, SteamOS, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android
Civilization VI is a 4X game. That means a grand strategy title where you manage a civilization through the ages. The “Xs” stands for “Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate.”
So, rather than managing a species, you manage a historic civilization. There’s a win condition, though, as you can become the ruler through war, diplomacy, technological supremacy, or wonders.
The gameplay feels like the last two stages of Spore. That means you have a series of evolving mechanics to control every aspect of your civilization. The experience is comprehensive, and although there’re no other “stages,” there’s always something to learn and discover.
You start with a single settlement without any sight on the map. Then, you evolve your settlement into towns, villages, and cities. You’ll see how your cities expand across the map to conquer territories and resources.
Lastly, the game procedurally generates the map for each “campaign.” Other random NPC factions will move, like you, per turn. Then, there’re historical leaders pursuing agents and featuring historical traits. All of these elements deliver dynamic diplomacy, as interactions change over the ages and turns.
Endless Space 2
- Developer: Amplitude Studios
- Publisher: SEGA
- Release Date: May 2017
- Platform: Windows, macOS
Endless Space 1 and 2 are some of the best 4X games. These are grand-strategy games where you manage an intergalactic civilization across stars and planets. Unlike other genre titles, there’re no turns, as everyone acts simultaneously.
There’s no growth and no evolution. Instead, consider it as a deeper, fully-fledged Space Stage. On Spore, it works through mini-games, menus, and arcade-like systems. On Endless Space 2, though, you’ll handle tough concepts, resources, and mechanics.
There’s a story as well. A God-like entity known as the “Endless” colonized the galaxy eons ago. Only mystical ruins and artifacts remain, plus the magical Dust substance. You’re to explore the star system to discover the secret of the long-gone race.
At the same time, you can expand your territory, build colonies, manage your economy, conquer distant planets, exploit trade routes, research tech, etc. And as you encounter other races, you’re free to interact in various ways. For example, there’s land & space combat where victory depends on tech and numbers.
You’re the leader of your race, a God that manages an intergalactic civilization. However, your citizens will react dynamically to your decisions and environments by voting and dictating laws. So, you can become a beloved leader, or manipulate your citizens for your benefit.
Oxygen Not Included
- Developer: Klei Entertainment
- Publisher: Klei Entertainment
- Release Date: July 2019
- Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux, SteamOS
Oxygen Not Included is a 2D space-colony simulator. The theme is a scarcity of oxygen, supplies, and warmth. So, you must guide your colonist through the dangers of living in the subterranean of an asteroid.
The population grows over time. With your help, they could thrive, but it includes managing complex and evolving systems. But as you can imagine, you control the space colony, from excavation to mining resources, power systems, and plumbing.
The trick is every breath depletes a resource. So, you must keep digging as fast as you can to find the supplies you need to sustain your population. And you can do this in any number of randomly generated rocks.
The experience is stressful for both you and your inhabitants. So, the game includes leisure activities, accommodations, and food to keep your colonists happy. Your citizens have personal preferences, such as destructive ways to release and react to stress. Happiness is another resource to manage.
Lastly, the game includes temperature control systems through thermodynamics. Similarly, it includes complex liquid, gas, and power grid simulations. The game displays these systems slowly, though, so you’ll always have something to learn.
Black & White 2
- Developer: Lionhead Studios
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Release Date: October 2005
- Platform: Windows, macOS (play with compatibility mode for Windows XP or Windows 7)
We left Black & White 2 at the bottom of our list because it’s a hard-to-find title. But if the summary convinces you, you’d have to search it on abandonware sites, as it’s not even available on EA’s Origin Store.
This game is the sequel to a popular God simulator game. It expanded the core gameplay by adding real-time strategy elements and made it feel extra unique and original. The result is something I haven’t seen before or after, and it’s a shame the franchise didn’t continue.
You play as a god, coming forth from the void to help the villagers that summoned you. You have a physical body in the world, a giant avatar creature. Your avatar can grow and evolve as an evil or a good deity according to how to punish or reward your citizen’s actions – your follower’s belief adds “Prayer Power.”
Additionally, there’re city-building elements, plus warfare. So, you develop a city, create military units, and go to war by controlling your fighting units. That said, you may become Good, Evil, or both. Evil, for example, involves war, fear, torture, and pain. Good involves city building and defending. Both require resources.
Lastly, the HUD is almost bottomless, which was a key element in the game. You see the world and your avatar’s hand. So, the only way to interact is through the hand, which you can use to pick people, food, trees, and other stuff. You can also cast miracles by using your Prayer Power and drawing specific gestures.