Looking for the best city-building games on PC? There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting down for an afternoon of city-building games with a hot drink. We’ve lost countless hours lining up buildings just how we like them or scrambling to save a population on the brink of collapse, and occasionally we’ve purposefully brought about that collapse just to see how our citizens would cope. Not very well as it happens.
Our list of the best city-building games offers something for every management games fan, from hardcore town planners looking for a challenge, to entries that welcome genre newcomers with the promise of tutorials, stripped back interfaces, and few apocalyptic threats. As well as difficulty, we’ve included a mix of realistic city builders and sci-fi simulator games, in case you’re bored of laying out your urban expanses against a traditional backdrop.
Whether your aim is to regroup and repopulate Earth, conquer new planets, or defeat the commuter’s menace that is congestion, then this list of the best city-building games on PC should serve you well.
Here are the best city-building games on PC:
El Presidente returns, this time to an archipelago where you can manage/rule over multiple islands simultaneously. This city-building game charges you with building a city from the ground up, all while dealing with the economic demands of the island, the happiness of your citizens, and keeping paradise afloat on corrupt bargains with overseas allies.
Tropico 6 is all about finding balance in a city that can’t satisfy all factions and residents, as challenges arise from crooked government officials that you’ll need to complete in order to work towards your overall goal, which changes with each scenario.
As you’d expect from a dictatorial city builder, Tropico 6 gives you plenty of choice, but you can expect some brutal consequences if you make the wrong call. If a general election looms, you’ll have the choice to bend the figures or remain squeaky clean, but there’s a trade off between losing the election and having to restart the level or angering internal factions.
Tropico 6’s bombastic presentation belies just how much love and care you’ll need to devote to your regime to keep everyone happy, relatively speaking. Thankfully, the island setting makes it easy to keep tabs on your buildings and notifications whether that’s spotting rebels roaming the streets, or a group of shacks that has sprung up as a signal to build more homes for your citizens.
Aven Colony transports the humble city builder to a different planet where you’ll face much more challenging obstacles than deciding where best to build your roads. For starters, you’ll have to factor in the challenges posed by all the terrifying new space biomes and the hostile atmosphere.
Instead of creating a new city to entice residents, your main objective is to rebuild humanity, a lofty goal indeed. In doing so, you’ll need to try to adjust to the atmosphere, battle against constant natural disasters, a lack of oxygen (pretty big deal, this one), and even alien lifeforms like gigantic sandworms.
You’ll start out as a governor and rise through the ranks to establish yourself as president of your colony as the rest of the game follows suit, expanding your toolset and testing your abilities by starting off with small goals like building a water pump and escalating all the way to manning a full-scale Starship Troopers-like army.
Aven Colony isn’t just a pure city-building game either, as it mixes in qualities from the best 4X games and strategy games. There’s some light combat and a neat expeditions system that lets you eventually uncover the planet’s history.
Frostpunk is the kind of city builder that will make you question your own morality over and over again. Your job is to survive a premature ice age in a sheltered steampunk-powered city that was left unfinished before the big freeze took hold. As the leader of a group of survivors, your role is to rebuild the city around a giant heater that constantly needs fuel to keep your denizens safe and healthy.
Like in some of the best survival games, Frostpunk is all about managing resources effectively to keep the city going, and your main concern is keeping the furnace fueled. Unlike other city builders, Frostpunk is about surviving instead of ruling, and it’s a constant juggling act to keep your new citizens happy, while ensuring the city is stocked with food and the furnace is fully operational.
As you might have expected from one of the best apocalypse games Frostpunk isn’t exactly a light-hearted city-building game. Death is inevitable in this harsh tundra and you face plenty of difficult decisions just to keep the city going – instead of worrying about structure placement and how everything looks, you need to make the laws that keep your citizens in order, gamble on risky expeditions, and occasionally make an example of a criminal.
Much like Frostpunk, Surviving Mars blends survival and city building, albeit on the barren red planet rather than a frozen hellscape. You’ll be armed with all the equipment you need to create a functional, happy city for colonists as you explore Mars’ dusty surface, searching for terrain that can be fertilised so you can continue expanding across the planet.
Unfortunately, there’s no scientist Matt Damon on standby to walk you through the whole process. You’ll be your own botanist, scientist, and city planner as you work to keep your flocking colonists fed and happy – but that’s the least of your problems. Surviving Mars is a little tougher to handle, it requires a lot of attention to ensure citizens have access to oxygen and are protected against impending natural disasters like dust storms and cold waves, but Surviving Mars does a great job at keeping you constantly informed of your city’s progress.
Research and exploration plays a huge role in this survival city builder, letting you massively improve the structures and facilities in your colony so that they match the Asimovian fantasy in your head. Plus, with a thriving mod scene there’s no end to the mad sci-fi colonies you can realise.
The SimCity series has been around for a good while now, and you can see how much other city-building games borrowed from – and in the case of Cities: skylines, improved upon – this incredibly popular city building series. SimCity 4 launched in 2003, and although the game doesn’t offer anything especially innovative to the genre, it’s still a satisfying and challenging contender.
Similar to Cities: Skylines, you’ll only really have one goal, creating your dream city. You have different zones of buildings you can lay down in a grid format, but you can also splash the cash to build intricate road systems or more advanced architecture, and even world wonders. You’ll get prompts as you expand your city, notifying you of your citizens needs as you gradually unlock new features and attract more residents. There’s not too much to think about when it comes to SimCity, but sometimes that can be just want you’re looking for in a city-building game.
Simplicity is the key to Cities: Skylines meteoric rise to success. Whether you’re a veteran town planner capable of handling practically any scenario, or a newcomer to the genre, Cities: Skylines is arguably the best city-building game for either party.
Instead of spending aeons scrolling through building types and then carefully rotating and placing them in accessible spots, Cities: Skylines breaks down the bulk of its buildings into categories like residential, commercial, and industrial, letting you rapidly build a skeleton for your city before agonising over the small details. The skill is all in how you balance the many needs of your citizens and each district, making you think more like a mayor.
It’s not that Cities: Skylines is easy, that is far from true, it’s just easy to get your head around, and when things go wrong, which they inevitably will, you won’t feel defeated by the prospect of starting over again. As you’d expect from the studio behind Cities in Motion, Cities: Skylines also features a gloriously deep and complex mix of transit options, which means you get to spend countless hours trying to ensure your denizens are moving around as seamlessly and smoothly as possible.
For the hardcore players there’s also a still-thriving mod scene packed with scenarios, new buildings, and, er, traffic solutions so you can successfully recreate any city in the world or attempt to solve LA’s infamous traffic problem. Check out some of the best Cities: Skylines mods.
Anno 1800 returns the city-building series to its historical roots, positioning you as a company leader in the Industrial Revolution, as you trade and grow your empire from a couple of farms and warehouses to a thriving industrial metropolis that’s the envy of the world. Eventually, you can even attract tourists to one of your many museums or zoos as you transition to the modern world, navigating all the logistical and societal issues that come with such seismic change.
Anno 1800 offers many options on how to play across its campaign, multiplayer, and sandbox modes. Much like in the best 4X games, there are a variety of ways to win Anno 1800, ranging from accruing wealth and investors to attracting visitors and securing diplomatic ties. Pitted against other islands, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your rivals and their world decisions, as you figure out through diplomatic failings and trade how they operate and if they can be trusted.
Apart from monitoring your rivals, you’ll need to keep your workers happy, as you expand trade and grow your company town. There’s even a regular newspaper that makes the rounds affecting population happiness, spreading tales across the land of your city’s successes and failures. Details like this help bring the world of the Industrial Revolution to life, and while Anno 1800 definitely glazes over the grim reality of the era, it’s hard not to get drawn in by its picture perfect vistas and charm.
Instead of building a city to survive, to dictate, or repopulate, in Age of Empires 2 your main goal is to build your city as a base of operations for your army as you prepare to wage war through the ages. You pick from a number of historical civs and lean into their strengths in order to bring prosperity to your people.
Age of Empires II Definitive Edition reboots the original 1999 game, and although we were already treated to a HD edition in 2013, who says we can’t have even nicer things? If you have fond memories of playing Age of Empires, or if you’re new to the genre, there’s much more to this city builder, than just, er, building cities. Don’t let that put you off though, Age of Empires 2 has plenty of tutorials to aid you along the way.
Related: Check out everything we know about Age of Empires 4
The city building aspect of Age of Empires means creating towns, villages, and eventually morphing them altogether to form cities capable of withstanding the perils of war. It’s not enough to have your townspeople scavenging for supplies and farming the land to keep your civ afloat, you’ll also need to build watchtowers and barricades to defend against enemies, as well as training villagers for war. In Age of Empires 2, the results of creating a functional city reverberates through the ages. Few old games are as fun to play over 20 years later as AoE 2.