What are 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 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 game fan, which is why you can find some of them on our best PC games list, from hardcore town planners looking for a challenge to entries that welcome genre newcomers with the promise of tutorials, stripped-back interfaces, and a few apocalyptic threats.
Here are the best city building games:
Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming
While many games on this list are based on building modern-day metropolises, Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming sees you building your city in George R. R. Martin’s fantastical world of Westeros. Game of Thrones has always been renowned for the tangled web of political intrigue that it weaves, and this free-to-play game throws you right into the midst of it all.
After Eddard Stark dies, you play as a lord or lady who is vying to win the Game of Thrones. As you build and fortify your own town/city, you must also cement yourself as a military power by building up your army. It’s a clever way to translate the intricate politics of the TV show and books into a game.
Romans: Age of Caesar
When it comes to city building, historically speaking, the Romans were among the best, and Romans: Age of Caesar is all about rebuilding the Roman Empire. This is a slightly rare example of a city building MMO in that you’re working with a group of up to 16 other players to build and maintain your city while countless others are working to make their own cities as part of the empire at large.
It genuinely does feel like you’re helping to build a large, digital empire, and as you play, you and the other players will gather resources so that you can grow and expand your city while defending it from hordes of barbarians while building trade routes and cultivating relationships with the other cities. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.
El Presidente returns! This time, you run 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 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 choices, 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. Give our Tropico 6 review a read to see what new tricks El Presidente has up his sleeve.
Aven Colony transports the humble city builder to a different planet where you’ll face much more challenging obstacles than deciding where the best place is 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 and 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, as it combines qualities from the best 4X games and strategy games. Some light combat and a neat expedition system let you eventually uncover the planet’s history.
Frostpunk is the kind of city builder that will make you question your 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 fueling the furnace. 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. Check out our Frostpunk review to understand what makes this game so unique.
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 fertilized so you can continue expanding across the planet.
Unfortunately, you won’t have 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, as 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 play 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 realize.
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 citizen’s 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 what you’re looking for in a city building game.
Against the Storm
While a lot of the games on this list are realistic management sims, Against the Storm is a bit more fantastical, taking you to a colorful realm of lizard people and giant beavers as you are tasked by none other than the kingdom’s queen herself to redesign the land.
There are elements of roguelike and strategy in this city-building game as well, giving Against the Storm an even more unique edge. The biggest genre remains city-building itself, giving any fan of the genre the opportunity to dabble in something new while retaining the familiarity of adding new buildings and streets, and following the queen’s every order. If you aren’t sure whether to come over to the rogue-side, our Against the Storm review might change your mind.
Cities: Skylines 2
Though Cities: Skylines sat firmly high up our list of the best city builder games, Cities: Skylines 2 is here to take its place, and though it had performance issues on release, as we say in our Cities Skylines 2 review, there’s a lot of promise in the game.
For those that want the grand scale and detailed infrastructure that comes with building a city, Cities Skylines 2 delivers on both accounts, without getting bogged down in any strategy elements. That’s not to say you won’t have your hands full with plenty to manage as your city quickly grows, from how to manage Cities Skyline 2 taxes and the best way to build roads in Cities Skylines 2.
Though the next outing in this game loses some of its intimate charm, for those not too fussed about the beauty of their city, but instead, making things work, there’s a lot to love. If you’re thinking of picking it up, check out our Cities Skylines 2 beginner’s guide.
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 of 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. Definitely give our detailed Anno 1800 review a read if you want to learn more.
Surviving the Aftermath
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Surviving the Aftermath tasks you with overseeing a colony in a procedurally generated wasteland. As you build and grow the survivors’ city, you need to ensure your settlement can survive natural disasters, bandits, and the beasts that roam the wild.
It’s an unforgiving environment – in your quest to keep your colony intact for as long as possible with a dearth of resources, you’ll make difficult decisions as you choose what to risk or sacrifice to survive. Your choices don’t just impact the welfare of your citizens; they also affect your colony’s reputation and your ability to trade with other societies.
And there you have it, the best city building games. If you want to mix things up a bit, check out our sci-fi simulator games list in case you’re bored of laying out your urban expanses against a traditional backdrop. Don’t get this confused with our list of the best building games, though, which often allow you to explore your creativity on a smaller scale.