What are the best tycoon games? Whether you’re after classic park management, or taking charge of a complex, nuanced business, there are plenty of great options to choose from right now, across a range of themes. This is a classic genre that’s had plenty of love since its early days, with sequels and new blood galore.
While there are plenty of classic tycoon games we could talk about – many of which are some of the best PC games available – we’ve decided to focus on modern highlights, as this is a genre that’s constantly getting new releases and new ideas. We’ve also kept the definition relatively broad, as there are plenty of management games that you may not consider strictly ‘tycoon’ games, but have strong business or economic themes with the mechanics to back them up.
From criminal underworlds and banana republics to high-seas trading and taking commerce to the final frontier, here are the best tycoon games we think you should check out if you’re looking to see what some of the better choices are in this space. We’ll keep updating this list as we go, so make sure you check back regularly.
Here are some of the best tycoon games:
Offworld Trading Company
This is a favorite from our list of top RTS games but makes a return here because at its core it’s a game about expanding your economic might and running an interstellar business. There is a surprisingly intricate economic model here, with over a dozen resources to keep track of, as well as the player-driven market that will determine what’s worth investing in, and what isn’t. It also has a pretty cool single-player campaign, if multiplayer or sandbox isn’t your style.
Offworld Trading Company has plenty of DLC available, including one that changes the setting from Mars to one of Jupiter’s moons, Io. The developer has since moved on to a historical 4X game – take a look at our Old World review to find out more.
Tycoon games have covered theme parks and zoos extensively before, but Megaquarium might be the first truly great aquarium-based tycoon game. The premise and core gameplay loop are almost exactly what you’d expect: you’re in charge of developing a tiny aquarium into a fully-fledged sea life center. However, this stands out as a game that really cares about aquatic life, and that shines through in every tank and information panel.
Managing that transformation means you have to learn a lot about fish. A lot. There are nearly 100 different species you can have in your aquarium and they all need different care routines and environments. You really have to strategize once you’ve got a large and bustling aquarium, so don’t expect this one on our list of the best relaxing games.
Empire of Sin
While this mobster-themed strategy game is still finding its feet, this has a healthy dose of ‘tycoon’ in its DNA as, aside from engaging in turn-based gang-on-gang warfare, you’re also trying to run a respectable mob business as well.
From a few humble speakeasies to a city-wide criminal empire, you’ve got to expand your rackets and your alcohol production to keep the people of Chicago happy during Prohibition-era America. Rival gangs will also be looking to expand their own business, and it’s up to you whether you try to co-exist, cooperate, or take them down yourself. Check out our Empire of Sin review for more.
Let’s Build a Zoo
If your childhood memories are tinged with the nostalgia of building the perfect zoo, then Let’s Build a Zoo is the one for you. This spiritual successor to Zoo Tycoon recaptures the magic, albeit with a pixel aesthetic cute enough to rival Stardew Valley. As you might expect, Let’s Build a Zoo places you in charge of turning a plot of land into a vibrant zoo filled with animal enclosures, eateries, parks, and other colorful attractions. Hire zookeepers, kiosk staff, and veterinarians to keep your animals and visitors happy.
In a compelling twist, Let’s Build a Zoo is outfitted with its own morality system, allowing you to delve into the seedy underbelly of zoo management in the pursuit of capitalism. Start a breeding program to maintain your animal population, or take a walk on the wild side with DNA splicing to create twisted abominations for your visitors to gawk at. If you’ve ever wanted to see a crocoduck (that’s a crocodile fused with a duck, if you couldn’t guess) then make your dreams a reality in Let’s Build a Zoo.
This is just as much a city-building game as it is a tycoon game, but it’s still one of the freshest management experiences to have come out in the past decade. As the newly appointed (for life) president of a fledgling banana republic, it’s your job to build up what was once a former colonial outpost into a global economic and tourism powerhouse.
You’ve got to attract fresh immigrants as well as take care of your existing population, exploit your island’s natural resources, and create idyllic tourist spots to attract rich travelers. You can even engage in international diplomacy, playing the major powers against each other and reaping as many benefits as you can. Beware though, dictators are only tolerated too much, and it’s game over if you get deposed by rebels.
While we’re recommending Tropico 6, Tropico 4 and 5 are also pretty great as well – you can’t really go wrong no matter which one you pick. Take a look at our Tropico 6 review for our thoughts on the most recent entry in the series.
As far as tycoon games go, Prison Architect may seem unconventional at first glance. As the Warden of a private prison, you’re tasked with building a penitentiary that can keep the most conniving and dangerous inmates behind bars. Prison Architect provides the tools for construction but leaves the sticky ethical repercussions of prison management entirely up to you. If you’re concerned with the welfare and reformation of the incarcerated, you can direct your funding towards healthcare, education, and recreational activities during their stay.
Of course, there are numerous grants available for reformation initiatives and inmate well-being, so you can expect to gain some returns via this route. However, if you’re looking to change your for-profit prison into a full-profit prison, you can disregard all those pesky ethical concerns and use federal money for rampant borrowing instead, with armed guards and harsh penalties to keep prisoners in line. No matter how you choose to design your prison, its continued running requires careful balancing of the books. Prison Architect is a stark reflection of the profiteering of human suffering, all wrapped up in a compelling tycoon management game that’s a riot to play.
Two Point Hospital
A spiritual successor to Theme Hospital, Two Point Hospital has all of the zany sense of humor and over-the-top visualizations of medical practice as Bullfrog’s original, but with an updated design and Two Point Studio’s own unique twist.
Set in the fictional ‘Two Point County’ setting, you have to build up a healthcare center from the ground up, balancing the needs of your patients and your bank balance as you deal with that minefield that is a private healthcare system. Experience unique and wacky diseases that will need curing, and make sure you keep your staff happy as well!
Two Point Campus, the recent sequel, takes many of the same mechanics and humor and whisks it to a college campus. It ticks many of the same boxes as TPH, so it’s really a matter of picking the setting you prefer. Check out our Two Point Campus review for our complete assessment.
If Two Point Hospital is the successor to Theme Hospital, then Planet Coaster aims to be the successor to one of the classic tycoon games, RollerCoaster Tycoon. Frontier Developments is attempting to create the ultimate theme park simulator, with complex tools to create the most ambitious rides – even ones from the real world – as well as a deep simulation to run the park as you see fit. Take a look at our Planet Coaster review if you’re curious to know how we got on designing our own park.
The studio has also invested a lot into community-sharing tools so that even if you’re not the most creative thinker, you’ll be able to find something to inspire you in your own theme park journey. There’s also a safari park game from Frontier out now as well, called Planet Zoo, if that takes your fancy instead – as our Planet Zoo review will attest, it’s probably the cuddliest simulation game around.
Jurassic World Evolution 2
Probably the least business-minded of the list, building and running your own version of Jurassic Park is still core to Jurassic World Evolution 2’s premise. Firstly, you’ll need to bioengineer your new dinosaurs and create enclosures for them, before you can then expand with dedicated tourism and entertainment facilities.
Espionage and natural disasters will conspire to make things difficult for you, and should the worst happen your management skills will be tested to the limit as you try and contain the problem before everything collapses. The sequel builds on the original’s systems and then applies them to brilliant effect in the new Chaos Theory mode, which effectively puts you in the command seat in scenarios that are directly based on the movies. Read our Jurassic World Evolution 2 review if you want the complete breakdown.
Much like Tropico, the Anno series has just as much to do with city-building as it does economics, but there is a healthy business portion as you set up production lines and supply chains, exploiting your surroundings in both the old world and the new world.
1800s-specific twist on the series involves how industrialization impacts society, as well as making you run two cities at once – one in the new world, and one in the old world, necessitating the need to secure trade routes and the supply lines between where raw materials are sourced and where they are manufactured. It also has a pretty robust naval combat portion, if you’re also looking for some high-stakes action at sea. Read our Anno 1800 review for more details.
Game Dev Tycoon
Other than being the only game on this list to actually use ‘tycoon’ in its title, this is also a pretty niche topic. If you’ve ever wanted a top-line, abstract view of what it’s like to actually run a company dedicated to designing video games, Game Dev Tycoon is a pretty neat way of experiencing it.
Starting alone in your basement, and working your way up to a fancy office with actual employees, you first need to choose what game you want to design – including genre, what engine to use, extra features, and more – and then you’ve got to keep working away until completion.
The pressure comes from keeping the money rolling in – every month you need to pay yourself and your staff, and as you progress in the game some projects will come from publishers, which have set deadlines. It’s a surprisingly intricate, but also simplistic, window into what is a vibrant, multi-faceted world.
That’s all the best tycoon games at your disposal to strike it big in a capitalist simulation of your choice. However, if you’d prefer to take an early retirement and opt for a quiet life, check out the best life games and farming games you can play to kick back and relax.
Original feature by Joe Robinson.