The 10 Best City-Building Video Games, According To Ranker – Screen Rant

Unlike life-simulator video games such as The Sims that only allow players to control what their character does, city-building games give players a chance to take the reins of entire civilizations. Made with varying levels of detail, they all share the common trait of putting the user in charge of the game’s most important decisions.

From classic series like Civilization to modern masterpieces like Cities: Skylines, the city-building genre is one of the most diverse forms of simulation games. Though there are plenty of great games to play, users on Ranker took to the site to upvote their absolute favorite city-building games.


10 Civilization IV (2005)

Gameplay from Civilization IV

Generally considered one of the greatest 4x games of all timeCivilization IV took the beloved franchise to new heights. Like its predecessors, the game tasked players with creating a civilization and building it from the ground up in order to conquer the world. Resource management and an intricate web of strategies created a world of possibilities for the game.

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The game was a hit due in large part to its improved level of detail, and an impressive new AI that made the game more challenging. Building off of the successes of previous installments, the game was a step forward that also preserved all of the best parts of early entries in the series.

9 SimCity 4: Rush Hour (2003)

A train accident blocks traffic from SimCity 4 Rush Hour

Expansions aren’t usually considered as separate games, but SimCity 4: Rush Hour added enough to stand on its own. Expanding upon the extremely popular fourth game in the SimCity franchise, Rush Hour addressed several issues with the base game, especially regarding the city’s transportation.

Featuring a slew of new modes including U-drive-it, which allowed users to control certain vehicles, the game put more control in the player’s hands. One of the most ambitious features was the “Route Query” option, which allowed users to examine travel routes in order to better address transportation problems. Like a sign of things to come in the future, Rush Hour introduced concepts that would pay off later in other city-building games.

8 Tropico 4 (2011)

An industrial park near the beach in Tropico 4

Unlike most other city-building games which have a somewhat utopian view, Tropico 4 seemingly revels in its despotism. The game allows players to become the dictator of their own small nation, and through political manipulation and maneuvering, maintain power through a campaign storyline.

Similar to other great tycoon style gamesTropico is about managing resources and building up from scarcity. The game’s tongue-in-cheek style sets it apart from its more serious-minded contemporaries, and it feels almost like a parody of other city-building games.

7 Zeus: Master Of Olympus (2000)

Houses are built near a large statue from Zeus: Master of Olympus

While city-building games allow the user to play god, Zeus: Master of Olympus took that concept one step further. Set in a fictionalized version of Ancient Greece, the player must build up their civilization as it is occasionally attacked by gods and monsters from Greek mythology.

Managing the population’s needs is also matched by managing the needs of respective gods which bestow the user with additional perks. Though it is one of the older city-building epics, Master of Olympus was way ahead of its time, and rethought the entire genre. Far more detailed than many of its predecessors, the game gave users a level of control that they hadn’t experienced before.

6 SimCity 4 (2003)

SimCity 4

Though it received an expansion pack that added more to the game, SimCity 4 was already packed to the gils with city-building features. The user takes control of a plot of land and is then made to build a city from the ground up, and maintain it by meeting the resident’s needs.

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Graphics improvements made the game more realistic than its earlier installments, and the option of several different modes made the game very re-playable. The MySim mode allowed the user to create a Sim that lives in their particular city, and track their lives from beginning to end. More so than many games that came before, SimCity 4 allowed users to create a town that felt real and lived in.

5 Caesar III (1998)

A Roman city is built near an arena from Caesar III

Sticking with the historical theme of most early city-building games, Caesar III further built on its predecessor’s successes. Set during the height of the Roman Empire, the user builds their city and keeps it going through various disasters and enemy invasions.

The player has the option of a peaceful campaign which eliminates military threats, but multiplies the game’s natural disasters. The game may seem primitive by today’s standards, but it was cutting edge for the late 1990s, and offered a wide range of options that further advanced the genre. Also, the game was highly editable, which allowed crafty users to make the game better through modification.

4 Pharaoh (1999)

An Egyptian city is built near a farm from Pharaoh

While games of its kind focused on the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, Pharaoh turned its sights to the fascinating world of Ancient Egypt. Importing a lot of its gameplay elements from Caesar III, the game adds certain accouterments that pertain to Ancient Egyptian life and culture.

The god’s of other games are replaced with Egyptian mythology and the concept of peace is replaced by a drive for more monuments. Also, the game added new farming elements which closely resembled the real-life farming of the Nile River delta. As is the case with many of the greatest management games, it shines in its smaller details.

3 Anno 1404 (2009)

A Gothic cathedral is under construction in a city from Anno 1404

Expanding the smaller scale of older city-building games, Anno 1404 takes things to a near global scale. The user takes control of a fiefdom that is part of a larger nation, and is tasked with establishing a foothold in both halves of the world of the game. While not exactly inspired by actual history, the game does pull elements that resemble the historical period of the setting.

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Unlike its predecessor, 1404 adds additional societal requirements in regards to class, and the entire game hinges on establishing monuments. Outside of the main gameplay, the user is also presented with a number of side quests, that vary from mini-games to achieving certain goals in order to fulfill the quests.

2 Banished (2014)

A cluster of small houses are built near a river from Banished

Eschewing the conventional economies of other city-building franchises, Banished instead revolves around careful control of resources. The player is put in charge of an isolated community, and must use theories of planned economics in order to create a thriving and healthy society.

The survival elements of the gameplay take center stage, and the game is a lot less forgiving than most of its peers. Once the difficulty is mastered though, Banished offers a level of control that puts it head and shoulders above other games. A lot of city-building games feature elements of economics, but Banished makes it integral to the success of the game.

1 Cities: Skylines (2015)

Screenshot from the video game Cities: Skylines.

Cities: Skylines is hardly the first ever city-building game, but it takes all of the best aspects of its predecessors and rolls them into one amazing package. Starting with a blank slate, the player builds their community, and through resource control, shapes it into a thriving metropolis.

Manipulating nearly every aspect of society, from the power grid to taxation, the player is in complete control of their city. Meeting resident’s needs is paramount to success, and the player must do whatever it takes to drive expansion. The game represents a perfection of many of the genre’s core principles, and the level of customization ensures that it is truly one of the best simulation games of all time.

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