Whether you consider yourself a savvy town planner or someone who just wants to relax after a long day, city builder games make for some of the best simulation-driven experiences.
However, since they tend to carry a steep learning curve and require you to sink in many hours before your creations truly start to flourish, it can be hard to sort out the good from the bad.
In this list, we’ll help you find your next favorite game by highlighting the best city building games to play in 2021, including new city builders and the best city builder games on PC and console.
We’ll be updating this list with new titles in the future, so make sure to check back and let us know if we missed any of your favorite games!
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Platforms: Windows, Mac
To get started, we’re highlighting Timberborn, an Early Access Steam city builder from indie developer Mechanistry that focuses on a colony of architecturally gifted beavers.
In it, you choose to control one of two beaver factions: nature-friendly Folktails or the ever-industrious Iron Teeth, before heading off into the forest to start building.
Growing your settlement brings many challenges you’ll have to prepare for, including stockpiling food and creating new water sources to ensure your colony survives through both wet and dry seasons.
Once you have a firm grasp of the game’s core systems, you’ll move on to crafting sophisticated machinery, turning precious timber and metal into water wheels, sawmills, shredders, and even engines.
For something more modern, Citystate II is a realistic urban city builder inspired by the SimCity franchise that features simulated civic, political, and economic gameplay systems.
In it, players set out to build cities under a new nation created in their vision, making decisions on everything from the locations of skyscrapers and roadways to schools and subways, hospitals, etc.
In addition, since no city can thrive without a healthy economy, players will have to make tough social decisions regarding issues like unemployment, immigration, population growth, and more.
If that all sounds too complex, one-man developer Andy Sztark reassures us that CityState II is an old-school sandbox game at heart that can still be played without any limitations, goals, or politics.
Platforms: Windows, Linux
Now to take things “medieval,” (quite literally) Going Medieval transports players to the 14th century Dark Age where roughly 95% of the global population has succumbed to plague.
You’re given the monumental task of rebuilding society using land that has been reclaimed by nature, providing the perfect foundation for a new civilization.
Guiding the few remaining survivors as they search for a new home comes with its own challenges, including combating new diseases, thieving outlaws, violent barbarians, and cunning religious fanatics.
All the while, you’ll be designing, building, and expanding your settlement’s layout and architecture, going from humble wooden huts to formidable stone castles and sprawling underground strongholds.
Released into Steam Early Access, Kingdoms Reborn is a medieval city builder inspired by genre heavy hitters such as Banished, Anno, and Civilization.
It takes place in a world where civilization has collapsed following a cataclysmic Ice Age that destroyed the land but has begun showing signs of hope.
In order to rebuild humanity, players set out to grow their kingdom spanning multiple eras, managing their simulated citizens’ daily lives and providing them with food, work, and a place to live.
The game uses procedural generation to create its open world and features seven unique biomes as well as extensive skill and tech trees for unlocking new buildings, bonuses, and upgrades.
Foundation is another medieval-themed city builder that’s currently in Early Access on Steam and comes from indie studio Polymorph Games.
In it, you take on the role of a newly appointed lord or lady tasked with creating a prosperous medieval settlement using untouched land ripe with resources and a soon-to-be growing population.
From modest beginnings, you’ll build rudimentary workplaces and gather resources to keep your colony going until it becomes a bustling city with established trade routes and towering monuments.
The game takes a unique and laidback approach to city building by focusing on grid-less and organic development, construction, and resource management.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, PS5
Next up we have Airborne Kingdom, a visually striking city building game that sees you constructing sprawling communities suspended in mid-air.
Like many of the games covered on this list, gameplay centers on building housing for NPCs and providing them with the necessary resources to live their lives.
However, in an interesting twist, Airborne Kingdom tacks on the ability to transport your floating city to different parts of the world in search of new resources and secrets.
It all has a tranquil feel that makes for the perfect kind of game to mellow out after a long day, and a host of customization options gives you the freedom to create towns that feel entirely your own.
Songs of Syx
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac
Currently in Early Access on Steam, Songs of Syx is a city builder with a low-fantasy aesthetic that tasks players with growing a colony in the face of natural disasters, crime, and other challenges.
Seemingly small events such as weather changes or shifting cultural interests can end up having major implications for your colony’s production rate and social standing with neighboring nations.
To this point, the game features a myriad of complex systems and mechanics modeled after real life, including different races, deities, animals, times of day, and climates that all play a role in gameplay.
While Songs of Syx’s immense scale can be overwhelming for some, seeing its detailed, highly intricate systems mesh with one another in real-time is a reminder of just how immersive city builders can be.
Platforms: Windows, Nintendo Switch, Mac
Devoid of any goals or complex management systems, gameplay revolves around building quaint island towns with curving streets, soaring cathedrals, canal networks, or really anything you set your mind to.
This is all done block by block using simple controls that streamline the entire process, allowing you to focus on more creative aspects such as determining the layout, placement, and color of each structure.
In many ways, Townscaper is more of a virtual toy than an actual game, one that uses underlying algorithms to ensure every block placed magically becomes a cute house, archway, staircase, or bridge.
Platforms: Windows, Nintendo Switch
Another game that pushes the boundaries of the city building genre is Dorfromantik, which plays more like a puzzle strategy game with a city builder foundation.
Each session has you starting with a stack of procedurally generated tiles that you place on a hexagonal board one by one, rotating and deciding the best placement for each one.
Certain combinations of tiles will cause landscapes to form such as forests, villages, or bodies of water that in turn net you points that factor into a final score.
While aiming for a high score may not fall under the city builder classification, the strategy involved with placing landscape tiles is no different than selecting the best spot to build an office or roadway.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Mac
If one minimalist city building game wasn’t enough, Islanders uses a limited color palette, sleek UI, and streamlined building mechanics to keep players relaxed as they build colorful little islands.
Free from any form of resource management, gameplay revolves around creating idyllic villages using procedurally generated structures that are added to the player’s inventory.
Like Dorfromantik, placing certain combinations of objects near one another will trigger unique bonuses that factor into a final score.
Additionally, once communities have advanced past a certain stage, they’ll undergo visual and physical changes as cozy little villages become vast urban cities.
Kingdoms and Castles
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac
Kingdoms and Castles is a medieval city builder that has you transforming a fledgling colony into a sprawling empire with formidable castle walls.
The goal of the game is to stockpile resources and wares to keep your kingdom afloat while combating Viking invasions with strategically placed soldiers, archer towers, and other defenses.
Like many of the games covered on this list, Kingdoms and Castles has a minimalist look to its world with simple, texture-less geometry that’s offset by a bright and colorful palette.
It also happens to have one of the snappiest, responsive, and overall attractive UIs we’ve encountered, a detail that’s extremely relevant for a genre that’s notoriously info-heavy.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS
Alternatively, instead of defending from Viking raiders, you can choose to play as them while establishing a settlement on a mysterious new continent.
Blending real-time strategy with city building, Northgard tasks you with managing a Viking clan by gathering resources, constructing homes and workshops, and managing villagers’ daily lives.
You’re also encouraged to expand your kingdom’s reach to neighboring territories by capitalizing on strategic opportunities when your enemy is most vulnerable.
What sets Northgard apart from other games on this list is its campaign structure, which has you exploring different scenarios and starting conditions across six unique factions.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Mac, iOS, Android
If you’ve been a fan of city builders for long enough, there’s a chance you’ve encountered Frostpunk somewhere online or maybe even played it yourself.
After all, it’s one of the most well-received games in the genre, and its developer, 11 bit studios, have already announced they’re working on a sequel.
Set during the 19th century where a new Ice Age has plunged the world into darkness, Frostpunk puts you in charge of a colony that relies on steam-powered heat to stay alive.
Throughout each campaign, you’re tasked with making decisions for your people that will affect their quality of life and overall morale, for better or worse.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Linux, Mac
In it, you take on the role of overseer for a Mars colonization project, providing both current and future inhabitants with proper housing, factories to produce goods, and buildings for researching new tech.
However, since this is Mars we’re talking about, things aren’t as easy as just picking up a shovel and digging, as the red planet loves to throw new environmental challenges your way.
Additionally, your colonists can fall ill and even perish if certain needs aren’t met, with the most basic ones being steady oxygen and clean flowing water.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Mac
Any longtime city builder fan will have some familiarity with the Tropico series; the latest installment sees you reprising your role as the leader of a tropical island state over the course of four distinct eras.
Tropico 6 is the first entry to give players the ability to connect every island under their rule using a bridge system as well as new forms of transportation, namely aerial cable cars.
Like many city building games, it allows you to be flexible and creative in deciding how to approach each challenge, giving you the freedom to maintain peace or become a power-hungry dictator.
While some will argue it’s more of a tycoon game than a full-fledged city builder, Tropico’s ability to break down complex systems into easy-to-grasp concepts is something every player can appreciate.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One
Combining city building with 4X strategy game mechanics can result in some of the best of both worlds, such as the case with Aven Colony.
Rooted in sci-fi, the game sees you embarking on a mission to colonize an alien planet and rebuild humanity amidst an unforgiving atmosphere.
Working your way up from governor to colony president, you’ll overcome obstacles ranging from natural disasters to depleting oxygen, and the occasional giant alien sandworm.
Dealing with them all won’t be easy but through trial and error and research, your settlement will go from an insignificant speck to a shining mark of excellence.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Mac
Cities: Skylines builds upon great city builders like SimCity with easy-to-digest concepts, controls, and tools that cater to both veteran town planners and newcomers alike.
Instead of forcing you to scroll through lengthy build menus, the game splits up structures into different categories, including residential, commercial, and industrial.
This makes it easy to assemble rough drafts of your soon-to-be metropolises without getting distracted by the finer details, allowing you to prioritize balance and functionality.
There is also a host of transit options to explore and implement throughout your city to keep things running smoothly and maintain a positive rating as mayor.
Like other games in the series, Anno 1800 is a city builder that focuses primarily on production and evolving industries rather than war and micromanaging NPCs.
Set during the 19th Century Industrial Revolution, the game centers on two competing civilizations: the Old World driven by citizens and workers, and the New World dominated by goods and trade routes.
Its portrayal of the time period is surprisingly accurate too, depicting farmers moving from the countryside to work in bustling cities as factory workers and merchants.
While there are still some real-time strategy-inspired battles to play through, most of your time will be spent juggling production chains and admiring your city’s amazing architecture.
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
There are only a handful of classic city builders that hold up to modern standards, no doubt a selling point for many of the upcoming remakes and remasters due out this year.
Among them is Age of Empires II, which breathes new life into the 1999 classic while also expanding upon the HD edition released back in 2013.
In it, you’re tasked with building a city to serve as a base for your army and prepare your people to wage war throughout the ages as you scavenge for supplies and build defenses.
There are several historical civilizations to play as, each with its own strengths and weaknesses that can lead to prosperity or hardship.
The last game we’re recommending is Banished, another well-received, deeply beloved city builder that puts your citizens at the center of everything.
You play as the leader of a group of exiled travelers looking to carve out a name for themselves and establish their own community.
In place of monetary currency and skill trees, Banished tasks you with balancing the number of resources your people can harvest versus how much they need to consume to survive.
You won’t find any nearby nations to overthrow but instead generations of loyal citizens that are willing to lend a hand in exchange for jobs and homes; to this point, cities in Banished only expand when necessary.