Top 13 Games Like SimCity (2013)

Top 13 Games Like SimCity (2013)
Few things are as satisfying as watching something you built come to life.

Great City-Building Games for Those Times You Need to Appease Your Inner Dictator

There are times when all you want to do is create something beautiful, watch it work just the way you envisioned it (more or less) and then sit back, relax and marvel at your handiwork. There are also times when you want to rule over tiny, microscopic people and boss them around, telling them where to live or work or go to school just because you’re aiming to create your own little perfect microcosm where your word is law and nothing can go wrong unless you want it to. Or something like that. Well, whether you just want to feel the joy of creating something from scratch, or you want to rule the world your way, city-building games are for you.

Really, you can’t do much better than city-building games when it comes to something like this. Think of it: you can build an entire city however you want, and no one can talk back to you. You can prove that you could do a better job than the politicians and civil engineers we sometimes complain about. You can send an earthquake or a tsunami on your city just for the fun of it.  

And that’s what games like SimCity do: they give us the chance to be mad dictators, benevolent leaders or wacky hybrids somewhere in between, just for a few moments. So if you’re into having that kind of power and want to find what other good games like SimCity are out there, here are 13 games designed to have you building up and breaking down to your heart’s content.

13. Depraved

Depraved gameplay trailer

Let’s kick things off with a promising newcomer from Evil Bite, Depraved. You can expect to see this one released later in the year but, even at this stage of the game, Depraved is looking well positioned to ride the wave to success.

The newcomer is also putting a new spin on things—Depraved takes you into the Wild West where you start off with nothing but a single cartload of (meager) resources and a stubborn will to survive the harsh wilderness. That Western element is not something we’ve ever seen in a city-builder.

Prepare yourself to fight off raiding Indians bent on protecting their homeland from, well, you. They were here first, after all. You’ll also need to steel yourself against wolves and bears with an occasional taste for something higher up the evolutionary food chain than they’re used to. And let’s not forget darling Mother Nature and her fickle self. Crops can fail all too easily, storms will come to challenge your resolve and winters can prove brutal and deadly.

Like in any city-builder, you’ll need to grow your little town into something much bigger and more secure by keeping your citizens happy. And remember: this is the Wild West. The gun-slinging little varmints you rule over won’t hesitate to shoot up the town should they feel their voices weren’t loud enough to get your attention. Watch it—you may have a ghost town situation on your hands.

In this harsh environment, the Undertaker’s (this here building) could wind up being the busiest place in town, and for more reasons than one! Yep, that’s a body being carted in.

I’m counting 11 dead here. Clearly, this town wasn’t big enough for any of these poor guys!

12. Urban Empire

Urban Empire Trailer

Leaving the pioneers of the Wild West behind, we find ourselves contemplating another pioneer; this time not in terms of geography, but in terms of style. Urban Empire by Reborn Games Inc. presents us with a very interesting take on city-building—a very realistic take. What I mean is, this is the only game on the market that lets you in on the actual politics of running a city. That puts Urban Empire literally in a class of its own.

One of the really strong points of Urban Empire is its story. You start out by choosing a family you will belong to, and seek to establish a mayoral dynasty as you focus on building up your city over the span of 200 years. Along the way you must make various decisions, all of which will have some impact on the overall story of the game. For instance, you could choose to send your oldest son (your heir) to boarding school or keep him close to home. Either decision can have important effects in the future. This makes for engaging play.

Urban Empire departs from the norm in that, instead of being the godlike, autocratic puppeteer building up cities to your liking across several maps as in other games, you are tasked simply with the far more democratic and human responsibility of being mayor of a single town, which you must build up through successive generations over 200 years. Also unique to the game is its emphasis on politics—Urban Empire foregoes certain aspects of city-building itself in favor of focusing on the reality behind the scenes. As mayor, you’ll find yourself in constant council meetings about everything from whether to build a new police station to child labor policies in your city. Your power will be checked here.

As you progress through the game, you’ll find that you need the council’s approval to do practically anything. Yes, any grand and not-so-grand ideas you may have for your town must ultimately be put to a vote. You can influence proceedings through threats, incentives, alliances and the like, but, just as in real-life politics, you’re sure to step on more than a few toes no matter what route you take. There’s always opposition—this is a democracy! Urban Empire drives that point home with sometimes a bit more vigor than you’d like.

The council in the middle of voting about important issues. Note the existence of Conservative, Liberal, Right Wing and Left Wing ideologies in-game.

Turn your tiny little town into a grand city with strong leadership and shrewd politicking. It’s in your hands, Mayor! Oh, right—the Council’s hands too!

11. Tycoon City: New York

Tycoon City: New York trailer

You always wished you could be one of the real movers and shakers of the Big Apple. You’ve dreamed of rebuilding that great city your way. Oh the things you would do, if only you could! But some dreams are just crazy, right? Some dreams are meant to just stay inside your head, right? Wrong. Enter, Tycoon City: New York by Deep Red Games, playing the role of fairy godmother to your Cinderella dream!

Tycoon City: New York hands you the huge responsibility of building up the gigantic Big Apple, borough by borough. It features a campaign mode where you’ll be given specific tasks while having to outfox several business competitors to get ahead, and a sandbox mode where you get to have the entire Apple to yourself, totally on your terms. The game boasts detailed graphics and effects that makes the cities you build really seem to come alive. You can zoom in to watch your little people hurrying about or grabbing lunch at an outdoor patio, and you can even eavesdrop to hear their thoughts about the city.

You even get to place some real-life landmarks in your New York, like Staples or Loew’s Theatres. It’s all about smart placement of homes and commercial areas to achieve maximum satisfaction from your New Yorkers. Manage that and you’ll soon be raking in the cash and looking down from above at all your sniveling would-be competitors. Tycoon City: New York is easy to learn and to play. It’s a great option for those who want to get their feet wet in the genre, or for those who simply love New York.

The Big Apple at night. Tycoon City: New York is a very pretty game with great graphics.

The more successful you are at building up great commercial areas, the more lively your streets will become.

10. Cities in Motion 2

Cities in Motion 2 trailer

Cities in Motion 2 confines itself to the transportation side of things. You’re given a city not so much to build as to introduce a successful mass transit system. To that end, you’ll be working with buses, trains, trams, boats and helicopters. It’s totally up to you how you’ll build and rebuild roads, stations and anything else you’d need to provide a stable citywide transport system.

When you first start the game, your streets will be mostly empty. You can zoom in, however, to track the many little inhabitants of your city and see where they’re going and how they’re getting there. That will provide you with some of the raw data you need to form ideas. Soon, though, your city will be full of hustle, bustle, and lots and lots of traffic to sort out.

You get generous amounts of land space in-game, which allows for real growth and expansion in your city. While you have little or no control over the types of buildings that pop up, it’s fun to draw new roads and see the kinds of structures that develop along them. Being in charge of transport, you’ll also obviously need to draft up bus schedules and the like. That means the whole city has someone to point the finger at when the bus runs late.

Ah, if only every city road could look like this sometimes…

A complex overlay of roads and lines in Cities in Motion 2

9. City Life 2008 Edition

City Life 2008 Edition gameplay trailer

City Life 2008 Edition is a challenging and entertaining city building game from Monte Cristo with a twist: in addition to the usual planning and construction you’ll have to be doing, you’ll also need to broker a precarious balance among 6 social classes that decidedly do not have the best of relationships with each other.

The 6 classes in question are the Elites, the Suits, the Radical Chics, the Blue Collars, the Fringes and the Have-Nots. While a few of them will tolerate each other, there are other combinations that are truly a recipe for disaster. Riots are a very real possibility when you force your Elites to rub shoulders with your lowly Have-Nots, for instance. This mechanic adds an interesting element to an otherwise typical city-builder.

City Life 2008 Edition offers large maps for expansive cities, demanding gameplay (made even more so by the social class warfare mentioned above), a wide variety of structures and a very intuitive camera function that allows for zooming, rotation, and even exploring the city you built in a street-level first person mode. It makes you feel as if you’re actually walking (well, more like floating) along the streets of your city like the average man, and is a neat addition to the gameplay.

The graphics aren’t as crisp as they could be, especially zoomed in, but you can build huge cities full of activity and diversity.

You can get a sense of real immersion in your city by exploring it at street level in the first person. Note the pop-up to the right informing you of problems in the city.

8. Zeus: Master of Olympus

Zeus: Master of Olympus trailer

It’s time to bring back an old favorite, and that’s exactly what we have on our hands in Zeus: Master of Olympus by Impressions Games. The game is certainly that—old—but it did its job so well and earned itself so much respect that city-building veterans will remember it very fondly. Released back in 2000, Zeus: Master of Olympus combines elements of city-building, real-time strategy and, as you would imagine, Greek history and mythology.

The game’s campaign is very satisfying. You play through several “adventures”, as the game calls them, wherein you must build up a city in stages. Your cities are retained throughout the story, making for a great sense of progression. Even when you must build up other settlements, your parent city and others will be preserved just the way you left them, and there is lots of room for trade and interplay between the cities, as you would expect from having a few colonies under your thumb.

The gods of old and the classic heroes make several appearances throughout the game. Not only must you please the gods, they will literally show up to fight with or against you depending on the circumstances. You can also attract heroes like Hercules to your city to complete certain tasks. Zeus: Master of Olympus focuses on balancing your economy, culture and military endeavors. It’s a task that will get more and more challenging as you advance in the game, and leads to hours of building and fun.

Economy, entertainment and religion are three highly important aspects of all your cities.

Build up an army to defend your town, or send them to conquer a neighboring enemy. But beware: soldiers are actually taken from your citizens, which will affect your work force.

7. Prison Architect

Prison Architect trailer

Introversion Software brings to us the very different and entertaining title, Prison Architect. That’s right—in this game we’re designing and running prisons to lock away all those pesky lawbreakers who simply refuse to just be good little boys and girls like nearly everyone else. And you’ll be forced to handle all the challenges that come with that.

Prison Architect is a very detailed simulator that will force you to really pay attention to your designs. You’ll have to if you don’t want all kinds of mad escape attempts plaguing your prison. You’re in charge of everything: designing the facility, hiring staff, keeping the inmates (reasonably) happy, maintaining order and even setting a schedule for your prisoners.

Since it’s no good having criminals who actually remain criminals forever, you’ll also need to build workshops and design reform programs to help show your prisoners the error of their ways, thus making the world a better place, one rehabilitated inmate at a time. It won’t be anywhere near that easy, though. For starters, prisoners who arrive from opposing gangs in the outside world won’t hesitate to get at each other’s throats on sight, and there are any number of random occurrences you’ll need to work your way through, often on a limited budget.

Brawls in the facility could become a common occurrence if you’re not careful.

You can build large, comprehensive facilities, such as this one.

6. Caesar IV

Caesar IV trailer

For anybody interested in history and the ancient Roman Empire, Tilted Mill Entertainment’s Caesar IV is a must-play. The game features stunning visuals, a deep and immersive economic system, expansive and rich maps, and a very long and challenging campaign. And it’s simply absorbing to just watch life unfold in your well-animated city.

Caesar IV puts you in the shoes of a Roman Governor employed by Caesar to develop several settlements across the vast Roman Empire. The campaign starts the player off at the very beginning of the budding Empire and then takes you through several periods of its history. You’ll go all the way from fighting to establish Rome’s dominance as a world power, to defending your colonies from later Barbarian attacks. As always, keeping the citizenry happy is of utmost importance, and they can be very demanding and vocal. The gods, too, will make you suffer horribly if you dare forget them.

The economy in-game is extensive. There are so many things to build, do and produce, and cities can become very large and very diverse. Making your residential areas upgrade themselves becomes increasingly difficult but remains very satisfying. Trade will be very important to the upkeep of your citizens’ happiness, as well, and Caesar will make demands for goods from you from time to time—which you must fulfill if you know what’s good for you! Luckily, there is a very useful council of advisors to help you run your city well.

Far from only having to worry about defending your city from outsiders, you must be on the watch for Rome itself. Fall too low down the political pecking order in the eyes of Caesar and the Imperial Army itself will come to remove you from power.

Caesar IV’s council of advisors do a good job of helping you keep track of the state of your city. Click on each one listen to a brief summary of the areas they oversee and read a detailed report.

Build expansive and beautiful cities in Caesar IV.

5. Tropico 5

Tropico 5 trailer

You’re back again as El Presidente, the (possible) dictator of the beautiful island of Tropico. Haemimont Games stick to their guns in Tropico 5 by providing the imaginative and hilariously satirical take on city-building that they’ve become known for throughout the series. The game simply doesn’t take itself (or anything else) seriously, and that’s undeniably one of its many charms.

Tropico 5 has you playing through several eras of world history. You start off in the Colonial Era where you must please “the Crown”. Then you progress into more modern times, declaring independence and facing the World Wars, the Cold Wars and all their accompanying problems and challenges. You’re a tiny island nation having to tread lightly around the shifting World Powers of history, but you have problems at home too. The island of Tropico is home to many factions, all of whom have their own ideas of how the country should be run. Your job is to remain in power amidst all that turmoil both domestically and abroad—often by any means necessary.

As you can imagine, it’s a delicate balancing act. Every decision you make will have consequences on the story, and pleasing one faction will inevitably mean displeasing another. And, of course, you must keep the citizenry fed, safe and happy if you wish to keep being “El Presidente”. Tropico 5 manages to handle all this with more than a pinch of humor. The antics of your advisors, the powers around you and even your radio announcer range from anywhere between ridiculous to downright hilarious. The game also does a great job of maintaining a high level of challenge—for better or worse, you’re kept constantly on your toes by the random nature of events.

To rig or not to rig… That is the question.

The world of Tropico 5 is beautiful and full of vivid color.

4. Banished

Banished gameplay trailer

The title alone should tell you one thing: this game won’t go easy on you! Banished by Shining Rock Software tells the story of a handful of villagers who’ve been, well, banished from their home. But instead of crying about it all day, they’ve decided to make their own settlement, survive the elements and then probably rub it in everybody’s faces when they turn their tiny town into a prosperous city. Good for them.

That’s easier said than done, though, as you’ll find out the hard way when you’re the one who’ll have to guide this ragtag band through the entire process. All you start off with is a few—a very few—villagers and just enough tools to quickly lay a foundation. You certainly won’t have enough workers for your comfort, what with the concurrent need for food, housing, making new tools (they don’t last very long) and anything else your desperate band of outcasts might need for immediate survival. And if winter comes before you can get certain basic amenities down—like housing and firewood—you’ll find your already meagre population is easy pickings for the elements. Believe me, you can’t afford to lose even a single villager.

Banished is a constant struggle for survival. If you build up faster than you can feed your population, you’ll be punished for it. If you build up too slow, you’ll be punished for it. Pestilence can decimate your crops. Natural disasters can show up at any time. Your people grow old and die. But if you manage to survive against the odds, the rewards and the sheer satisfaction are well worth it. That’s the kind of exhilarating balance that Banished manages to keep going all game long. The mechanics in-game are very sophisticated, the visuals are good, and you just can’t go wrong by getting yourself a copy of this awesome game.

Half the fun is being able to get from this…

…to this!

3. Anno 2070

Anno 2070 trailer

The Anno series has been a staple in the genre of city-building over the years, and it continued this tradition with the introduction of Anno 2070. Anno 2070 gives us a futuristic take on city-building and manages it very well. In the not-too-distant future, says the game, global warming causes a major meltdown of the ice caps, which in turn floods most of the habitable world. Man is now faced with a steep struggle for survival, constantly hounded by dwindling land space and natural resources.

In the face of this new reality three parties arise, each with their own ideas about how mankind should best proceed. They each have marked advantages and disadvantages, and varying needs and demands. This leads to a tense global environment throughout the game. As the player, you get to play as any of these factions, and even as a combination of them as circumstances demand. At every turn, you’ll have to choose between the environment and the economy, and the correct choice isn’t always obvious.

Anno 2070’s futuristic focus and graphics add a certain freshness to the game. There’s quite a bit of imaginative and innovative technologies to be explored. And who would say no to the ability to build settlements on the seafloor? The game will keep you busy with several new features, and with handling the constant threat that needs to be averted. If you loved the previous Anno installments, you’re sure to love this one as well.

 It’s an underwater settlement!

Anno does a convincing job of taking us into the future.

2. Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Sid Meier’s Civilization V trailer

Sid Meier’s Civilization V was highly anticipated, and it did not disappoint. Firaxis Games got their addition to the series right. In a masterful blend of brilliant visuals, thoughtful game mechanics, tactical focus and staggering variety in-game, Civilization V invites you to build up your own empire and conquer the world on your terms.

While you won’t be loading up an individual plot of land and then building a complex city like in the other games on this list, you will be required to build up across the world map, manage resources, keep your people happy and develop a thriving economy like other city-builders. You’ll also need to raise armies with which to raze the cities of your enemies while defending your own. Conversely, you can choose to focus on diplomacy and forming alliances, a very important tactical element in this game.

Civilization V keeps things interesting by letting you choose from among 18 civilizations and building them up through several eras of world history. You’re also given multiple means of achieving victory and a lot of resources and technologies to take advantage of. Whether you choose to conquer by might or by being voted into power by the United Nations, Civilization V offers a lot of diversity and entertainment to keep you playing for hours on end.

Build up settlements, gather resources, defend your borders and claim new territory in a bid to conquer the entire world.

Civilization V is a smart blend of turn-based strategy and city-building.

1. Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines trailer

Many see Cities: Skylines as the true successor to the SimCity dynasty right now. And, truly, it’s a very worthy city-builder. Colossal Order has another title on this list (Cities in Motion 2), but they really struck gold with Cities: Skylines. The game manages to take the best elements of other great games in the genre (like SimCity 4 and the 2013 SimCity) and expand upon them in a very satisfying way.

Cities: Skylines introduces a very intelligent system for keeping track of virtually every person in the game, much like SimCity (2013), but it does it even better. Players can also expand their cities by buying neighboring parcels of land, and this leads to potentially massive cities. The game’s controls are also very intuitive, making it easy to play and build exactly what you picture in your head. There’s also an entire arsenal of diverse building choices, and you can zone and individually manage different areas within your city.

Colossal Order put a lot of time and effort into their simulations, and it shows. The streets of your city are lively places to be, and it’s fun to just watch your citizens go about their business. Even the buildings boast plenty of detail. Cities: Skylines does lack the ability to interact between cities, but it is mod-friendly by design, and its expansion packs have dealt with other previously missing critical elements like weather, a day-night cycle and natural disasters. Cities: Skylines obviously draws inspiration from SimCity (2013) but, lover of quirky and funny SimCity (2013) that I am, I have to admit this game has its own identity and is the better city-builder by some distance.

The game keeps track of virtually all its citizens individually.

Build massive cities by purchasing adjacent plots of land.

And there you have it, the top 13 games like SimCity (2013). If you’re the kind of gamer who simply loves to build and create, or if you simply like the idea of bossing around your own little people in your own little world, these are great options and you’ll definitely want to give them a try. That’s the charm of city-building games: you get to build your own little world and experience it, and you get to call the shots and decide what direction your masterpiece will take. Happy building!

If you enjoyed this list, here are a few more like it to keep your gaming experience fresh, rewarding and fun:

Cities: Skylines: 10 Interesting Facts About This Awesome City-Building Game

Best Building Games to Play in 2017

The 30 Best City-Building Games for PC in 2017


Every day Aldane rises to do battle with the Space Monkeys from Outworld 62 alongside his trusty sidekicks, Chronius and Patience. His superpowers include flight, the Midas Touch and imaginaaation.
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