- Building games come in different genres like city builders, tycoon games, and base-building games. Each offers a unique experience, from designing a city to managing a business or constructing a defensive base.
- Titles like "Cities: Skylines 2," "Against the Storm," "Surviving Mars," and "Anno 1800" offer diverse city-building experiences, ranging from realistic urban planning to imaginative, survival-oriented setups.
- Tycoon games like "Frostpunk" focus on survival and strategy, while base-building games such as "Minecraft" emphasize creativity. "Fortnite" is notable for its building mechanics in a battle royale setting.
The very act of “building,” whether it’s grand urban planning, military strategy, or simply putting in the hard work to see your own project through, holds a certain magic for many—even in the virtual world. The actual satisfaction lies in making something yourself from scratch, watching your vision rise block by block. But with so many building games, where do you even begin?
This guide will delve into various genres of building games, exploring which ones are worth your time and what each of them has to offer.
Table of Contents
- Types of Building Games
- Best City Building Games
- Best Tycoon Games
- Best Base Building Games
- Honorable Mention — Fortnite (2017)
- Which Game Should You Play?
Types of Building Games
Not all building games are created equal, and within such a diverse genre, there are plenty of different pathways to choose from. In “city builders,” for example, you essentially design your own town or city from scratch, acting as the leader and managing even the basics of how things work. You get to pick and choose where to place certain roads, houses, parks, malls, and decide which road connects where.
On the other hand, there are tycoon games where you essentially take hold of a smaller company or business and then manage and build it from the ground up. Additionally, there are base-building games where you essentially protect your city or an area in general from external threats by constructing or fortifying the area..
With all of this, you have one thing in common: creativity, micromanagement, and strategy. This guide will inform you about which games are worth your time for each of these genres.
Best City Building Games
In these games, you design your own ideal city; everything from the road network, residential and commercial areas, and the management of citizens and their needs. The inner workings of the city all fall under the concept of how you envision a perfect urban environment.
1. Cities: Skylines 2 (2023)
Available on: PlayStation 5, Xbox X/S, Microsoft Windows
Cities: Skylines 2 is a blend of a tycoon and an open-ended city builder, providing a highly realistic insight into urban planning and the creation of realistic metropolises. It takes a rather adaptable but in-depth approach to designing the very basics of how a city is formed.
This game provides numerous options for designing your city, including a highly intricate road creation system. It offers ample opportunities to think about your designed system and create micro-ecologies. The game features complex climate mechanics, weather cycles, and in-depth city services such as internet and telecom.
Furthermore, you have the choice to select from various building themes, including European and North American styles. While this brief guide won’t do justice the game’s vast scope, it aims to provide a foundational understanding.
Throughout the city-building process, players can follow the life paths of specific individuals, witnessing their journeys as they live, work, attend school, and even visit parks. The game tracks their potential involvement in criminal activity and pet ownership as well. Ultimately, these citizens will pass away, earning a place in the cemetery where players can pay their respects.
Now, after its release, the game has received a lot of backlash for being under-optimized. However, it is important to remember that its predecessor, Cities: Skylines, was extensively supported by the developer, Colossal Order. So, while the game may take time to fully mature, its depth and complexity remain undeniably among the best in the genre.
2. Against the Storm (2023)
Available on: Microsoft Windows
Against the Storm adopts a distinctive approach compared to the more common and realistic city builders, as it leans towards a more imaginative style. With a Metacritic score of 92, it has quickly become one of the fan-favorite city builders.
The game takes place in a setting where a cyclical storm has damaged the world, wiping out everything outside of one city, named the Smoldering City. Now, in between the cycles of these storms, people are sent out in the surrounding areas to gather resources and conduct research and the players assume the role of the land’s Queen’s Viceroy, tasked with ensuring that these expeditions are effective and successful.
This means that in the game, unlike other titles, your city is temporary, only for a certain time, for the purpose of accomplishing certain tasks. Since each city will be built different based on the resources available at hand, the game doesn’t feel loopy. Instead, the concept of managing a city amid challenging situations can become interactive and intriguing for many players.
3. Surviving Mars (2018)
Available on: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Linux, macOS
The idea of building a Martian colony isn’t new, but the concept of a city-builder for Mars is intriguing, or certainly unique, to say the least. Surviving Mars is a sci-fi survival city builder where the main goal is to establish a livable setting for the human population on Mars. Since the mechanics on Mars differ from those on Earth, you have to deal with unique and sometimes tense challenges.
The game starts off with an almost barren wasteland, which is in no way habitable. Slowly, as you gather resources and put-up appropriate systems to ensure the colony’s sustainability, people will start to be attracted to Mars. Then, you’ll need to manage the population as a whole and battle with different challenges.
4. Anno 1800 (2019)
Available on: Microsoft Windows, Playstation 5, Xbox Series X/S
With rather disappointing past releases, Anno 1800 addresses numerous fundamental issues and criticisms from its predecessors. The game takes players back to the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, featuring areas with smog-ridden factory districts that showcase the creative and beautiful architecture of the 19th century.
Part of what makes this game intriguing is its narrative—the game places you in a situation where you return home after a long time to attend your father’s funeral, only to discover that your uncle has seized control of your family’s company. He then compels you to leave town and settle on an uncharted island, where you gradually establish a rival organization and build yourself up from the ground.
The game includes a proper campaign that guides you through the entire process, gradually expanding into your area. It takes a different approach, but one that feels somewhat addictive.
Best Tycoon Games
In these games, the general idea is that you assume a specific managerial role, either as a business mogul or an entrepreneur managing your own empire, relying on strong decision-making and strategic choices.
1. Frostpunk (2018)
Available on: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Frostpunk is another survival, strategy tycoon builder on the list that has a compelling backstory in that the world is struck by a devastating climate change where the world has become one huge sub-zero arctic wasteland. Set in 1800s, what remains of humanity seeks shelter in a small city near a massive coal furnace standing in the center of a crater.
The challenges that come with this game are not only limited to managing the people alone but also ensuring humanity’s existence. You start off with a handful of tents, building your way up. The game is less about ruling and more about survival, so it will make you question your decisions and morality repeatedly, especially when you have questionable expeditions ahead of you.
2. Tropico 6 (2019)
Available on: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, macOS
Tropico 6 is often categorized as a city builder, but its central theme revolves around roleplaying as the leader of an unstable banana republic. You have the freedom to choose the communist route, where a miner earns as much as a business executive, or adopt a dictator’s stance, looking at ways to turn human lives into profitable exports.
You’ll begin on a small island, gradually progressing by constructing houses, generating jobs, and establishing road networks. Just make sure to provide your people with a stable food supply, healthcare, entertainment, protection from crime and war, and liberty.
Other than the city builder aspect, there is plenty of strategy involved—international politics, attracting tourists, keeping your population satisfied, all of that. All in all, it is a nice blend of building and planning when you want to sit back and relax.
Best Base Building Games
In these games, the core idea isn’t specifically to build up a city, town, or a business; your goal is to progress through the game, relying on your creativity through ‘building’.
1. Grounded (2022)
Available on: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
This whimsical survival title from Obsidian, reminiscent of ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,’ isn’t a typical builder-style title. Instead, it offers a captivating campaign centered around building and survival mechanics. There is a co-op mode where you can play alongside (at max) three other friends.
The storyline follows up to four teenagers who find themselves shrunk to the size of ants in a somewhat familiar backyard. Their mission is to discover how they became so small and find their way back to normal size. The game involves a significant amount of building and survival skills to progress with minimal resources. All in all, the game is a good play for someone who needs to spend some time relaxing.
2. Minecraft (2011)
Available on: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, iOS, iPadOS, macOS, Android
Minecraft is the classic builder, the world’s best-selling title, and for good reason. The game’s expansive open-world setting, coupled with the almost never-ending freedom of building, is what makes it stand out. Minecraft boasts a simple yet engaging gameplay.
In the game, you can literally build anything your imagination takes you, providing plenty of customization options. It’s also very easy on your hardware, allowing you to play it on almost any device you have—it has something for everyone.
Honorable Mention — Fortnite (2017)
Available on: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Android
While Fortnite may not fall into any of the categories mentioned above, it boasts a significant building element. Its tower defense mechanics and battle royale gameplay distinguishes it from other titles on the list. Furthermore, its free-to-play model and consistently engaging gameplay contribute to its massive popularity.
Which Game Should You Play?
While building games cover a wide spectrum of different ideas and genres, there’s always something for someone. For instance, if you’re just starting out and want to be creative while staying relaxed, try Cities: Skylines 2, Minecraft, or Tropico 6.
If you’re someone who is intrigued by the story aspect, you may not want to skip Grounded. However, if you love strategizing and working out different and creative ways to progress, games like Anno 1800, Frostpunk, and Surviving Mars may feel like they’re worth your time.
Fortnite should be your go-to choice if you want to start without spending any money. Alternatively, if you happen to be subscribed to the Xbox Game Pass, you could play Grounded, Minecraft, Frostpunk, Against the Storm, and Cities: Skylines 2 for free, as they are included in the subscription.
While this question is subjective, and is addressed in the “Which Game Should You Play?” section above, we would recommend starting off with something a bit easier, such as Minecraft, Fortnite, or even Cities: Skylines (the original game).
From the list above, you do have Minecraft and Fortnite. However, the latter has recently been removed from the App Store and is only available on Android.
This article doesn’t cover all of the games, and so some other titles that may be worthy of trying are Oxygen Not Included, Rimworld, Valheim, Raft and Factorio.