SimCity 2000 was one of the first games I got really hooked on. I was utterly terrible at it for a very long time, instead loading the pre-made scenarios and imagining that I, in my infinite city planning and growth hacking prowess, could have conjured such magnificent metropolises from the click of my fingers.
That was way back in 1994. The latest SimCity bitterly divided opinion, and Cities: Skylines has arguably since moved into pole position in the city-builders battle. But there are a raft of indie developers working on a host of amazing city and base-builder style games, eschewing the traditional RCI methods of measurement, providing extremely visually engaging sandbox play, and winning countless supporters.
Let’s have a look at some of the best independent base and city builders you can play today, focusing on some of the latest and greatest releases.
We’ll start with indie base builders. Designing, building, maintaining, and expanding are the bread and butter of most base building games. Depending on the game genre, you could be building a base for the production of armed forces, manufacturing products, establishing an outpost on a newly discovered planet, or simply sandboxing it up. Whether micro or macro management, base builders can offer a broad combination of many of the most popular gaming styles in a single package.
I’ve tagged Rimworld as both base and city builder, because it’s “a sci-fi colony sim driven by an intelligent AI storyteller.” It doesn’t let down. Your game begins with just three survivors, destined to start a new civilization following a recent space-liner crash. Still in development, Rimworld is an ongoing project to seemingly combine the depth of Dwarf Fortress with the epic scale of Dune.
It’s attractive and engaging, making no qualms of a non-competitive sandbox mode led by your chosen storyteller. The storyteller leads your seeded world, creating pirate attacks, trader arrivals, storms, and random flocks of chickens to join your expanding culture. It isn’t just a random roll of the dice, either. The storyteller AI is modelled on the AI Director from Left4Dead, meaning encounters and scenarios are designed to curate an exciting narrative, not just a random destructive encounter with the local wildlife.
Just as voxel- and block-style games are rampant, the newly established space-colony is also a major go-to for game developers. It makes sense, as you can see in Planetbase, where you’ll be guiding a group of settlers toward the genesis of a new civilization on a remote planet. I liked the back and forth, hat-switching approach of colony manager and base architect, giving you a rounded approach to maintaining development, but also keeping those around you happy, and most importantly, alive.
One of the best features of Planetbase is that of managing your ecology, specifically your requirements for oxygen, water, and food. Manage these poorly, and you’ll soon find death knocking on your interlocking chamber doors.
I stumbled across Wyrmsun toward the latter end of writing this article, and I’m glad I did as I’ve been really taken by the open-source game. It’s an RTS, but it contains elements of base building, resource-gathering, farming, and adventuring, without too much hand-holding. Wyrmsun has a retro style of gameplay and an aesthetic many will recall, evoking nostalgic memories of Dune II and early Warcraft games.
City builders are a core gaming genre, and I’m sure most of our readers have dipped their toes into en masse city planning projects. As satisfying as manipulating a city or civilization from the ground up is, it can just as quickly turn to dust, exposing our own ephemeral nature.
Stardew Valley is an extremely popular indie “open-ended country-life RPG,” with a strong Harvest Moon influence. I’m sure people will argue with me that Stardew Valley isn’t strictly building a city, but it certainly isn’t a base builder. You’ll be reintroducing the old ways of life to Stardew Valley, a beautiful swathe of land driven into the ground by the Joja Corporation, returning your grandfather’s now-ramshackle farm into a vibrant community hub.
Stardew Valley is, so far, a qualified indie developer success story. Between its 26th February release date and March 9th, Stardew Valley shipped around 425,000 copies, with sole developer Eric Barone taken aback with the universal appeal of the game: “I never expected it to have such wide appeal. I mean, I’m super happy about it and I’m blown away by the reaction, but I’m surprised too.”
If you find Dwarf Fortress too complex, you might want to take a look at Gnomoria, a sandbox village management game where your primary task is leading a small group of gnomes to greatness. You must excavate your surroundings in a search for resources to build the ultimate gnome kingdom, with pretty much any physical item you see able to be broken down, mined, or rebuilt.
Just like its distinguished older cousin, Gnomoria doesn’t entirely hold your hand. This has put some new players off, though those used to the quirks and perils of Dwarf Fortress may contend the content is just as it should be. That said, Gnomoria is definitely aimed much more toward the casual gamer.
“Have you ever look out the window at your town and thought ‘I can do better?’”
Concrete Jungle gives you that opportunity in this indie deck-building puzzle-cum-city builder. This game was actually a surprise for me. It has many of the genres I enjoy squashed together in a single package. It left me wondering if it would be a package for disaster. It isn’t, and Cole Jefferies, lone developer of Concrete Jungle, has adeptly blended multiple genres to deliver a fun experience.
Particular highlights include the RPG-esque skill trees, allowing you to unlock character specific unique cards, as well as a vibrant, evolving isometric city (I’m a sucker for anything isometric, too). It has been a solid beginning for Concrete Jungle, with 91% of Steam user reviews returning positive, and a pretty reasonable 76% from the mixed bag that can be Metacritic. Concrete Jungle is a winner for me, and I’d advise anyone with even a slight interest in a city builder or a puzzle game to support this indie developer.
Bonus: Developer ColePowered also make the stupendously addictive MegaCity, another city building game for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. If you hated SimCity BuildIt, you’ll probably like this.
When Banished was first released in 2014, I quickly clocked some 50-odd hours of gameplay. You control a group of exiled travellers, searching for the perfect spot to build their new town. Restarting their lives isn’t entirely easy, coming only with the clothes on their back and pack-cart, depending on your difficulty level.
Winters come and go, and each time you wonder how many people will die of starvation as the crop yields in the summer were low. You wonder if the children will have enough clothing because your hunter caught an illness and died. You wonder if a trade vessel will arrive, or if there will be a mining accident, or about the myriad other ways for the game to take your burgeoning town away from you.
I stopped playing for a while. But then developer, Shining Rock Software, announced modding compatibility would be coming soon, so I jumped back in. Banished strips away much of the money-based grinding common to so many city builders, replacing it with bartering and localized farming.
It is a city builder, but can you will your people to survive?
Early Access and Steam Greenlight
There are a number of excellent games currently on offer as part of Steam’s Early Access program. Though all of these games are currently under development, many feature in the top sales and user popularity rankings. However, there is still a tiny chance some of them wont make it to the final hurdle.
Subnautica – Early Access Base Builder
Enter an alien world submerged deep underwater, filled with all manner of beautiful and horrific sealife, amazingly vibrant coral reefs, and stiflingly dark deep ocean trenches. Brought to you by the indie developers behind Natural Selection 2, Subnautica has won many plaudits for its open-water survival style of gameplay, and a constantly-expanding and developing ocean world for you to explore.
Subnautica was released on Steam Early Access in December 2014, and since then has racked up a substantial 550,000+ sales, as well as a 92% positive user feedback rating. You might sigh at the thought of yet another indie voxel survival base builder. You might. Don’t. Subnautica will hold your attention from your first dip in the water, to the murky, face-eating monster depths of terror.
I’ve been infatuated with Factorio for some time now, starting with the alpha demo, followed quickly by putting my money on the table. Factorio is a true base builder. You harvest resources to feed a continually evolving factory machine; unlocking new facilities, appliances, and industrial apparatus as you progress. It sounds somewhat simple. In practice, you’ll end up with an intricate, twisting maze of conveyor belts and mechanical arms, powered by all manner of energy sources, defended by giant weaponry.
It will be elaborate. It does feel hectic. But curating a well-oiled factory machine churning out endless widgets is a wonderful sight, and you’ll fall asleep pondering just how to squeeze more efficiency from your logistics robots. Released into Steam Early Access on 25th February, Factorio has remained in the top 10 Steam sellers list, receiving a massive 99% positive community reviews from just under 5,500 users, amassing some 220,000 sales.
Block’hood – Early Access City Builder
Block’hood is a neighbourhood building simulator, with a focus on verticality. The sky is quite literally the limit, allowing you masses of expansion space to craft complex city scenarios, cycling through a day and night cycle. You have access to over 80 individually styled pre-set blocks which you can place, as you like, throughout your “block.” Each block has its own specialized set of synergies, imbuing adjacent squares with positive growth, or causing them to decay and die.
Your Block’hood perpetually evolves. Place the wrong tile, and part of your block will begin to crumble. So while you’re free to build as you please, you must keep your resource meter in mind. The game has a specific ecological bent, too. Power sources are clean. Water sources can be filtered, brown-water recovered. Green spaces and air purifying trees are vital to success. But your attempt at utopia can quickly go awry, leading you into a dark dystopian block of evil.
“Commute ‘Em Up” on the world’s oldest and Europe’s third busiest metro system, The London Underground. What started as a simple-ish puzzle game has evolved into a “full on multi-level-station-building, staff-training, shift-scheduling management sim with a 24hr day/night cycle.”
Developer, Squareplay Ltd, is a lone man on a single mission, bringing a Theme Hospital art and gameplay style to this seemingly unique, commuter-strategy-building game. Though there is not even an official Alpha yet, the game was Greenlit in just 7 days, and should be appearing as an Early Access title at some point in 2016 – it’ll even have Linux support!
Is That All?
For now, yes. There are a host of city and base building games still under development, such as The Universim or Atomic Society, as well as new arrivals with interesting mechanics, such as Soviet City. There are also hundreds more indie developers out there making amazing city and base building games, so scout around and see what you find – or give in, and give some hours to our selections!
What indie base or city builders are you playing? Are there any projects we should be keeping an eye on? Let us know below!
- ^ latest SimCity bitterly divided opinion (www.makeuseof.com)
- ^ Cities: Skylines (www.amazon.com)
- ^ or simply sandboxing it up (www.makeuseof.com)
- ^ Rimworld (rimworldgame.com)
- ^ depth of Dwarf Fortress (www.makeuseof.com)
- ^ a Steam release targeted (ludeon.com)
- ^ Planetbase (planetbase.madrugaworks.com)
- ^ Wyrmsun (www.indiedb.com)
- ^ the open-source game (www.makeuseof.com)
- ^ It’s an RTS (www.makeuseof.com)
- ^ It’s free (store.steampowered.com)
- ^ Stardew Valley (stardewvalley.net)
- ^ 425,000 copies (www.pcgamer.com)
- ^ Gnomoria (gnomoria.com)
- ^ Concrete Jungle (colepowered.com)
- ^ RPG-esque skill trees (www.makeuseof.com)
- ^ stupendously addictive MegaCity (colepowered.com)
- ^ Banished (www.shiningrocksoftware.com)
- ^ part of Steam’s Early Access program (www.makeuseof.com)
- ^ the Steam Greenlight process (www.makeuseof.com)
- ^ Subnautica (unknownworlds.com)
- ^ Factorio (www.factorio.com)
- ^ some 220,000 sales (steamspy.com)
- ^ Block’hood (www.plethora-project.com)
- ^ Overcrowd (overcrowd.co.uk)
- ^ commuter-strategy-building game (www.makeuseof.com)
- ^ not even an official Alpha yet (www.reddit.com)
- ^ Greenlit in just 7 days (squareplaygames.com)
- ^ have Linux support (www.reddit.com)
- ^ The Universim (store.steampowered.com)
- ^ Atomic Society (www.farroadgames.com)
- ^ Soviet City (store.steampowered.com)
- ^ Construction place in the city (www.shutterstock.com)