City builders have always been niche games, and hardly saturate the market as much as the trend genres do like, so picking out the best from a smaller pool of titles is easier. We've selected a few that we would put down as The Best City Builders on PC, but if you have any to recommend, please let us know.
For all the various genres that in some manner or other task players with violently dispatching enemies, there is also fun to be had in creation for the sake of creation, not with the goal of producing stronger and bigger weapons. Some games challenge you, rather, with planning an efficient and functional settlement, construct a stable economy and expand your little pet project into the kind of metropolis that we'd all dream of living in.
City builders: Cities: Skylines
Developer: Colossal Order
If one were to crown a single king among city builders, it would be Cities: Skylines. This game focuses entirely on the whole city building aspect cutting all other fluff out of the equation. Players are given a huge amount of control allowing their creative visions to be translated onto the screen with little restriction holding them back in the form of game mechanics or limitations. At the same time Cities brings the realism by rewarding effective city design and punishing poor solutions. The city you build dynamically "lives" and you'll need to juggle the economy, education, emergency services and more to create a functional settlement.
Cities: Skylines further expands its already bountiful content with a bunch of DLCs which add buildings, upgrades and mechanics in given themes, such as eco-friendliness. This title has been lauded as the modern gold standard for the city building genre, and with good reason. A depth of mechanics coupled with a breadth of content is why this is the game we mention first.
City Builder: SimCity 2000
You knew a SimCity title will be on this list, and you also knew it won't be the most recent one. SimCity 2000, released in 1993, is probably the most known classic game in this genre, only recently eclipsed in recognition by the slowly more mainstream Cities: Skylines. SimCity 2000 did city building better in '93 than most games manage today, and it's claim to fame isn't solely rooted in nostalgia.
Tight mechanics, endearing visuals and great retro-futuristic tidbits make SimCity 2000 memorable. To the people making the game, the year 2000 was still the future, and they added their own, joke-vision of the future including huge domed tree-like habitats and alien attacks. SimCity 2000 also brought the simulation aspect in full force, with an economy and natural disasters striking your city.
City Builder: Tropico 4
Developer: Haemimont Games
Tropico is less about building a city and more about building your own banana republic. The game put you into the shoes of a Caribbean dictator called El Presidente, and gives you the task of... well, dictating. One difference here is that you run a whole nation spread out on an island instead of just a city, but the gist is the same. You build, expand, upgrade your settlements, mine resources, boost your economy, and try to become a Marxist (?) utopia.
Tropico is highly satirical of such dictatorships and the politics that surround them, and Tropico 4's campaign, which is more linear than a free-form city builder (though such a mode is present) parodies much of the real history of Caribbean countries like Cuba and others.
City Builder: Caesar 3
Developer: Impressions Games
Rome wasn't built in a day, but you could manage a pretty good pseudo-rome in less time when playing Caesar 3. This retro city builder from 1998 trades the typical contemporary setting for that of ancient Rome - as in the empire, you don't build the actual city of Rome in this game. Architecture and game mechanics reflect this setting, and rewards players who plan out their cities with great attention to detail.
Caesar 3 weaves its setting into the fabric of itself significantly, and this is reflected in mechanics such as a stat for your favor with the Roman Emperor. City defensibility is a greater factor than in games with contemporary settings, and architectural staples like Hippodromes and colosseums make an appearance as well. Building vast gardens and a network of aqueducts is added to your usual economy management.
City Builder: Anno 1404
Anno has always been about taking the city building genre into eras other than our own. 1404's North American release was aptly titled the Dawn of Discovery, and the game meshes standard city building gameplay with RTS elements for a somewhat different approach. The game focuses on fictional versions of Renaissance Europe and the medieval near east.
Anno 1404 more includes city building rather than being a full-on city builder, but it's city building is done really well, with solid mechanics. Scale is generally smaller than in dedicated builders, and there is a clearer, singular goal ahead of you - the construction of monuments - however the other aspects are still present, but joined by auxillary factors that focus on the larger, nation management and mercantile game mechanics.
City Builder: Pharaoh
Developer: Impressions Games
Pharaoh is much like Caesar 3, but set in ancient Egypt. This game is also defined mostly by its setting, allowing you to pull up imposing Egyptian monuments like those pointy triangle things everyone always automatically associates ancient Egypt with by default, forgetting other fantastic monuments like Obelisks, necropoli, and temples to the culture's colorful pantheon of gods. Huge statues of the current reigning Pharaoh will also decorate your cities.
Ancient Egypt wasn't the most forgiving terrain, and thus food and water play a larger role in Pharaoh, at least in the early stages, than in most other games. The campaign plots a semi-realistic evolution of Egyptian settlements, starting with nomadic cultures and moving towards the vertiable ancient metropoli like Thebes and Luxor.
If we missed any of your favorite city builders that you think deserve a spot on this list, feel free to indicate as much in the comments below!