I wanted to dust off my article article about City Builders but between the WTC training and life I never had time to do so.
So here it comes! First off we need to define the what a city-builder is, and for that we’ll need to make a bit of a list I’m afraid.
Simcity series and SimCity-like
Though the genre was established with the release of SimCity (1989) this game series hardly has anything to do with other city builders except for the fact that you build a city that has, well…buildings. Simcity is actually a genre by itself, and games that are part of this genre are SimCity, CitiesXL and Citybound. It’s good to note that the genre pinnacled in 2003 with the release of SimCity 4 and was somewhat dead for years until the release of CitiesXL (2009).
I guess this type of city-builder could be called “Modern-era city building” and in these games, the population is just a data, or sometimes it’s even some sort of score.
As you probably know the game focuses on building a larger and larger city, increasing density and/or wealth/tech level. No warmongering interaction of any kind. No set objective either. These games are mostly macromanagement games, and micromanagement exists almost only in the mass transit path creation and budget sliders optimization.
City Building Series
Then there is a second type of city builders which appeared in 1993 and with Sierra’s Caesar series. It is often refered as City Building Series and contains the games Caesar I to IV, Pharaoh, Master of Olympus and Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom. Immortal Cities is also part of this list as well even though it is really different from the other games of the series and Medieval Mayor too, but this game still doesn’t have a release date.
Out from this series but still in this genre you’ve got Grand Ages Rome (2009).As for the SimCity series this series peaked in 2002 with Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom but it is now mostly dead in terms of excellent games.
In this type of games your goal is always to build a city but you need to attend to specific chains of production in order to have your population increase and evolve in “ranks”. Also the city designs are very different with residentials blocks and industry/commercial blocks being separated and somewhat isolated. In these games war is always a defensive option (as in, you’re gonna get attacked). There is always a campaign (usually a historic one) although you can make some sandbox game if you wish. The campaign will often ask you to build huge monuments that require lots of resources and manpower.
The Anno series started out with Anno 1602 in 1998 and keeps on going to this day with Anno 2070. There isn’t much to say about Anno, in my opinion the game kept on evolving and was refined opus after opus and Anno 2070 is as close as it gets to a perfectly tuned game, with good games mechanics, pretty graphism and an overall excellent game feel.
Much like City Building Series game in Anno you have to tend to your population. There are four tiers of progress for your population, and each tier will unlock new buildings and chain of productions which are needed to take your inhabitants to the next tier. Of course progressing through tiers requires more and more commodities off of more and more complex chains of productions.
But with Anno there is also a pretty in-depth military gameplay using boats and armies (and now air units with Anno 2070). It uses the good old rock-paper-scissors game balance. You can use your military power to either complete quests or wage wars against your opponents. Also, and contrary to the previous game we talked about, Anno can be played in multiplayer and the last version allow for both versus and co-op.
The Stronghold series started in 2001 and is a bit of a mix between the two series I talked about earlier. In these games population is not just an overall score but you have to give them food, shelter and a job. Then build a castle and walls around them to protect them and train armies. Then much like Anno there is macromanagement and micromanagement in both the economic part of the game and the military part of the game, though in Stronghold military take a way more proeminent part than in Anno.
In my opinion only Stronghold 1, Crusader & 2 were good with Stronghold one being really the best one.Its strength relies on the fact both Economic and Military part of the game are well designed, so it’s fun to have your city start and expand but it is as fun to just defend your castle from ennemies by igniting pitch under their feet and watch them burn with the rest of your land 😀
Die Siedler | The Settlers series
Another truly awesome German series of building games! Started in 1993 and still going to this day with a newly announced game The Settlers: Kingdom of Anteria which should be released in 2014. The game is on closed beta right now as far as I know.
This game series evolved quite a lot in more than 10 years of existence but what remains is that it’s some sort of “very long RTS”. The pace of the game is slow, and you build your city and expand your territory slowly. The pace of Settlers 7 was rather quick in MP games but they decided to slow it down, which resulted in killing the versus community of the game.
In terms of pure game mechanics it’s pretty much the same as Anno with a different tiering system. So you make your chains of production, your population grows and then you use it to levy armies and punch your opponents in the face. Depending on the scenario you play there are possibilities to achieve economic or military win or both.
For me this starts with Tropico 3 as Tropico 1&2 were meh. Tropico 3 was released in 2009 and the series is still ongoing since Tropico 5 was released in May this year.
Tropico is really a refreshing series since it takes a bit of every other city builders and mixes it with its own humorous tone and I have to say it really works.
As a dictator your main goal is to stay in power! But when your place is secured you really have to build up your island economy and here you’ll have to take into accound your island fertilities/ore deposits. What’s really cool here is that there are more production chains available than room and resources available for you to use them. This means you have to make choices and it really improves re-playability. In this games military is only used defensively, either to defend against U.S / U.S.S.R invasions or to prevent a coup d’état and you can’t micromanage it.
There isn’t too much micromanagement in the Tropico series, even though Tropico 5 brings a new Manager system to improve buildings, the only source of micro-management comes from the upgrades you can chose to buy for your buildings.
Many other games exist that don’t belong to any series like Banished, Kenshi or Towns which all bring their point of view and specific mechanics on the genre that is City-building which, have you probably understood, doesn’t mean anything in itself…
So this article is already longer than the previous one and we don’t even talked about anything really interested so I’m just gonna stop it here and publish this and I’ll take about in-depth game mechanics as well a more general view on the future of the genre.