Move Over, Sim City: The Best City Building Games for iOS

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When I decided to highlight the best city building games on the App Store, I didn’t realise what a shortage of quality titles there were. After last year’s SimCity fiasco in which EA screwed the pooch, disappointing gamers with tiny cities and always-on DRM; you’d be forgiven for thinking a few enterprising developers would take up the slack, so to speak.

Unfortunately progress has been slow for the city building genre on iOS, despite the platform’s ability to monetize well-executed concepts. That’s not to say there’s nothing to sink your teeth into if your mayoral urges take over, though you might want to reconsider what to expect from a city building game on your iPhone or iPad if you’ve been spoiled by Maxis in the past.

We’ve got a separate list of Sim City alternatives for Android users, too!

Sim City for iOS: A Word Of Caution

Like many gamers, I’m not particularly fond of EA. I wouldn’t go as far as boycotting quality titles because of a few short-sighted board members, but at the same time they’re often their own worst enemy when it comes to alienating a passionate community. Unfortunately, such a flawed attitude means that Sim City for iOS no longer works due to a lack of development. What that really means is that EA couldn’t be bothered to update it to work with newer versions of iOS (even if you’ve purchased it, it’s no longer working, and EA seemingly don’t care).

For these reasons, I cannot recommend you spend money on a title that EA can’t even be bothered to update. Sim City Deluxe (and the additional $6 more expensive “HD” iPad version) are merely clipped iOS ports of Sim City 3000 anyway, so I’d recommend you sit down at a computer and play that (or Sim City 4) instead – you’ll probably have more joy.

Well, that or one of these other games…

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G5’s Virtual City series

One developer that seems to have taken the platform’s lack of quality city building titles in its stride is G5 Entertainment. They produce a series of games under the Virtual City title, with the latest being Virtual City Playground (iPad version), a free-to-play building game that uses a playful visual style and bright, vivid colours. This is in stark contrast to many city building simulations, which aim for realism and decay. Not so here!

If free-to-play isn’t your cup of tea and you’d rather buy outright, you can still pick up the original Virtual City for $2.99 (iPad version, $4.99) and the sequel Virtual City 2: Paradise Resort as a free trial (iPad version, $6.99). These games drop much of the simulation aspect of Sim City, though they are very well suited to a touchscreen user experience and once you’ve started building, the illusion of a busy city is quite fun.

As ever with such games there is a huge amount of social integration, which you can take or leave. There are elements of city building, micro-management as well as a competitive aspect which will see you battling to build the biggest skyscrapers with your friends.

Pixel People (Free)

Pixel People isn’t strictly a city building game, but more of a building placement game. The mechanics behind your average Sim City clone are completely missing here, instead you’ll find a puzzle-esque free-to-play experience in which you must splice existing occupations with other occupations to discover more citizens for your city. Along the way you’ll pick up the buildings that go with the roles, and unlock a huge array of extras and bonuses.

While you’re definitely creating a landscape, there’s no economic, financial or resource management to be had here, which means your city is more for show than anything else. That doesn’t really matter a whole lot because Pixel People succeeds in being a lot of fun. As with many similar titles, the free-to-play model will eventually frustrate you somewhat but you’ll have a lot of fun getting to that point.

I reviewed Pixel People in full last year, though the developers have gone out of their way to add even more to it with free updates (take note, EA).

Dungeon Village (Free trial, $3.99)

Do you enjoy quaint top-down JRPGs like Pokémon and Chrono Trigger? Well now you can create your own virtual RPG town thanks to Japanese developers Kairosoft. The studio has produced a number of successful games, of which a few personal favourites are Mega Mall Story and Game Dev Story.


Fusing RPG lore and strategic village building in only a way the Japanese can, Dungeon Village will have you constructing Combat Schools and Magic Labs with the aim of attracting adventurers to your village. While there, these RPG stars will battle monsters and clear dungeons in order to earn you money. If your town is successful they might even stick around. Dungeon Village isn’t optimised for iPhone 5, but it does work on the latest versions of iOS.


If you’re fond of Kairosoft’s style (and let’s face it, how could you not be) then be sure to take a look at their other similar titles including Oh! Edo Towns ($3.99) and Venture Towns ($3.99), both of which will help you scratch the itch to build.

Rebuild ($2.99)

The zombie theme has penetrated just about every genre of game and film, from sci-fi to romantic comedy, and now the city building (well, management) genre. Rebuild does however offer a fresh perspective on the notion of a zombie apocalypse, and if you’re a horror fan with a penchant for city simulations, this should have you frothing at the mouth and oozing blood from every pore (you know, in a good way).

Rebuild takes place after the zombie apocalypse. You must manage your resources like food, keeping morale high and defending your compound from hordes of undead. This is not a gung-ho shooter that’s drenched in blood, but a rather innovative take on turn-based strategy. Cities are randomly generated, and characters can be customised which should provide plenty of replay value.

The fact that there are seven separate endings to discover should also motivate you to pick it up even once you’ve beaten it. It’s quite a rigid experience, mimicking a board game more than an action title, but the experience is varied and rewarding. If you’re still not sure if this game is for you then check out the free Rebuild 2 flash game on which this iOS outing was based.

Megapolis (Free)

The final game on this list is another free-to-play affair, and one I chose for it’s likelihood to satisfy the rather vanilla city building urge. While many of the games here are themed spin-offs of the genre, incorporating other mechanics beside building, Megapolis is a straight up city building experience in which you undertake tasks, quests and events that change on a daily basis.

The game takes some recognisable real-world buildings like Big Ben’s clock tower and the leaning tower of Pisa and puts them at your disposal alongside the other 500 or so available buildings. There really is a lot to do here, including expanding your city on both land and sea and competing with friends using the in-built social integration.

Above all, Megapolis looks the part. Without falling victim to the cartoony style of Virtual City, Megapolis uses crisp visuals and a reserved palette to provide you with a futuristic and sharp looking landscape, though you won’t get the grime and pollution aspects as per Sim City.

Upcoming Releases

As ever you should keep an eye on the simulation genre if you’re into this kind of game, but notably there are a few pending releases that look set to offer a little more variety. The first is Suburbia: The Board Game which was recently announced for iOS and is described by Pocket Gamer as “a cross between Sim City and Settlers of Catan” – colour me curious.

And, perhaps most exciting of all is the pending release of Chris Sawyer’s Transport Tycoon, a re-imagining of a veritable classic that Chris Sawyer himself announced would not be taking the “free to play” route. Prepare to lose large chunks of your life to this one, though I’d love to see Rollercoaster Tycoon make its way over too.

Do you play any city building games I’ve not mentioned here? What do you think of EA’s approach to SimCity, and the lack of updates for iOS versions? Add your own recommendations and thoughts in the comments below!

Image credit: Megapolis via MorgueFile

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