Help me find a game like Civilization and SimCity
August 16, 2019 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I've been playing the Civilization and SimCity games since I was a teenager. They are the only games I play. Please help me find a new game I might like. Must be playable on a PC or Mac laptop.

I am not a gamer, but for whatever reason, I've always loved the SimCity and Civilization games. Oh, and there was an iPhone game I liked once called King of Dragon Pass.

Essentially, I'm kinda done with Civilization 6 for now, and I'm ready for a new game. The last SimCity game I played was SimCity 4 -- I briefly tried to play the 2013 release, but I didn't like the UI. Not sure if it's worth trying again.

Types of games I don't like :
* Any kind of action game
* First-person shooters
* Fighting games
* Any kind of game where you have to kill more goblins to get more weapons and armor
* Any game that requires you to be online, since I'll be playing on an airplane some of the time
* Any game with super heavy graphics requirements, since I'll be playing on a laptop. Or at least it has to have an option to dial back the graphics detail to get better performance. To be honest, I don't even really care about graphics.
* I tried playing Dwarf Fortress once but was put off by the endless succession of menus. Seemed like the kind of thing I could have liked, but the UI was just too alienating.

Basically I pretty much never play games, but a few times a year I'll hole up in my apartment and play Civ or SimCity while listening to history podcasts. This is also something I like to do on long flights.

What games do you think I might like?
posted by panama joe to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (43 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Cities: Skylines? You can hole up and watch this guy's videos while you play. (My husband does literally this.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:57 AM on August 16, 2019 [10 favorites]

Banished!!! You have to build a town while keeping people fed and clothed. It's so well done. It's a few years old so a laptop should be no problem.
posted by Automocar at 7:00 AM on August 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

Have you played Alien Crossfire? I think it's the best of the Civ series. It's available on GOG.
posted by H21 at 7:02 AM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Stardew Valley. Goodbye stupid weekends.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:04 AM on August 16, 2019 [11 favorites]

Banished worked for me in that vein. Stardew Valley didn't, but the similar Graveyard Keeper did.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:26 AM on August 16, 2019

Rimworld. Put it on easy mode if you just like building etc. Also Stardew Valley & Cities:Skyline as others have suggested. You might also like Prison Architect or Oxygen Not Included.
posted by wwax at 7:34 AM on August 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You might like the Transport Tycoon-style games — OpenTTD is free, very low overhead, and endlessly customizable. The “Fever” games (most recently Transport Fever, soon to be Transport Fever II) are much more heavy, graphically, and not unequivocally better. They’re fun planning games, and if you ever wanted to build a really cool model railroad layout without paying for all the models and consuming a shed-load of space, might be your jam.

Seconding Cities: Skylines, which is a spiritual successor to old Sim City.

Surviving Mars, maybe? It’s a city-builder with a far more inhospitable world to optimize for.
posted by Alterscape at 7:36 AM on August 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

Minecraft is the obvious first choice; you might also like Stardew Valley as noted above.
posted by nkknkk at 7:37 AM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe for the building aspects: Minecraft (possibly on peaceful mode), Terreria, or The Sims.

If you ever decide to look for a mobile platform game, games by Kairosoft.
posted by past unusual at 7:37 AM on August 16, 2019

Check out the Tropico series. They're a fun city builder with some economic and political simulation added. There's also a bit of dark humour and satiric political commentary as well. The older versions (Tropico 3 and 4) are just as engaging as the later ones, and should run fine on low-end hardware.
posted by penguinicity at 7:38 AM on August 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm willing to bet Tropico will be right up your alley. It's basically SimCity except you're the (benevolent?) dictator of a tropical island. Several games in the series - I've only played the first 3... all are massive timesucks in the best way, and the earlier games in the series won't be super heavy on computing resources.

(ON PREVIEW, what penguinicity said.)
posted by somanyamys at 7:40 AM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

One of the things that makes your question hard to answer is that Civilization and Sim City are both classic games that have inspired entire genres, so it's hard to know what to recommend in the same way that it would be hard to answer "the only movies that I've watched are The Godfather and Casablanca, what other movies would I like?" or "the only novels that I've read are Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick, what other novels would I like?"

That said, I'm a little baffled by people suggesting Minecraft and Stardew Valley. Those are also great games, but they have nothing to do with Sim City or Civilization, and they both have some light action/combat elements, so if you really don't like any sort of action, they're going to be not to your taste. (They're sort of like hearing "I liked The Godfather, what should I watch?" and saying "Well, if you like classic movies I'll bet you'd like Singin' in the Rain").

Civilization is considered the progenitor of a genre called "4X". Some classics worth looking at:
- Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (available on GOG) has a clunky-to-modern-eyes interface but is still one of the best examples of story-telling in the genre. You can play it either with or without the Alien Crossfire expansion, which some people see as diluting the focus of the original game.
- Master of Orion. The later games (3 and on) were poorly received, but the first two games in this series are still very well regarded and surprisingly easy to get into given how old they are.
- The Endless series by Amplitude (Endless Space 1 and 2, and Endless Legend) is probably the best modern version of the genre (other than Civilization 6 itself).

Sim City is the progenitor of the "City Builder Genre" There are a whole bunch of different lineages here.
- If you like playing with transportation systems, you might like Cities: Skylines and its various expansions
- If you like carefully placing buildings to optimize all the systems, you might like games in the lineage from the 90's Caesar games. This includes the Caesar series, as well as Zeus (ancient Greece themed) and Children of the Nile. More recently, the Anno series of games has carried on this lineage in a variety of historical and futuristic settings.
- If you like playing in the sandbox (building up your city and then sending an earthquake to destroy everything, for example) you might like the Tropico games.
posted by firechicago at 8:06 AM on August 16, 2019 [9 favorites]

Rimworld. Rimworld. SERIOUSLY, RIMWORLD. I love Civ and it scratches the same itch times ten. You must try it. I've never played Dwarf Fortress but all the reviews say it's sort of similar but much more intuitive.

There is combat, but you can play on a low difficulty setting and, crucially, you can pause as many times as you want during combat in order to line up your shots and so forth. I'm not a big fan of real-time combat but it hasn't been too much of a problem for me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:49 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Banner Saga is a very good game (a series of 3, actually), that is heavily influenced by King of Dragon Pass. It has an interesting story, some light turn-based strategy, and gorgeous hand drawn graphics.

I'd nth the recommendations for Cities:Skylines, and maybe suggest a similar building game like Parkitect; instead of a city, you're building a theme park, with similar building mechanics. The thematically-similar Planet Coaster is also a possibility, but I found it a bit complex.

Finally, a few "what the heck" recommendations that, for me, scratch a similar itch as Civ and SimCity:

Heroes of Might and Magic- turn-based strategy in a fantasy realm. Modern installments have been uneven, HoMM III and V are widely considered the best, and will run perfectly on a laptop.

XCOM 2- Yes, it's beefy space dudes with guns shooting aliens, but I love the tactical decision-making of the turn-based combat as well as the strategy of building and research on a macro scale.
posted by EKStickland at 8:52 AM on August 16, 2019

Railroad Tycoon has some well-regarded sequels, too. Check out this comparison between it and Transport Tycoon.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:53 AM on August 16, 2019

I'll defend Stardew rec as it was what I came here to say. I think it may be fun for a simcity or civ player because it's the honing of system, managment of resources, it's well designed (you have a taste for quality lol), the action element is minimal (maybe I'm too used to playing games where you really kill things but I'd not even consider it action), and you can keep growing your farm indefinitely even once you've met the 'storyline' goals. It's also considered beloved and a classic by many people so even if it isn't a one to one exact match of game genre, you may really like it.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 8:56 AM on August 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Frostpunk: city building survival game. It's a newer game, so check the min required specs for graphics before you buy.

Euro Truck Simulator 2: Not sure if this will appeal to you, but I like to zone out and deliver loads of tomatoes across Europe whilst listening to the radio. It ran on my junky old computer, but check the min required specs before you buy it.

Megaquarium: I love this game. It's a strategy/management aquarium game with fun challenges. You have to build aquariums and keep your customers and fish happy while making enough money to expand.

Papers, Please: Excellent puzzle/strategy game with a lot of heart and humour.

Prison Architect: strategy/management game. Great story mode. Challenging and surprisingly complex.
posted by Feminazgul at 8:56 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

You might want to consider Factorio.
posted by Nelson at 9:08 AM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

(They're sort of like hearing "I liked The Godfather, what should I watch?" and saying "Well, if you like classic movies I'll bet you'd like Singin' in the Rain").

I would say the disagreement is more like if someone likes The Godfather, they may also like either Goodfellas (gagster movies), Breaking Bad (stories about corruption), 12 Angry Men (classic films about ethical decisions), or The Departed (award winning crime films). It depends on what they like about it.

My personal preferences for games are very similar to OP's list of preferences, and Minecraft has been one of my favorite "pick up and hyperfocus" games. The reason is because the sequencing of start from scratch > develop resources > eventually build up to creating something that gives you a sense of accomplishment is similar to the enjoyment I get from Civ/SimCity. Personally, I don't like the fighting but sometimes I enjoy the mild thrill of avoiding fighting, so I sometimes play on peaceful (no monsters) and sometimes on easy (limited monsters). If what you like about Civ/SimCity is the strategy element, then other games might suit your preferences better than building games like Minecraft.

Another suggestion: You might enjoy Prison Architect.
posted by past unusual at 9:24 AM on August 16, 2019

Stellaris. Lots of echoing of Civ with tech trees and colony development and unit building. Echoes SimCity with governments and resource management. Generated complexity for no repetitive gameplay. I love the art and the style, and it feels a bit old school in a good way.
posted by Mizu at 9:27 AM on August 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a long-standing Civ and SC4 player, and Stardew Valley left me so very cold. Maybe a few hours in it gets better or something, but.. Waiting for cabbages to grow? Talking to all these random people and worrying about what they want or whatever? Shudder.

Cities:Skylines is the modern version of SimCity. It has a huge modding community so you can add all kinds of stuff. There's a lot of DLC packs, but they're all optional and add specific functionality; I'm a transportation guy so I have Mass Transit, but Natural Disasters just turns me off so I didn't get it, why would I break my lovely city?

Another game you might like is Surviving Mars. It's a fairly realistic Mars colony builder; you start with robots that can gather basic materials, then gradually build production infrastructure until you can build first a single life support dome, then an entire colony that can support human life. Eventually if you want you can terraform Mars, with the DLC. A lot of resource management, very satisfying to build a colony. It has a fair bit of SimCity in it. But there's also a tech tree for research, like in Civ, as well as the equivalent of world wonders and civ bonuses. In theory there can be rival colonies, but I understand it's not a ton of interaction. One other thing I like is you can turn on or off different elements of gameplay, like disasters, story events, rival colonies, etc. It didn't get great reviews on initial release, but has been patched to heck since then. It's currently my most dangerous time suck (and various Civs and Sim Cities: Skylines have been before), I start playing it after dinner and then come to bed at 3 AM muttering about Mars.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:42 AM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Endless Legend for me is the true successor for Civ series. I for some reason couldn't get into Endless Space though.

Piggybacking on EKStickland, if you like fantasy flavor that's somewhat similar to Civ - definitely Heroes of Might and Magic. Others on the same vein : Thea the awakening (there's also Thea 2) is good with some Slavic based mythology and interesting combat mechanics. Eador (there are Genesis which is the original, Master of Broken World, and Imperium - I'd stick with the original) is superb. And of course the granddaddy of them all - Master of Magic.

The game recommendations below are not exactly your bread and butter. But I loved Civ and below list scratches a certain itch that I get from Civ.

I'm also seconding X-Com. There's some base building but more into the tactical aspect. X-Com 2 requires a slightly beefy computer but there's the original from the 90's (multiple actually) and modern reimagining : X-Com Enemy Unknown and Xenonauts (which is far less demanding graphic wise).

For the games with more focus on abstract resource management and people - Europa Universalis series, Crusader Kings and Stellaris (all Paradox games).

For East Asian historical games check out Koei (Romance of Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga's ambitions. I've lost track but I think they are up to no. 13 now....a testament to their popularity).

For historical games more focused more on the (pausable) battles - Total War Series.
posted by 7life at 10:15 AM on August 16, 2019

Best answer: As someone who played both those games for years, and sometimes Civ4 still-
Cities: Skylines is indeed a good one. But I did find some of the road mechanics very frustrating at times and moved to:

Planetbase. A bit of a learning curve, but excellent. A decent selection of buildings though after playing many many many hours (all difficulties, all the way through), I wish there were more building types. Decent subreddit for this game if you have questions, same for:

Oxygen Not Included (mentioned above). Same idea, small crew starting with limited resources. Unlike Planetbase, maybe too MANY buildings and systems. Holy cow can be so complicated. But very fun. The newly released version added many different types of starting planets. (Lots of good youtubers for this one including Grind This Game, Francis John and Brothgar)

Finally, Kingdoms and Castles. A nice change from the others, though once you get the hang of protecting your village from dragons and Vikings it is less challenging.
posted by Glinn at 10:20 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

(Oxygen Not Included may be super heavy graphic requirements.)
posted by Glinn at 10:23 AM on August 16, 2019

Kingdom. It's peaceful, beautiful, and you play a queen or king rebuilding your land. Some fighting but you mostly set up your subjects to fight for you. Great music, absorbing.
posted by agregoli at 11:00 AM on August 16, 2019

Xcom2 with the expansion is a really fun turn based game I like playing while listening to podcasts.

YouTube has some let’s plays that may help you get a feel for our suggestions? Christopher Odd is pretty inoffensive.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 11:16 AM on August 16, 2019

Best answer: Oh, and there was an iPhone game I liked once called King of Dragon Pass.

Did you see A Sharp did a follow-up game to KoDP, Six Ages: Ride Like The Wind?
posted by zamboni at 11:34 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Did you see A Sharp did a follow-up game to KoDP, Six Ages: Ride Like The Wind?

😮WHOA!!! 😮
posted by panama joe at 11:38 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Re: Rimworld, I agree that it scratches the Civ/SimCity itch, however, if you literally don't want to do anything other than build shit and explore with few distractions, then even easy mode may be insufficient for your purposes. If you don't want to be bugged by your colonists', like, personal issues and/or disasters, then play in developer/god mode.
posted by yasaman at 11:53 AM on August 16, 2019

Best answer: Another vote for Oxygen Not Included. I got it after seeing the FPP and then spent seriously ~75% of my waking non-work hours for the next two weeks playing. I describe it as The Incredible Machine meets The Sims (in a SimTower layout). It plays fine on my laptop (~2017 Dell XPS 13), but gets pretty warm and drains the battery if you're not plugged in. That's not a bad thing, because otherwise I end up staying up all night tweaking power grids...
posted by yeahlikethat at 11:53 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dawn of Man.

"Take control of a settlement of the first modern humans, guide them through the ages in their struggle for survival.

Dawn of Man is a survival/city-builder from the creators of Planetbase.

The game starts in the Stone Age, and takes you up to the Iron Age, spanning more than 10,000 years of human prehistory.

You will have to get your people to survive, expand and evolve, just like our ancestors, facing the challenges that the environment will throw at you."
posted by Murderbot at 12:45 PM on August 16, 2019

Roller Coaster Tycoon Classic. This is the original game from the late 90s, made available again, although I haven't played it recently. I was SO into this game back then, and I keep meaning to try again. Some of their recent efforts to revive the game have not been as successful, so I'd stick with the classic.
posted by dnash at 12:51 PM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’ve really been enjoying Cities Skylines; it’s not perfect but what someone should get if they want a modern city builder. Lots of free mods that add features or change the game AI, not just assets. The developer is much more ethical than EA, too.
posted by D.C. at 12:58 PM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

The developer [of Cities: Skylines] is much more ethical than EA, too.

Also the same developer behind Surviving Mars. I like Surviving Mars a bit more because I like excessive scarcity in my management games, but they are both good city-builders. I'll nth the recommendations of Stellaris, too.

This is a little further off your stated preferences, but maybe take a look at The Long Dark? It's first person, but mostly not a shooter -- and with the addition of custom difficulty settings, you can turn off the hostile wildlife, making it 100% about resource management and exploration. It might hit some of the "kill critters to get stuff" buttons that you're trying to avoid, since you will eventually want to hunt deer and such, but it's really minimally grindy in that way.
posted by egregious theorem at 3:07 PM on August 16, 2019

Ctrl-f Slime Rancher 0/0

Okay, I'm going to suggest Slime Rancher. It's adorable and scritches my resource management itch really nicely.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:56 PM on August 16, 2019

Seconding Stellaris. Bought it on sale on GOG and have been losing weekends to it.
posted by daq at 5:22 PM on August 16, 2019

In our house we like this kind of game (the thing that seems to be the biggest hook for us is watching little people happily living the lives we have created for them). Stardew Valley may or may not do it for you, the scale is a little smaller. We still regularly replay Zeus and Pharaoh, oldies but still goodies. My husband has gotten very deeply into Surviving Mars and enjoys Frostpunk, which have similar mechanics. I think those can all be downloaded from (They also have a couple of other city-building games I have had my eye on for the next time I need to blow up my life.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:31 PM on August 16, 2019

Railroad Tycoon 2 still does it for me more than 20 years later.
posted by conifer at 3:00 AM on August 17, 2019

Response by poster: Well, I don’t know if I should thank you all or curse you, but I definitely have some new games! Just purchased :

* Cities : Skylines, with the Mass Transit and Industries expansions
* Oxygen not included
* Six ages : Ride Like the Wind, because... well, because obviously 😃

Anyways, this thread has been great! And please do let me know if you have any mods or expansions you’d recommend for Cities or Oxygen.
posted by panama joe at 10:40 AM on August 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

IMO the must-have expansions for Cities: Skylines when you get started with it are After Dark and Mass Transit.

Possibly the most sigNIFicant expansion for it is Industries. The changes it makes are profound enough that I'm still figuring it out after running three cities with it (while using the money cheat!). But that said, if you're a SimCity veteran, you might prefer to learn C:S with Industries, rather than learn C:S without it and then have to un-learn the stuff that Industries changes.

I do think, so far, that Industries adds meat to the game and is worth the mental effort to learn/experiment with.

In terms of learning curve, Parklife is sort of "Industries Lite," and a worthwhile expansion too.

I'll second the Planet Coaster recommendation only with the caveats that (A) if you're put off by too much of a need to master fine camera movement in three dimensions, it'll drive you nuts, and (B) you have to like amusement parks—Planet Coaster is the improved spiritual successor to Rollercoaster Tycoon in the same way that C:S is to SimCity. And like C:S, Planet Coaster has a frickin' amAAAZing mod community.

Whether C:S runs well on your laptop will depend on your laptop. Planet Coaster AFAICT is more of a resource hog than C:S.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:11 PM on August 17, 2019

I am also a big fan of Civ and SimCity and I adored Into the Breach. It's a turn-based strategy game, which I normally don't get on with at all, but there's something about the simplicity and progression of Into the Breach that really chimed with me in a way that games like Advance Wars never did.
posted by adrianhon at 3:13 AM on August 18, 2019

Polytopia is available on macOS/Windows, but also phones. It's effectively a single sitting game of Civ. A small tech tree, a small map, and a standard game length of 30 turns. Each tribe starts with a their own tech, which sorta makes for an optimization puzzle, both in the micro 'what do I do on this turn and in what order' sense and in the macro 'what techs do I spend resources to learn, and which buildings to spend on, so that I get more resources later' sense. You get like 3 tribes free, and additional tribes are like a dollar each. HW wise the Polytopia name comes from the low poly design. It should run on basically anything these days.
posted by pwnguin at 7:33 PM on August 18, 2019

Since discovering the first SimCity in the 1980's, Factorio is literally the only game I've ever found that holds my attention like that.

Backstory: you're in a spaceship, it crashes into an alien planet, everyone else passes away in the crash, there are bugs who want to eat you, and... you've got a wrench.

Gameplay: you use the wrench. You build mines to get materials, factories to build stuff, robot arms and belts to get the stuff to other factories, and generally, you build mostly science (to figure out how to build fancier stuff!), infrastructure (power, belts, more stuff), and defense (something to hold back the bugs).

Goal: get to the point you can launch a rocket, with a satellite on it that can call for help.

Takes about 40h for a play-through. Is wonderful multi-player, but can literally be played *forever* without a network connection, too. There's a lot of online help for "better" ways to do various things, and a ton of strategy you pick up as you go, to the point of "you still get better at this game many, many months into playing it."


X-Com: Enemy Unknown (and Enemy Within) are also wonderful, wonderful, wonderful ways to lose... a lot of hours, and are the only other games of the last ten years to come close to Factorio for me. ;-)
posted by talldean at 8:10 PM on August 18, 2019

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