I played 20 city builders in 2023, and these are the 4 I loved most

A medieval city
(Image credit: Dear Villagers)

Before you scroll down in a flurry of mouse-wheeling to see if Cities: Skylines 2 is on this list… it's not. Believe me, it feels weird to say that considering how excited I was to play it, and I'm still optimistic that patches and improvements will make it the game we all hoped it would be.

Luckily we're in a genuine city builder boom, and even with Skylines 2 being a bit wobbly at launch, there are lots of city builders standing strong this year. It's such an incredibly healthy genre right now, whether you like survival, strategy, puzzle, roguelikes, or comfy-cozy-chill builders, there's something for just about any city builder fan. 

In fact, in my list of the four best city builders I played this year, I couldn't help but add an honorable mention for another city builder that fits the same category.

City builder you'd love to live in: Fabledom

(Image credit: Grenaa Games)

Fabledom is drenched in charm. It sets out to create a fairytale vibe and utterly nails it with the art and characters. It's like building a cozy city in a children's storybook about witches, princesses, beanstalks, and enchanted trees—because all those things are in the game.

As you build your busy little fairytale city you'll also have your eye on the realm at large around it. There are other regions with rulers presiding over their own people, and getting to know them, trade with them, and even romance them via gift-giving is key to giving your city an edge. Is a nearby princess fond of carrots? Set your farmers on a quest to grow enough to please her. Just don't let your villagers starve in the meantime.

You can also attract a hero to your village and begin exploring beyond your starting borders. Witches curses, talking trees, flying pigs, and all sorts of fantasy elements fill in the edges of the game. It's still in early access so Fabledom isn't complete yet, but it's off to one heck of a great start.
Honorable mention: Cute-as-heck board game city builder Cardboard Town 

City builder with a twist: Against the Storm

(Image credit: Eremite Games)

Against the Storm has been around for a while, first as an Epic exclusive, then popping into early access on Steam, and just this month reaching a heralded 1.0 release. That means you have no more excuses to put off playing it, and once you get a taste of the roguelike twist in this city builder you're gonna find it hard to stop.

If you're used to your cities growing endlessly until you decide to abandon them and start over, you won't have that issue in Against the Storm. Your settlements serve a greater purpose: to generate supplies that support the last real city in the world, and the little cities you build will periodically be wiped out by the titular storm. In addition to racing against that tempest's clock, you're dealing with the queen of the city, an impatient and unsympathetic boss who won't hesitate to give you the boot if you don't meet her objectives. Succeed, however, and you'll earn permanent upgrades you can use in your future settlements.

It sounds hectic, and it certainly can be, but Against the Storm somehow also manages to have a chill vibe (though it did just receive an ultrahard mode in the 1.0 update, if you do like being punished). Each settlement you build will have different resources available and different goals to achieve, making each restart feel like a fresh new beginning.

Honorable mention: Pre-apocalyptic roguelike city builder Dotage 

City builder that will puzzle you: Urbo

A small village

(Image credit: Door 407)

Not every city builder has to be about balancing a budget, managing roads and routes, and keeping citizens happy. More and more city building puzzle games have been unfolding lately, and Urbo is not only beautiful but challenging in a perfectly chill way. Imagine the puzzle game Threes but with buildings, and you're halfway there.

You begin on a small grid and start adding buildings of different levels. Put three one-level buildings adjacent to one other, and they'll merge into a single two-level building. Three twos will make one three. And so on. As you carefully merge your smaller buildings into bigger ones, you'll have to think about how much room you have left and how you can use it most efficiently to avoid running out of space. You'll also earn cards by merging buildings, which supply you with one-time specialty moves. It's great fun, and it's downright beautiful, too.

Honorable mention: Chill and challenging city builder puzzler Terrascape 

City builder for your phone: Pocket City 2

City building game

(Image credit: Codebrew Games)

Yeah, I'm a writer for PC Gamer and I'm recommending a city builder that is currently only available for your phone. I contain multitudes. What of it?

Not only do I enjoy playing a city builder on my phone—and I never thought I'd say that—but I think city builders on PC could learn a heck of a lot from Pocket City 2. It's super satisfying to grow my itty bitty city, which throws tons of quests and missions your way, but you can also shrink yourself down and enjoy not just walking around your city but being a citizen of it.

Shop at the stores you built. Buy one of the houses that's popped up, and decorate it. Do some hands-on maintenance work like road repair and garbage cleanup. Build an animal shelter, adopt a pet, and take it home. Yeah. You can do that. In a lot of ways Pocket City 2 is the ultimate city builder, because not only can you build the city of your dreams, you can put your feet right onto the streets and genuinely live in it. Way cool.

Honorable mention: Little bitty mobile city builder Cityscapes: Sim Builder 

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.