I swear that I’m not a control freak. It’s just that certain games make me look like one. I’m an easygoing guy, but when a game puts me in charge of a city, I’ll move heaven and earth to get my blocks lined up in orderly rectangles neatly lined up according to the cardinal directions. Don’t think I won’t tear down that hospital and move it one tile over!
There must be a lot of gamers out there like me, because I have a full library of management sims that let me design, build, and give orders to my heart’s content. There are too many fantastic titles out there for this to be an exhaustive list, but here are few of my recent favorites. If you have an inner control freak just begging to be put in charge of a theme park, hospital, city, or sprawling factory, give one of these a try.
Keep dinosaurs from running amok in Jurassic Park Evolution
If there was a moral to the classic ‘90s book and film Jurassic Park, it’s that there’s no way to safely bring back dinosaurs—especially the carnivorous kind. Now that I’m playing Jurassic Park Evolution, it’s fair to ask if I actually learned that lesson. Now that I have my own virtual dinosaur park to design and run, I’m gleefully trying my own hand at the all-but-impossible task of safely putting the most fearsome predators in the Earth’s history on display for rich tourists. So far, I haven’t accidentally unleashed a pack of velociraptors on my science team, but it’s only a matter of time.
Image source: Gamesplanet
Jurassic Park Evolution put me right in the middle of creating my own theme park with live dinosaurs. My first impression was that this is a gorgeous game. The jungle-covered hills are covered in vivid greenery, and the landscape is rich with detail that only gets more engrossing as I zoom in for a closer look. The main attraction, of course, is the dinosaurs. Every time I successfully hatch a new one and release it into an enclosure, the game rewards me with a closeup view of its first steps. Even the relatively tame herbivores are fun to watch as they stomp out into the long grass. The imposing carnivores are downright menacing.
A major theme of Jurassic Park is the unavoidable conflict between the security of the park and its guests, the excitement of pursuing new science, and the necessity of making money. Jurassic Park Evolution makes this conflict vivid and alive. Play it too safe with dinosaurs that don’t pose much of a security threat, and you’ll struggle to make enough money to pay the bills. But keeping up with all of the research and security needs necessary to house a Tyrannosaurus Rex is no mean feat. I tried this game out because of my nostalgia for the Michael Crichton classic, but stayed because of the rewarding balancing act it forces me to walk.
Factorio is the most fun you’ll ever have with conveyor belts
Sometimes Steam user reviews speak for themselves. Check out a list of the highest-reviewed games on that platform, and you’ll find a little-heralded management game near the top of the list: 2020’s Factorio. This game built up a following during its lengthy early-access development, and has garnered well earned accolades since its full release.
So what kind of a game is it? Factorio blends real-time strategy, construction, and survival elements into a unique mix. You survive by navigating your character across a large 2D map, harvesting resources and fending off attacks from against increasingly dangerous beasts. The twist is that the game lets you construct buildings that automate essentially all of your tasks from mining resources to gunning down enemies to creating new materials. It doesn’t take long before you’re earnestly devising a vast Rube Goldberg machine, using the materials and outputs of your current structures to develop an ever-more complex factory. It’s a rewarding gameplay loop that’s refreshingly original.
Not sure if this is your kind of game? There’s a free demo on Steam that lets you try before you buy. Give it a whirl and see what everyone’s talking about.
Cities: Skylines offers classic city-building done right
It's a familiar premise. You’re in charge of a city, and have to carefully manage zoning, taxes, public transportation, roads, and other functions of urban life to keep your city growing and prosperous. Cities: Skylines might be familiar, but it stands out for the quality of its execution.
Image source: Gamesplanet
One crucial aspect of any city builder is how it helps players manage complexity, and Cities: Skylines does this as well as any sim I’ve tried. The game keeps life simple with a straightforward visual filter system that lets you focus on one aspect of your city at a time: crime, pollution, public transportation, property values, and others. When there’s a problem, icons appear above buildings to signal what’s going on.
Where Cities: Skylines really stands out is its simulation of traffic. The realistic movement of people around your city is both astounding to watch and the source of an endless string of satisfying gameplay challenges. Setting up a congestion-free network of roads is no once-and-done effort. Finding budget-friendly solutions to the transportation problems of a growing city is an ongoing process that requires planning, experimentation, and the willingness to make big changes.
Even if you manage to exhaust the possibilities of the base game and its many DLCs, there’s a huge mod community out there. The developers built the game from the ground up to be friendly to community contributions, and the collective creative genius of the fanbase has led to some fantastic additions to the base game, like a first person mode.
Airborne Kingdom takes city management to a new horizon
My lifelong obsession with sims has taken me to some outlandish locations over the years. I’ve built colonies on the surface of Mars and in the underground depths of an asteroid. I’ve constructed cities in just about every historical epoch imaginable. I’ve even helped humanity hang on by its fingernails in a future ice age. But Airborne Kingdom is the first I’ve played that tasks me with building a city in the sky.
This concept layers a fascinating set of engineering challenges onto the usual tropes of city building. You have to manage a growing population, of course, and all of their typical needs and desires. But you also have to make sure that your city doesn’t tip over. As it turns out, people don’t like living on a perpetual incline—and they really don’t like sliding off and plummeting to their death. Who knew? As you construct more buildings in your flying metropolis, drag increases, and you’ll have to beef up your air speed to compensate.
Your aerial city is always on the move. There’s plenty to explore, which is a breath of fresh air for this genre. You’ll have to send your population on expeditions for resources, and along the way you’ll uncover secrets and interact with ground-based kingdoms. Different regions that you travel to have different kinds of resources available, so you have to plan ahead accordingly to make sure that your citizens are well-supplied.
The unique perspective makes Airborne Kingdom a visual spectacle, as well. With the clouds floating by and the ground far below, every camera angle feels like a cinematic screenshot. Its beauty makes it a uniquely relaxing game to play. There are interesting problems to solve, to be sure, but life up in the clouds always feels like a welcome escape from the troubles of the world below.
Two Point Hospital is a laugh-out-loud take on hospital management
Some sims stand out from the crowd by increasing their scope beyond cities to countries and even civilizations. Others tighten their focus to find fascinating gameplay opportunities. One of these is Two Point Hospital. It puts you in charge of a series of medical facilities as you cure a bewildering array of made-up illnesses.
Image source: Gamesplanet
The puns come fast and quick and the game's visual style is delightfully cartoonish, but make no mistake: this is a deep game full of interesting choices. You have to plan for every stage of the patient experience. People with undiagnosed problems will walk through your door with no clue as to where to go, so you have to set up a reception and hire an assistant. From there, patients will need to be diagnosed. There’s no guarantee that the general practitioner you hire will be able to diagnose the stream of patients that run through his or her office, so you’ll have to build a ward, set up a general diagnosis machine, and maybe a couple more specialized rooms.
And all of that comes before the actual process of, you know, curing patients. Illnesses range from lightheadedness (patients with literal light bulbs for heads) to jest infection (patients who look like clowns). Some can be cured with a simple trip to the pharmacy, but many require specialized treatment rooms, some of which have to be researched before you can build them. Curing patients builds up your reputation in the community, but it also sends more people through your doors, requiring you to expand your facilities even further.
Curing patients is the main point of your hospital, of course, but there are a lot of other concerns to manage. Your doctors expect to be paid, even when they’re filling in for a position they’re unqualified for because their coworker is taking a break in the staff room. Patients don’t like to sit in freezing waiting rooms, and get grumpy if you don’t provide them with convenient restrooms, magazine racks, and snack machines. And should you let a patient die, you’ll have an angry ghost on the premises scaring off the clientele. Better hope you have a janitor who knows how to vacuum up spirits.
It’s a complex game, but it also has a tightly balanced learning curve that keeps you fully engaged while you’re learning the ropes. In a genre full of games that take themselves a little bit too seriously, Two Point Hospital offers a welcome dose of levity. For an equal measure of problem-solving challenges and cringe-worthy puns, grab your own copy of this game and try your hand at running a hospital.
Too many other fantastic sims to mention
The PC platform has always been an excellent place to find fascinating sims. Dig in, and you’ll find a world of fascinating options. I could wax poetic about cult classic Dwarf Fortress. I’m as earnest a missionary for Frostpunk as you’ll ever find. And I will not, under any circumstances, publicly admit how much time I’ve spent gleefully building colonies in Oxygen Not Included, and I’m already worried about how much time I’m going to spend exploring its upcoming DLC.
All the games here offer a fresh take on an endlessly fascinating genre. Download one on your ROG PC and get started on managing your own city, park, or hospital today.