Paradox Interactive, $29.99
Rated E for Everyone
When I was in school, I spent a lot of timing messing around in SimCity 2000. I loved building cities from scratch, tinkering with the layouts, seeing whether I could bring a metropolis back from a natural disaster, and just enjoying the sandbox that a simulator like that provides.
Cities: Skylines is a much more advanced version of the same kind of game, and it provides all the enjoyment I remember from my childhood.
Available on computer, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, the game has a very simple premise: you create a city and try to help it grow as large as you can. In the process, you build roads, decide what areas will hold, plan power and water access, fine-tune taxes, and more.
In the basic game mode, you start with an empty square of land near a highway and a little bit of money you can use to build a few roads and provide water and electricity. Then you start zoning your little town, painting some areas as residential (where people live), some as commercial (where they shop and eat), and some as industrial (where they make stuff).
Once you have the basics in place, the people start coming. And when they start coming, they also start asking for things. They’ll let you know if your power station isn’t producing enough electricity or if the factory next door is too loud and dirty. Your goal is to meet their needs. Do it well, and more people will come bringing tax dollars you can use to build more stuff. Do it poorly and the people will move away.
The early game can be a little challenging—the game provides tips, but they aren’t detailed enough to know exactly what your little digital citizens need. Thankfully, Cities: Skylines is a popular game, and there are plenty of fan-made guides, articles, and YouTube series to fill in the gap.
The game really shines as your city starts to grow, though. Once you pass certain population milestones, you get access to more options—sort of like real life. After a few hundred people, you can build schools, trash collection, and hospitals. After a thousand, you can add police, designate specialized districts (like a tourist area), and build parks.
Later on, you’ll be expanding into new parts of the map, constructing elaborate public transit routes, turning small homes into large apartment buildings, and upgrading your technology. It gets immensely detailed and complicated—but it’s also addicting to tweak your city and watch it grow.
All the while, you’ll be making choices about what kind of city you want to build. One with high taxes and extensive services? A sprawling concrete jungle? A green-energy sanctuary? It’s up to you! But you’ll have to find ways to balance all your residents’ needs. For instance, a coal power plant is cheaper than wind power, but it also pollutes the land and makes people sick. What choice is right for your city?
With the purchase of some optional additional content, you can also play through some scenarios. Rather than building your dream city from scratch, you take over a city to solve a certain problem—like recovering from a natural disaster or instituting an efficient mass transit system.
There is also a large community providing custom mods for the game—including everything from new maps you can build your city on to famous landmarks you can place in your town—adding to the experience.
All of these options mean that Cities: Skylines works as both pure enjoyment, like a digital kind of Legos, or as a more educational game, teaching players intricate details about how cities function.
Have you played a good board game or video game, read a good book, or seen a good movie? Submit a review to Insights by the time the next issue comes out, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Cities: Skylines. Find details on the submission page.