Simulators are something near and dear to my heart regarding gaming. I’m not sure how, but at some point after a lifetime of being a hardcore gamer, raiding in World of Warcraft or pouring hundreds of hours into AAA RPGs like Skyrim, Fallout, Dragon Age, Fable, and most recently, Starfield, I have found the corner of the universe where building simulators live.
I’ve already covered the strangest simulators out there, with Viscera Cleanup Detail and Rock Simulator (seriously?) being among the weirdest, and yes, even Goat Simulator had a place among them. I’ve also covered our favorite farming simulators because, let’s face it, Stardew Valley is how we all ended up here. Recently, I’ve had time with Pheonix Labs’ Fae Farm, which has completely taken over my life.
This list, however, will cover an array of simulators, including some farming sims, building sims, dating sims, and life simulators in general. But what makes the best simulator? That varies from game to game. Some may let us live out our wildest fantasies living in giant mansions. Some may let us commit numerous murders by building rollercoasters with busted tracks. Who knows where the best building sim list will take us? Let’s find out!
I’m starting here because it’s my latest craze. Fae Farm is another addition to the very, very long list of farming simulators out there, and I will try to keep those to a minimum here. This game gives off the ultimate cozy vibes, literally. There is a mechanic where the items you craft and decorate your home with (homes of which you can have many) directly influence your “Cozy” meter. You can specify your health, mana, or energy just by decorating.
Pheonix Labs also granted farming sim loves the ultimate wish: tools don’t take up bag space, and you don’t have to select them manually. If you walk up to a tree, you’ll swing your axe. You’ll pull out your watering can if you’re in your garden. They simplified the process, and it made things so much more streamlined. I’m obsessed.
You can make friends and lovers, have multiple homes, clear dungeons, fulfill quests, fish, catch bugs, cook, and more. Building furniture and crafting stations are a massive part of the game as well, landing it on the best building sims list. Fae Farm also makes multiplayer a new experience by having friends create characters specifically for your world. If you are a fan of the farming sim genre, this is one you don’t want to miss.
This is another new kid on the block, and yes, there is farming involved, but I wouldn’t call this a farming sim persay. Palia is an MMO life simulator that brings new benefits to playing with friends. You and your friends can freely visit each other’s homes, and depending on your settings, they can help do chores, decorate, and more. Cooking is an experience that can be shared, with different players taking on different tasks like chopping or stirring, and everyone gets food to take home!
Palia features a cozy town with plenty of friends to make or romance as well, and you’ll find lots to forage and share with other friends in Kilima Village. As the first game coming from Singularity Six, they promise plenty more content to come. They have already brought out some new content, considering the game only recently launched into its open beta. Palia is a perfect no-stress sim that lets you build and design plenty of furniture, buildings, and more. Oh, and did I mention it’s free to play? How could you go wrong?
Obviously, we had to include the ultimate city builder on the best building sims list. Cities: Skylines is not for the faint of heart. With every road, building, and overpass, you control everything from the ground up, starting with next to nothing. Their Steam page boasts that the game is easy to learn but hard to master”, which couldn’t be more true. Maintaining your city is just as hard as building it.
The game also has a plethora of DLC, with everything from a 90s pop radio station to After Dark nighttime content to area-specific content with Brooklyn & Queens. Cities: Skylines is available on Xbox Game Pass now, so there is no excuse not to jump in and get your feet wet.
Cities: Skylines II
You didn’t think we’d miss this one, did you? Cities: Skylines II just launched! Though the original game is a great place to test out how you like it, mainly because of Game Pass, there is no other reason not to jump into the new version.
Cities: Skylines II has brought a few changes to the original, like more flexible road tools, traffic AI, and public transportation. One of the prettiest additions, though, is the new weather systems. You can see your city covered in snow with all new climates! Cities: Skylines II is available on PC now, with consoles coming later.
Cat Cafe Manager
I reviewed this game on Nintendo Switch a few years back reluctantly. Little did I know, Cat Cafe Manager was the game I raved about more than anything that year. Yes, it’s a simple management simulator, but you can build a small cafe with various styles and plenty of cats. You befriend the patrons and shop for new materials and bonuses. This is a game I go back to when I need a smile and something a bit more simplistic, but it is still one of my favorites, which puts it on the Best Building Sims list!
As I mentioned before, Stardew Valley is obviously the gateway simulator that leads you to a world of things you never thought possible. As possibly the most talked about farming simulator, ported to the biggest number of platforms, Stardew Valley has to be on the best building simulator list.
For those who don’t know, Stardew Valley tasks you with taking over the family farm. Here, you learn to till soil and care for crops, tend to all sorts of animals, including a dinosaur, for no reason in particular, and build your farm to best suit your needs. There are various land formations to choose from, a few different questlines to follow, not to mention endless romance options. This leaves Stardew Valley with an insane amount of replay value, and most people I know always find their way back to it.
This is an oldie but a goodie. I can remember playing RollerCoaster Tycoon on Windows around the same time I played The Sims in 2000. It was the first simulator I played that took a new spin on things, meaning not The Sims or Sim City. It brought new creativity to my fingertips and allowed me to create wild rides that would most definitely kill someone, and who doesn’t love that?
RollerCoaster Tycoon has been on a number of platforms, including PC, Nintendo Switch, and even mobile. This year, in time for the holidays, Atari is bringing physical editions of RollerCoaster Tycoon with RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures Deluxe to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, so now is a great time to jump back in!
Two Point Campus
I’ve gotten the chance to cover Two Point Campus a few times now, and every time I jump back in, I remember how much fun it is. Essentially, you are tasked to build the ultimate post-secondary school, but of course, none of the classes are normal. Get your students enrolled in Knight School or teach them to make giant cakes. You won’t find your standard math class here.
You’re also in charge of ensuring your staff and students stay happy and successful, so on top of the building portion of the game, there are different mechanics to consider. Two Point Campus already features a few other DLCs, like Space Academy, School Spirits, and the recently released Medical School, so there is plenty of content. Two Point Hospital is the previous title in the series if you end up loving it!
This one might not have the fancy graphics that Cities: Skylines does, but who doesn’t want to start a new life on Mars? City builders come in many shapes and sizes, and I’m always excited for a sci-fi version. Surviving Mars is definitely a builder you will need to get the hang of, but once you do, it’s a great time.
Build domes, keep your colonies breathing, and manage resources so your builds don’t start to fail. Your technology tree will be randomized with each playthrough, so there is always something new to take on each time you start a new world. If you’re looking for a challenge, Surviving Mars might be the best building sim for you!
Let’s Build a Zoo
Let’s Build a Zoo just makes me happy. I know it’s not very technical. Not only do I love its style and gameplay, but I love how quickly your zoo can descend into anarchy. Let’s Build a Zoo lets you fall into the good or evil category based on how you treat your animals, staff, and patrons. You can build the zoo however you like, with various animals, types of enclosures, food stalls, and more.
What’s better, though, is that you can also breed animals together to create crimes against nature and incinerate animals when you set them free. Alternatively, if you want to go the “good” route, you can breed happy little animal families and release them into the wild when they are ready. Let’s Build a Zoo is a lot of wholesome, or not so wholesome, fun, and I highly recommend it.
Disney Dreamlight Valley
Ah, Disney Dreamlight Valley. The game that got every Disney fan I know incredibly excited to jump into a life/building sim that features fan favorites like Mickey and Minnie, Goofy, Moana, and more. Though most wouldn’t call this a building sim specifically, I would argue that you get to design your home, place everyone else’s homes wherever you want, and craft and decorate your town as you see fit, so I’d call that a best building sim!
I will say Disney Dreamlight Valley has had some issues since it is technically an early access title. There have been performance problems, especially on Nintendo Switch, and forums are filled with complaints. However, that never stopped me from playing. Gameloft is constantly updating the game, not only because of bugs, but new content is released regularly with friends from The Lion King, Toy Story Froze, and many more already in the game.
Now, hear me out. At first glance, Prison Architect doesn’t look like many of the other games on our Best Building Sims list. I get that. But what it does have is over 54,000 positive reviews on Steam. What it lacks in graphics, it makes up for in…chaos? This building sim is published by Paradox Interactive, the same people behind Cities: Skylines. You can even buy it in a bundle with their other titles.
Build the prison of your dreams, or the prison of their nightmares, by customizing the prisoner’s cells. You must also choose what kind of rooms to build based on the prisoner’s treatment needs. Besides, there is an escape mode, and that’s just awesome.
Play it on Steam.
Okay, so I may have been three when this game came out, but it was a giant part of my childhood. This is the oldest introduction I have to building Sims, so there is no way it couldn’t make my Best Building Sims list. I think the reason I really got into it was because every time I tried to play Sim Earth, I couldn’t make anything happen. SimCity at least showed me some progress.
SimCity was the early stages of building sims with limited options like Power lunges, Residential, Commercial, and Industrial zones, Railroads, Roads, two kinds of power—Nuclear and Coal—Police and Fire, Parks, Seaports, Airports, and Stadiums. That’s it. Building Sims has grown since then, but this was the beginning for me.
Find it on emulators!
The Sims 4
The Sims 4 might be the longest-running building sim on our Best Building Sims list. Released in 2014 on PC, it went on to console releases in 2014 with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. You can find it on our current-gen Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, PC, and Mac.
The Sims series allows you to simulate life with jobs, relationships, and goals and build your home as it pleases you. Giant mansions, tiny shacks, children’s bedrooms, and epic game rooms are all options in The Sims 4, and new content is still being released. There are so many expansions that you’ll never run out of things to do or items to place, so obviously, it makes the Best Building Sims list!
This one comes from Frontier Developments, who made Planet Coaster and Zoo Tycoon, so they know something about…planets…and zoos! More than anything, I think Planet Zoo is just really, really beautiful (if you don’t look at the people, I don’t know what happened there). Released in 2019, it is still one of the better-looking building sims to date.
This one has over 61,000 positive reviews on Steam. You can make a zoo you’d love to walk through with a piece-by-piece building system. Your choices directly affect your animals as well, so many management sim qualities are involved, too. With over 15 expansion packs, you can always build a ton in Planet Zoo.
Find it on Steam.
This one is a newer title, coming out in June of this year. I have to say, my first run-in with Park Beyond didn’t go as planned. On Xbox Series X, I found a lot of issues with placement and found myself frustrated more often than not. Luckily, I didn’t have the same issues when I jumped to PC.
Park Beyond is like RollerCoaster Tycoon on steroids. You can make some of the craziest roller coasters you can think of. There are also plenty of other rides, themes, and many other kinds of buildings to include. Decorate them in the submenus and create the park of your dreams. Park Beyond also feeds my need for chaos by letting you make roller coasters that might not meet safety standards, so keep an eye on your guests!
Jurassic World Evolution 2
If you are looking for a building sim—or zoo simulator—with a flair for the dramatic, look no further than Jurassic World Evolution 2. Many of these zoo-like building sims are similar in that you choose the type of habitats, animals, shops, and features, but Jurassic World Evolution 2 brings some drama, as often your dinosaurs will escape.
Create stronger barriers, bring in more kinds of dinos, and manage your staff to keep them all happy, or your patrons might be on the menu! This one also has a bunch of expansions, including new species and biomes, to keep your prehistoric creatures happy. It is a lot of fun if you’re looking for a different take on a building sim!