The world is an uncaring place, full of danger and inedible berries. To cope with this unfortunate reality, humans have been forming communities for thousands and thousands of years. The first cities are a stuff of legend, and new settlements pop up to this day.
If you’ve always wanted to found/build your own village in an unpleasant place, you don’t have to travel to an alien planet, or discover a new landmass. You can just launch one of the colony-building games we’ve gathered on the list below and become a founder without leaving your house. And remember: it’s about more than just base-building. It’s about building a community!
Without further ado, here come…
|Oxygen Not Included||2017-05-18||Action & Shooter||Klei Entertainment|
|Cult of the Lamb||2022-08-11||Adventure||Massive Monster||23%|
|Patron||2021-08-10||City builder||Overseer Games||83%|
|Prison Architect||2015-10-06||Indie||Introversion Software||84%|
|Frostpunk||2018-04-24||Simulation||11 bit studios||87%|
|Banished||2014-02-18||Economy||Shining Rock Software LLC||59%|
|Medieval Dynasty||2020-09-17||Simulation||Render Cube||32%|
|They Are Billions||2017-12-12||Strategy||Numantian Games|
|Going Medieval||2021-06-01||Medieval||Foxy Voxel, Gramophone Games||61%|
|The Universim||2018-08-28||Simulation||Crytivo Games||72%|
|Settlement Survival||2021-10-11||Simulation||Gleamer Studio|
|Endzone - A World Apart||2020-04-02||Simulation||Gentlymad Studios||81%|
|Genre:||construction and management simulation|
|Developer:||Bay 12 Games|
In a way Dwarf Fortress is a platonic ideal of a colony sim. It’s incredibly complex, did procedural generation before it was the hot feature in seemingly every other game, and is a true anecdote generator. Although the original game is based on ASCII graphics, there is a more accessible version coming soon, adorned in proper graphics without affecting the structure of the game.
Even the world generation is a complex process, especially if you pick a large, old world. Once your PC is done overheating due to calculating the world’s history, culture and geological changes you can start carving an underground colony for a bunch of brave dwarves. Govern trade, build around lava lakes, and exploit, or suffer from, the staggering degree of simulation offered. DF is a masterpiece.
Dwarf Fortress is free to play game.
In a way RimWorld is a science fiction-themed version of Dwarf Fortress, albeit with much more readable graphics than DF’s default ASCII. You’re running a settlement on an alien planet, populated by a bunch of characterful colonists. There are many different biomes to survive in, plenty of threats, both environmental and coming from beast, aliens, pirates, or your people’s own incompetence.
RimWorld also has a very interesting feature: the AI Storyteller, which directs the style of your campaign. You can, for example, pick a chaotic Storyteller if you want to get weird, or go for a mellower AI for a chill playthrough. You have an entire planet to work with…and to endure, so picking the right Storyteller for your desired playstyle might be more important than it seems.
A change of pace from establishing a self-sustained colony, Prison Architect uses the genre’s trapping to have to create a functional and fully featured penitentiary facility. You’ll design the buildings, hire staff, set schedules, run reform programs for the inmates… and try to make profit at the same time. Prison Architect is as much a Dwarf Fortress as it is a business simulation, and it’s great at both.
There are several metrics by which your performance of judged, and you might, be fired if your reform programs are not effective, for example, or if you simply go bankrupt. The prisoners are ranked by the security levels, including the Death Row, but they also have their own needs which you’ll have to meet, or they’ll start causing trouble and not even your Guards might be able to control the riot.
|Developer:||11 bit studios|
The world is a frigid hellscape, and the only hope for your people to survive are coal-fueled heat generators. Frostpunk is a colony management sim set in an alternative version of the late 19th century suffering from a volcanic winter. You’re a ruler of a town built around one of the generators and you have to keep it running no matter what…but you also have to make sure your people don’t despair.
Balancing the needs of the infrastructure and the needs of the people grows harder with every passing day. Eventually you’ll have to start making uncomfortable compromises, sending children to the coal mines, establishing police hours, etc. Frostpunk is a game about the dark side of running a city in extreme conditions, with limited resources. It is exceptionally good, though.
|Developer:||Shining Rock Software LLC|
A group of people exiled from their homeland find a new place to settle. Much of your job will revolve around assigning your fellow outcasts to various areas of the map for construction, resource gathering, maintaining crops, etc. There are about twenty different jobs your people can perform, and all of them are going to be vital for your growing settlement’s long-term survival.
In time, if you do your job well, you’ll develop a thriving community that other wanderers in strange lands will be eager to join, offering their skills and aptitudes. Of course, it’s not smooth sailing all the way through. Banished isn’t above sending some calamity your way if it means knocking you out of the comfort zone and have you scrambling for a solution to whatever crisis befell your town.
|Genre:||city-building, beaver colony game|
Despite its green, lively aesthetic, make no mistake: Timberborn’s world is post-apocalyptic. Humans are long since dead, the world recovered, and was reclaimed by beavers. Thankfully for the game, these clever animals have just as much engineering and construction talent as humans, so you can, in fact build a thriving colony that’s well-prepared for the inevitable dry season.
There are two beaver faction to choose from, each with a different approach to the environment. Whichever faction you pick, you’re going to not only do the classic beaver thing of building elaborate dams, but also develop all kinds of useful technology, both for industry and for improving the quality of life in your colony. It’s a lovely game with a great theme, well worth checking out.
Medieval Dynasty shows your community-building endeavors from a different perspective. Instead of watching the world through a bird’s eye view, MD puts you in a first-person perspective as you go about crafting, building, creating a new place to live for yourself, helping the local community, and, eventually, founding your own dynasty to carry on your legacy.
Thanks to its approach, Medieval Dynasty is quite immersive and very engaging, while still offering a colony-building experience. There’s a questline to give you some direction if you find yourself lost at some point, but you can easily just do things at your own pace, at whatever order you want. Just be aware that MD features survival game mechanics, so watch your health and sustenance levels.
They Are Billions
They Are Billions takes a much more militant approach to building a thriving settlement, but it’s nevertheless quite compelling. The premise is simple: zombies infest the world, and if your colony is to survive in this unfriendly circumstance you’ll have to industrialize, build solid walls, and put a few turrets on them. Indeed, TAB is both a colony builder and also kind of a tower-defense game.
The game plays out in two fluid phases: the time to build, and the time to defend. When the zombies come, they are a sea of ravenous, rotten undead which will put your countermeasures to a difficult test. They Are Billions features a story-based, lengthy campaign digging into the story of the world, but if you’d rather enjoy some free play, then the survival mode is exactly that.
Although the Vikings are best-known for their raids an impeccable hair styling, there also had a knack for founding settlements. Northgard taps into that legacy and allows you to create your own Norse-style colony in an unfamiliar, and unfriendly, land. The titular island is more interested in Norse myths than history, which is why it’s rife with undead, giants and other fantastical creatures.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is exactly what you’d expect. You’re placing buildings on a map, assign jobs to your settlers, and prepare for the inevitable winter. Northgard is playable both solo, including a dedicated campaign, and online, sharing a land with other players. There are even dedicated servers for ranked play! Pick you clan and carve your history in the land of Northgard.
|Developer:||Foxy Voxel, Gramophone Games|
Going Medieval is kind of like a large-scale Medieval Dynasty that plays closer to the usual colony-building game, instead of a survival FPP. GM is set in late 14th century world, just as the continent starts recovering from the plague. You’re given powerful tools you can use to establish a new settlement and care for it as it grows from a humble village to a powerful city with stone walls.
Although Going Medieval is presently in Early Access, it already offers plenty of features an enterprising city-builder can latch onto, especially the robust, powerful construction tools. The roadmap is lengthy, and the already achieved goals include a trade system and diplomacy systems. If you’re looking for a competent, modern simulator of a medieval settlement, GM is for you.
Running a settlement, or even a city, is a very local matter, satisfying, if one’s into small-scale projects, but what about people with grand ambitions? Well, they might take a shine to The Universim, where you’re running entire planets, making them livable to a lovely alien species known as the Nuggets, who can’t do anything without your mighty guiding hand.
For all the grand scale you’re operating on, The Universim abstracts a lot of detail, turning planets into 3D dioramas of biomes and natural resources, rather than showing realistic globes. The decisions you make have repercussions, and growing an interplanetary Nugget empire takes planning, care, and delight, as you watch your people live their lives, launch little rockets, and blow stuff up.
Kingdoms and Castles
|Developer:||Lion Shield, LLC|
Kingdoms and Castles’ premise is encapsulated rather well in the game’s title. You’re building a castle around which a kingdom might eventually form. Of course, before you can turtle behind high stone walls, you’ll have to establish a settlement and take care of the villagers. That means giving them things to do, but also letting them blow off some steam in a tavern you’ve built for the purpose.
You’ll also have to prepare your city for inevitable catastrophes, be them a raider attack or a dragon deciding to fly by and burn your crops. Kingdoms and Castles has a nice, somewhat blocky and cartoonish, aesthetic that lends it a lot of charm, and looks very nice in motion. And you’ll see a lot of variants of the environments, because the changing weather and seasons provide visual diversity.
Build your people’s future
This concludes our list of colony games which put you in charge or designing and managing a brand-new settlement. There science fiction games, Medieval-esque settings, even a fantasy world or two. Plenty of themes to help you find something that appeals to you.