Put on your gubernatorial hat and rule the world with the best tycoon sims and management games of all time.
August 26, 2015 Update: We’ve added a number of new entries to this list. Check them out within.
Business doesn’t always have to be serious. Business can be fun. Also, business usually has a tight set of rules and revolves around resource allocation. So in a way, business in the real world already is a sort of game. But if you want to play that game, it’s actually much easier to just turn on your PC and play one of the many great business tycoon simulations out there.
There is a special flavor for everyone. Historical business simulation? Done. Present day urban planning? Got it. Science fiction space station businesses? Yeah why not.
This is a very PC centric genre, there are few ports on consoles that are above anything but “passable”. Interestingly enough though, it seems mobile touch devices see the most innovative new entries here, leading to a small renaissance of a genre that was in a steady decline into obscurity for years now.
#20 Prison Tycoon
See, Introversion Softworks Prison Architect is actually not the first “lock’em up”. It’s probably not Prison Tycoon either. But Prison Tycoon takes a very different approach. The game tries to be LAPD Blue serious, and not fun at all, which given the grim subject matter doesn’t really make for that great a game. Especially when considering how problematic the prison industry in the US actually is.
#19 Dungeon Keeper
Upending fantasy roleplaying genre conventions, Dungeon Keeper tasks the player with building and defending a mighty dungeon against invading heroes. Created by game design antihero Peter Molyneux before he became the laughing stock of venerated game designers, Dungeon Keeper is truly a great game that had a big impact on the overall genre for years to come.
#18 Imperium Romanum
Inspired by the popular Caesar series, Imperium Romanum tasks the player to take care of certain hairy scenarios during ancient Roman times. Unlike other tycoon games, there is no regular business building mode, but just a number of levels, the player has to get through, akin to certain scenarios in the Sim City games.
#17 Tiny Tower
Another super successful portable title, Tiny Tower took the iOS and Android devices by storm, selling like crazy and – of course – inspiring a ton of clones. The game is simple enough. Build a skyscraper, floor by floor. Sim City / Tower style. But with the typical mobile gaming caveats like a lot of in built microtransactions.
A spiritual successor to both Dungeon Keeper and Theme Hospital, made by ex Bullfrog employees, Startopia has the player create a space station to accommodate a variety of aliens with special needs. As the Theme- games and Dungeon Keeper, Startopia is a bit silly in tone, but delivers quite intricate business simulation underneath.
Bad people are always doing well, as the saying goes. Also, being the ruthless dictator of a carribean paradisical island can be a hard job, a taxing job. So of course you are entitled to a few spoils. A nice big presidential palace. Stylish sunglasses. Tropico has been around since 2001, seen three sequels, with Tropico 5 apparently in the making. Bad people are always doing well. So little surprise there.
#14 Anno 2070
Another series originating from the Heroic Age of German Business Simulation, the Anno series combines city building, trading and real time strategy elements to a sizzling mix that has seen a half dozen entries to the series so far, a couple of ports and spinoffs, as well as a trip to the future in the most recent Anno 2070.
#13 Airline Tycoon
This German made series of tycoon games originated in the late 1990s, the Heroic Age of German Business Simulation. As the name implies, the object of the games is managing an airline, buying planes, having affairs with air hostesses (it’s a German game…) and the like. The series was eventually released outside of Germany, several times actually, eventually with a dedicated plane building mode attached.
Another venerated series, Caesar harkens back to ancient Roman times of 1992 AD. Because nothing says city building like building Rome (and certainly not in a day), Caesar successfully combined aspects of Sim City and Civilization in one neat packet, that eventually should see three sequels and a number of spinoffs, namely Pharao and Zeus – Master of Olympus.
#11 Cities XL
The biggest feature of this bold Sim City clone was supposed to be a massive multiplayer mode that would have connected the cities built by the individual players. Sadly, Cities XL lacked the required player numbers to make this a viable longer term option, so the servers were turned off in 2010, a year after release, already. The game having a subscription fee certainly didn’t help the lack of popularity.
#10 Sim City
Another classic line, and one of the longest running franchises in gaming history, Sim City invented the city building and urban planning simulation genre. The first Sim City was released back in 1989, and has seen four full sequels since, as well as a plethora of spinoffs and related games with the “Sim-” moniker. Fans regard Sim City 4 as the best urban planning game yet, especially since the whole always online DRM disaster that plagued the most recent, 2013 version of the game.
#9 Railroad Tycoon
Rollercoasters aren’t that different from trains. Both go on rails, sometimes they go in circles and uphill and, uh yeah well. Both go on rails. That’s where the similarities stop pretty much. Conceived by game design legend Sid Meyer, Railroad Tycoon was one of the very early and very big business simulations of this kind, featuring a lot of intricate subsystems like a mini stockmarket to model supply demands for goods, financial models and other underlying aspects, making it a surprsingly complex title.
Turning preconceived notions about genre on its head, this Japanese gem has the player run an item shop in a random RPG town. By day, items have to be sold, tycoon style, while by night, items have to be hunted in various, randomized dungeons. Reccetear proved to be both a huge critical and commercial success, especially since it was published on Steam in the west.
#7 Cafeteria nipponica
Developed by the Kairosoft, the developers of Game Dev Story, this cute little restaurant sim has the player, well, run a restaurant. In style. In retro style. Cute little 16bit era sprites run around, rating, ranting and complaining about what the chef brings them, combining elements from popular tycoon games and the likes of the Sims.
#6 Game dev story
Here we have a rare example of a portable tycoon game. Game Dev Story so far is only available for iOS and Android devices. The player is put in charge of a fictional video game company, tasked to bring them to greatness. While being a meaty tycoon game underneath, the game also heavily features subtext on the actual state of the video game development industry between the lines.
#5 Cities in Motion
One of the more serious titles on this list, Cities in Motion puts the player in charge of improving and cleaning up the public transportation network of a number of existing cities. The main game featured Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and London, while a bunch of additional cities in different parts of the world were later added through expansion packs.
#4 Theme Hospital
Just as Theme Park, this game was also developed by Bullfrog, may this legendary developer rest in peace. While Theme Park already wasn’t the most serious game in the world, Theme Hospital cranked up the silliness. And for good reason. In the late 90s, the British press was all but ready to tear down this game early on, for making light of the serious business of sickness, ailment and disease. So instead of dealing with real ailments, the patients at Theme Hospital suffer from comical, fictional ones, making the game immune to controversy.
#3 Theme Park
Before Rollercoaster Tycoon, there was Theme Park, one of the tycoon business simulation genre’s grandfathers. Back in the mid 90s, the genre was still relatively young and booming. Theme Park, while being one of the bigger games from that time, didn’t prove to be a long lasting franchise. There were two half hearted, cash in sequels that couldn’t recreate the original’s appeal, and eventually the audience went over to Rollercoaster Tycoon.
#2 Prison Architect
While it’s not officially out yet, Introversion Softworks self declared “world’s first lock’em up” looks all kinds of fun. And the focus here is on slightly silly fun, as opposed to other games dealing with this quite serious topic that go a grim and gritty route that is no less silly at the end of the day.
#1 Rollercoaster Tycoon
Up, down, looping, whee! Roller Coasters are the best. What began as a more focused, less silly version of Theme Park eventually turned into a huge franchise, boasting two sequels, a spinoff and a dizzying array of expansion packs. The last entry into the long running (looping?) series was a 3D enhanced version for Nintendo’s 3DS last year.
2015 Entry: Cities: Skylines
Cities: Skylines may not have been developed by EA Maxis, but it’s certainly what most of its players and fans of the simulation/tycoon genre would consider to be the true successor to the Sim City series of games. Unburdened by the DRM disaster that affected Sim City 2013, or really, any of that game’s flaws, Cities: Skylines is everything players wanted from a city builder, including the ability to mod the game fully.
2015 Entry: Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!
Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! is a unique simulation game in which you manage your very own weapon shop and expand its business across a world inhabited by potatos. The game itself is chock full of clever references to a variety of media and is very well written.
2015 Entry: Offworld Trading Company
Venture off planet and rekindle humanity’s adventurous spirit by pioneering for new fortunes in the untapped resources of Mars, the red planet, in Offworld Trading Company. Developed by the designer of Civilization IV, Offworld Trading Company is an economic and management simulator that plays out in real-time.
2015 Entry: Basement
Basement is a strategy game in which you play… well, Walter White. Much like in Breaking Bad, you play the role of a teacher/scientist who took the wrong turns in life and now you have “no choice” but to build the most effective illegal enterprise, managing your underground basement operation.