The Tycoon games genre was massively popular for a while but has lately subsided, leaving all of its players with plenty of fond memories, and the most dedicated with some impressive save files of their various creations’ days of glory. These games had a unique appeal mostly because of the combination of skills they took to be good at, including many that are useful in the real world too, such as resource and time management, strategic and contingency planning, and creativity. Based in a plethora of industries, the different tycoon games could have you in one of many roles, whether it be city architect, zoo builder, airline manager or prison warden. Here are our top 5 picks for best Tycoon games ever.
Honorable mention – Game Dev Story (1997)
We’re kicking things off with a game that didn’t make the top five, but only just by a hair’s breadth. The game in question is Game Dev Story, a 1997 hit title which put the players in charge of running a small (at first) game development studio, competing on the market with other international gaming companies. As the manager, you’re tasked with hiring staff, controlling the speed and direction of development, as well as using various items to boost worker’s performance, all of which has an impact on the quality of the games you release (of course, you’re looking for your games to be hits!). Full of humor, witty writing and historical references pertaining to the world of gaming, Game Dev Story was (and is) especially enjoyable for hardcore gamers who could catch all those tidbits. Game Dev Story can also be enjoyed on the telephone, as it got its iOS/Android port in 2010, and Windows phone in 2015.
Zoo Tycoon (2001)
Zoo Tycoon is a popular series with multiple games spanning multiple platforms, the first of which is arguably the best. This is perhaps due to its novelty at the time, as all of the games in the series boast (more or less) the same engaging gameplay. As the name implies, the game lets you see what it’s like to be Matt Damon in “We Bought a Zoo”. I haven’t actually seen that movie but it’s can’t NOT be about running a successful zoo, right? Whatever that movie is about, Zoo Tycoon is all about building and operating the most popular and attractive zoo, while managing the satisfaction of both your visitors and animals. This includes building and expanding your establishment, buying animals, providing them with suitable habitats and allocate resources and staff for animal maintenance and care (nobody wants a dangerous animal on the loose that can hurt paying customers, right?). The visitors also need to be appeased with ever more interesting animals to see, snacks and beverages for refreshment, areas for various activities and all around a zoo that is pleasing to the eye.
SimCity 4 (2003)
City building games might be only a specific off-shoot of the Tycoon genre (some don’t even consider them tycoons), but it was precisely a city builder that started the avalanche of tycoon games, way back in 1989. The original SimCity was the pioneer of the genre, with later installations building (yes, all my puns are intended) on the knowledge gathered from the previous ones, culminating with SimCity 4, widely regarded as the best in the series. Building and managing a city is hardly a walk in the park, as you need to keep an eye out on a ton of factors, including the environment, finances and quality of life of your residents. The difficulty in achieving this is perhaps the reason why it’s so satisfying when you do manage it. Terraforming the terrain and building your city from scratch and then watching it flourish as proof of your ability is immensely gratifying. Watch out for those natural (and other) calamities, though, as parts, or God forbid, all of your city can start crumbling down when earthquakes or other disasters strike. SimCity 4 was one of the top 10 games of 2003, in spite of the criticism it received for being too difficult and for requiring too strong hardware to run.
Railroad Tycoon II (1998)
The railroad system building genre is a pretty popular one when tycoon games are concerned, with plenty of titles such as Sid Meier’s Railroads, Railway Empire and the Railroad Tycoon series vying for top dog position. My pick is Railroad Tycoon II because of its fluent gameplay and high complexity, a complexity that somehow manages to pull you in instead of push you back from the game. As a chairman of a railroad company, you’ll witness the insurrection and development of the railroad, from the invention of the steam engine to the present day. Building tracks, trains and stations constitute the bulk of the gameplay, but you’ll have to keep many (many!) other factors in consideration, including what your trains haul and where to (so as to keep passengers on schedule and industries dependent on various cargo running). Railroad Tycoon II sold over half a million copies and remains one of the favorites of the genre.
RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 (2002)
Coming in at second place is the second installment of RollerCoaster Tycoon from 2002 (wow, so many twos in that sentence). Improving over the original in a multitude of ways, including a higher level of customization available for your rides (you can build rides on varying levels of terrain, for instance), RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 is perhaps the most widely enjoyed tycoon game of them all. Trying to build the perfect amusement park while keeping finances in check and your customers happy can be quite a challenge, and the various scenarios available push your park management skills to their limits. Another thing to note is that RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 first implemented some user-created content, such as custom made scenery items and a scenario editor where players can make their own scenarios, including creating the landscape, selecting available rides and scenery, and setting objectives.
Caesar III (1997)
At the top of this list is a game that might come as a surprise to some, the third installment of Sierra’s Caesar. This was my definite favorite growing up, and I could be slightly biased in putting it at first place. But, hey, it’s my list, my rules, so deal with it (no ides of March please!). As the name implies, in Caesar III you’re a Roman official in a budding empire, building cities from scratch and managing the satisfaction of your denizens. Give them bread and circuses, as they say! Well, just bread isn’t enough, as your citizens want a variety of foods and goods to improve their homes into the higher levels of housing (seeing a neighborhood finally start to prosper after hours of trying to manage each factor is incredibly satisfying). Circuses are great, too, but you’ll need to keep into account many other facets of city management such as keeping the various Gods appeased (they all can bless or punish you, depending on your devotion to each), improving the aesthetics of your city, and tending to the various issues that your trusty advisors raise, including budgeting and diplomacy (you have to keep the emperor happy, too, as he frequently requests offerings). Like a prehistoric SimCity, Caesar III hit a sweet spot that subsequent games from Sierra like Zeus tried to repeat, but mostly failed.