As much as I love board games like Suburbia and PC games like Cities Skylines, one doesn't always have the time or the opportunity to play such games. And sometimes you really just want to build a city despite the other factors getting in the way.
I found myself wanting to scratch that city-building itch and finally got into SimCity BuildIt as a more casual effort to get back into the city-building groove. And while the game is comparatively simpler to play than its PC-based older brother, to call it a casual game may be a bit of an insult. Like the original SimCity before it, you still have to balance diverse elements in order to keep your city functioning. Plus it has EA's usual brand of brutal freemium design that can make it pretty tempting to purchase in-app currency with real-world money.
But that's just how these games go.
SimCity BuildIt is a city-building game published by EA. It is a retool of sorts of SimCity (2013) for mobile and is free-to-play across iOS and Android.
Like other games in the SimCity series, you're the mayor of this new development and your goal is to create the most impressive (and stable) city for your citizens. Similar to past games, you have to balance the needs of your citizens in terms of various necessities like power and water along with safety services and health coverage. Unlike the past games, creating zones is a lot more discrete as you have definite shapes to work with. At least roads remain generally free-form and like the 2013 SimCity they're also the conduit for many basic services such as water, power, and sewage.
The game includes a level system that slowly unlocks new features (and thus new problems) into your city. It's easy to want to keep on building more residential zones as they become available (since the game controls growth by limiting number of types of zones you can build) but you'll find that going full tilt results in unhappy citizens quickly leaving their homes every time you reach a new level.
The game's economy relies on many tried and tested mobile resource harvesting strategies, in this case industrial zones produce raw materials using various time delay toggles while commercial buildings can convert raw materials into other products, also with varying time delays in terms of how long it takes to build stuff. So naturally if you want to speed things up, then you can always pay your way with in-app currency purchases.
The social aspect of the game centers around the buying and selling of raw materials or refined products via an open marketplace. When you find something you like you will then travel to that person's city in the hopes of securing the items before someone else does. You can also put up your own goods and products on sale to make additional money.
Like many other (EA) freemium games, things can drag at times and you'll find yourself grinding for resources in order to get by. The fact that you're limited by a City Storage capacity in terms of how many goods you can have at any time is really annoying and more so that you need special items that are given at random by happy citizens in order to increase storage capacity, expand your territory, or even trigger disasters. Money is a major issue and tax revenue is not enough to get you through things - you need to be aggressively creating goods and selling them in order to pay for your city improvements.
SimCity BuildIt nicely scratches the itch of what one might expect from a mobile city-building experience and the game covers so many of them. At the same time it can seem overwhelming even as a mobile game and you'll need to allocate some serious activity time to keep your city well-maintained. Thus the game gets 3.5 weird city improvements out of a possible 5.