A lot of genres have had a resurgence over the past five years, but none more successfully than management games. There are now more ways to direct trains, lay conveyor belts, coral visitors and profit, profit, profit than you could play in a lifetime. The question is: which of these famous timesinks is worth your time, and which of the whipsmart new hires can compete against the hagard, seen-it-all old dogs?
That’s what this list is for. These are 5 best management games you can play right now on PC, in no particular order, and updated for 2019.
Transport Tycoon Deluxe
The pleasures of Transport Tycoon are many. The isometric countryside and urban landscapes are still beautifully tranquil – despite the game’s industrial core, settlements resemble picture-postcard villages and towns rather than smoggy iterations of Dickens’ Coketown. Watching the landscape develop in sync with your ambitions is as rewarding as watching a level 1 Squire become a level 50 Demigod.
Business management games come in many flavours, but few offer the same kind of gentle challenges and immediately recognisable environments as Chris Sawyer’s masterpiece. Transporting goods and passengers might seem like a banal occupation, especially appearing alongside future wars and theme parks, but it’s the familiarity of the systems that makes the game so engaging.
The Settlers II
The Settlers has one foot in the world of management and the other in real-time strategy – making it quite possibly the most relaxing, meditative RTS in existence. Although there have been many entries in the series since, the second game, “Veni, Vidi, Vici”, is the strongest example of the design’s best qualities. Tasked with transforming a nascent settlement into a thriving economy, you’ll spend most of your time watching transportation and production loops – the engines of industry – in the form of serene, rural endeavour.
Blue Byte’s approach to what might be called base-building elsewhere is completely at odds with the games that would come to dominate the RTS space. From the distant thwok of a woodcutter’s axe to the deliberately slow-paced movement of raw materials and goods, The Settlers encourages contemplation and observation rather than demanding that players rush toward the finish line. It’s a pastoral game that conjures up images of lazy ruminations by a riverbank in the warm haze of an everlasting summer.
Theme Hospital might be the first popular management game to dwell on the dark side of profiteering. Sure, you could add salt to snacks to ensure kids nagged their parents for more soda in Theme Park, but that was benign compared to the intro to Hospital, which showed privatised healthcare at its most ruthless. To a backing orchestra of sickly bottoms and bilious upheavals, you were tasked with finding the best way to cash in on the cure.
Prison Architect is an even darker proposition. Can you keep your inmates happy? Can you make a profit? How important is it to process death row residents efficiently? What happens when a riot breaks out?