Playing with cities like an urban planner: Cities Skylines, Frostpunk, and Block’hood

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Would you like to play with cities like urban planners? Here are the games you should try!

Games are mostly registered as a tool for entertainment. Well, we can’t deny that because it’s highly interactive as well. However, there is a secret powerful element that games pose. We might not aware of that element but subconsciously we are affected by it. It’s a secret way of teaching. Throughout our education, we learned most things either from classes or from books. However, we all experienced that, the ones that we most remember are those that we use in our daily life or learned from practice. Any interactive tool is way better for educators than any theoretical information.

Pile Up © Remoob

Right now, games are the most interactive digital entertainment platform in the sector. Which makes them wonderful tools for education. Games like Civilization, Crusader Kings III, Total War series, and much more game that simulates history or any other subject start to educate you about the different nation’s history, politics in the Medival age, and city planning. That’s where the neat part comes in, If you are struggling with city planning or the benefits between Grid and Radial planning well some games might help you with that. I guarantee you, you will end up having an addiction to one of these three games. Those games are must-play for urban planners.

Cities Skylines – Grid Planning

Cities: Skylines is a city-builder developed in Unity3D by Colossal Order and published by Paradox Interactive. If you are familiar with SimCity, then think this game is a bit more detailed compared to SimCity. So, what makes Cities: Skylines special for urban planners? Well, the game starts pretty basic, in the start you are encouraged to design your dream city.

In the start, you have three different types of zones that specify areas which are Residental, Comercial, and Industrial. You might guess Residental is for accommodation, Comercial for shops and selling goods that are produced from the Industrial zone, and last but not least Industrial which produces goods. Those three are just zones, you don’t have to put buildings one by one, however, that’s where the Municipal section comes in. In the Municipal section, you have to provide police stations, fire departments, and much more either security, logistic or health-related problems. Those buildings do not serve every neighborhood, they have a limited radius and citizens that they can serve.

Traffic – Cities: Skylines

So you have to plan accordingly and in time Residential areas start to build skyscrapers for more people so you have to turn police stations into police departments. If you think this is complicated well let me say this, this is not even the tip of the iceberg. Since Industrial zones create pollution you have to locate them far away from the city and solve the logistics, if you don’t then you will start to lose money since you can’t transfer any goods to the commercial zone. If you try to locate them close to the Comercial zone then you will start to have plague cause of pollution. We are not just talking about land pollution. Sea and air pollutions are also on the table. You have to consider where the wind blows.

Water Pollution – Cities: Skylines
Land Value – Cities: Skylines

In time you have to provide some education to your citizens, you might ask if there are benefits if you provide education. Yes, if you provide college then you will end up having special structures like an art academy in city or a Researcher Center which will improve your city. Right now we talked about all kinds of zones and constructions what about green areas? If your citizens do not have access to a park or a green area,  they will start to have depression they will leave the city for the good, and the abandoned house will affect the morale of that neighborhood. Actually, when you are playing this game you should think like urban planners.

urban planners game

Why am I telling all of these aspects? Well, the thing we are trying to tell you here is when you consider all of these elements which kind of city planning benefits you the most? Grid plan might help you with Police Stations and Parks which can serve many people but then you will have a city plan built around roads. The radial plan might help you with logistics but then you have to build many schools and fire departments around each neighborhood.  You might mix them up. Create small zones like commercial zone and Residential zone, one of them will have a Radial plan the other will have a grid plan.

Cimtographer Map © Ben Ross
urban planners game
Square Albert Besnard, Paris, France © smods

You can learn a lot of things from this game by using a trial-and-error system. Don’t worry, you will fail to restart tons of times but it will be worth it and you might end up having an addiction to this game. The lesson I have learned from this game If you want to solve traffic problems don’t build roads, design a better public transportation system.

Plus, you might not believe it but you can export the map of the city you have designed. A mod called “Cimtographer” allows you to export your city’s maps to OSM (OpenStreet Map) format. Have fun!

Frostpunk – Radial Planning

urban planners

If you are looking for a city builder game that’s full of survival and making tough choices to protect your citizens then Frostpunk might be for you. Frostpunk is a City Builder/Survival game that was made by 11-bit Studios. The game takes place in an apocalyptic global cooling scenario. Citizens of this world are restless, cold, hungry, and hopeless. The game has a steampunk style so the only source of heat comes from generators in the city. As the governor, you have to rule this city which is called “New London” by researching new technologies, resource management, urban planning, assigning the right people at the right places, developing automatons to help with production, and making tough decisions, deciding whom to live and whom to die.

urban planners
Riot – Frostpunk

What do we mean by these tough decisions? Well, in the game coal is your main resource to keep the generator on to produce heat. However, you don’t have enough people to gather enough coal so either you have to extend the working hours which will cause you to lose morale and riot, after that they will overthrow you, or apply new laws like child labor, using kids as a workforce. If you choose those options people still lose hope but not as much as the previous choice. However, mothers will start to beg to you for stopping their kids to send mine. With this choice, you might improve coal production but from time to time there will be accidents in which either some kids will be stuck in a mine elevator or die in an accident. Those events will affect your community devastatingly. This is just a tip of it, furthermore, in the game, you will face more challenging decisions that you have to make and you will start to question your morality.

urban planners
Road Map – Frostpunk
Heat Map – Frostpunk

So, where is the part that concerns urban planners the most? Well, before jumping to the planning first we have to talk about what building types we have. If we explain it in a simple way we have Bunkhouse, Tent, Medical Post, Infirmary, Child Shelter, Cook House, Resource Depot, and many more. You have to keep those buildings warm If you want them to work properly. Also at the start, you have one main Generator to warm the city but later in the game, you can build small Generators across streets but they will consume way much more coal.

As an Urban Planner, you are allowed to design a radial planned city and use that planning system for every benefit to survive in this world, you have to design a city that heats every building by using the minimum resource you can. If you fail to do that in the endgame there is a huge storm that’s waiting for you and you will need every resource you can get. Even if you struggle with citizens and their morale then you will have to apply new laws to keep them in order, this might sound chaotic but remember this is not a chill game like Cities: Skylines.

urban planner
Frostpunk – Urban Plan Solutions © u/throwawaysmy

Frostpunk game keeps you awake every minute and shows you the consequences of your action. Nevertheless, you can use two different ruling systems to rule the city. One of them is “Order” in which you will use force and thought police to keep order in the city. The second choice is “Faith” using religion as a source of hope. If you don’t like those choices then you have to be great at urban designing and resource management.

This game will question your choices and makes you understand that each decision in city planning they have consequences. Every choice is permanent, each resource is precious. Right now we are destroying and building new designs like nothing but in this game, you might acknowledge that material is a precious thing and whatever happens people, don’t lose hope. The City Must Survive.

Block’hood – Vertical Planning

urban planner

We have talked about different types of planning and games that you can apply however, what about vertical cities? Right now we don’t have a real example to show that but some games simulate how they might look like. The interesting part is that in the endgame they look like a sculpture.

Block’hood is a city builder game made by plethora-project but with a slight difference. This game focuses on the ideas of ecology, interdependence, and decay. You are encouraged to build a neighborhood by building structures from the games catalog which consists of 200+ blocks. Players are challenged to maintain an ecological balance, each block you have placed will consume and produce different kinds of resources. The interesting part is that each block will slowly decay and deteriorate to point of collapse. Your creations will attract not just people but also animals. It’s in your hands to provide a positive environment but positive for whom?

urban planner
Block’hood © Plethora Project

The game makes the player discuss ecological system thinking and question the impact of urbanism. However, you are not expected to do it horizontally. You have very limited space so you must design a vertical city plan. Each block must have a connection with a certain type of block such as energy production must be connected to factories but factories must be avoided from farming areas. The game won the “Best Gameplay” award at the Games for Change festival in New York in 2016. Plus it was one of the finalists for “Games for Impact” at the Game Awards in Los Angeles in 2016. Designing this horizontally can be easy but vertically, well that is what makes this interesting.

When we design cities the Horizontal way we end up having a top view that looks like an image of a circuit. Each line connects to a structure and looks like a living system, however when we design it vertically way the overall image we are having looks like just one mass. Unity, wholeness, completeness. Like a sculptor in my mind. If we are a living system when we live in a horizontally planned city, what we are if we live in a vertically planned city? Would we be better at getting socializing?

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