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The Joy of Creation

Silver Linings #17

Hello, and welcome back to Silver Linings, where I shine a light on the maligned, forgotten, and ignored.

It seems like the vast majority of games were designed with the Michael Bay mindset of blowing up everything you see.  The biggest franchises like Call of Duty and Battlefield and even lesser ones like Ace Combat and Gears of War revolve almost entirely around destroying everything in sight.  It seems almost like violence is the order of the day when it comes to games.

However, that isn't entirely the case.  One of my favorite genres that is constantly overlooked is that of building sims.  These are games that revolve around building and maintaining an empire, whether the domain involved is as small as a house or as large as an entire planet.  Now, when people DO think of this genre, thoughts go directly to Will Wright, the guy at Maxis who developed the most renowned examples of the genre, SimCity and The Sims.  Even though I like those games fine, there are more in the genre that tend to get overlooked, and I'm gonna provide ten great examples.

Now, I have some ground rules for this list I'm building.  First, building has to be the central focus of the game.  That's why Minecraft will not be on the list as survival is the main goal of that game.  Second, while I try to stick to single games, there are points where I will acknowledge the whole series.  Don't consider this a complete list; think of this as a starter set for the genre.

'Aven Colony' - PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One

One of the newest entries on the list (released in 2017), Aven Colony is about building bases on another planet. The sci-fi visuals are very stylized, and the number of variables like biomes and hazards keep things fresh. Best of all, it's very affordable; I got my copy for only $20 and got more enjoyment out of it than I did from a lot of $60 games.

'Civilization' (franchise) - PC & various consoles

Sid Meyer's behemoth franchise is one of the most open-ended games in existence. You take control of one civilization and try to control the rest of the world with it. How you do that is entirely up to you. You can conquer the other civs through force of arms, but you can also lead the financial sector or be the first to launch into space. With so many civs to choose from, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, these games can be played forever! (For the record, Civilization 5 is my personal favorite.)

'Dungeons 2' - PC & Playstation 4

Here's a chance to play the bad guy. In this one, your goal is to build a refuge for your goblin armies to prepare for invasion. Even though there are turn-based tactical battles on the surface, their success or failure depends more on the development of your dungeon than on the troops' moves on the battlefield. This game also has a wry sense of humor. I chose the second game only because I hadn't played the third yet.

'Playboy: The Mansion' - PC, Playstation 2, Xbox

Though this one got mediocre reviews when it released, I personally enjoy it. You take the role of Hugh Hefner himself and build your own Playboy empire. This includes setting up the issues, snapping the cover shots, throwing promo parties, and even building onto the Playboy Mansion itself. It takes the best elements of The Sims and wraps a celebration of the famous magazine around it.

Yes, you can even have Hef get it on with the Playmates, as well.

'Thrillville: Off the Rails' - PC, Playstation 2, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, PSP

While Roller Coaster Tycoon and Theme Park may be more well-known when it comes to amusement park builders, Thrillville: Off the Rails is the most fun. Not only do you get five different theme parks to build, but you also get to play in them! You can ride the roller coasters in first-person and play the various minigames that you set up as attractions. The minigames can even be played in multiplayer, and there are 40 of them! My niece and I have a ball with this one!

'Tropico' (franchise) - PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 4

Ever wanted to control your own island nation? That's what the Tropico franchise allows. You take control of El Presidente and build your island from a single farming community into a global power that the US and Russia would jump through hoops to befriend. There are numerous ways to play, from becoming a major industrial center to creating the greatest tourist spot on the planet. Just watch out for those rebels! (Note: Tropico 4 is my personal favorite.)

'Utopia: The Creation of a Nation' - PC & Super Nintendo

This 16-bit game is the one that got me into the genre in the first place. Like Aven Colony, you're tasked with building colonies on other worlds. However, in this one, you also have to worry about defending your colony from alien races that aren't interested in sharing the planet. If you can overlook the 25-year-old graphics, this is an excellent entry point to the genre.

'Viva Piñata' - PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One

This one is a stroke of genius from Rare. In easily the most approachable game of the genre, you get a garden that you build to attract living piñatas. In addition to the physical upkeep, you also have to manage the living conditions for these colorful creatures. They may communicate or even break each other open to get the candy inside. The sequel Trouble in Paradise is worth playing, too.

'A World of Keflings' - PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U

While A Kingdom for Keflings was little more than a demo of how Avatars can be used in Xbox 360 games, the sequel A World of Keflings expanded the concept in every way possible. Unlike most sims where you look at things from a birds-eye perspective, here your Avatar (or Mii in the Wii U version) plays as a friendly giant that leads the Keflings in the building of their Kingdom. Directing the workers is as easy as picking them up and dropping them on the appropriate task site. Everything's bright, colorful, and simply fun.

'Zoo Tycoon' (franchise) - PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, DS

Putting together your own zoo is just as much fun as building your own theme park. The Zoo Tycoon games give you all the tools to go wild. Ever wanted to build something as crazy as a polar refuge in the African Savannah? You can do it. The later console games even allow players to run around the zoo and interact with the animals, complete with realistic animations. I still get a giggle from watching hippos react to getting a bath.

Are there any that I missed (aside from the Maxis games)? Let me know, and game on!

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