Management games have been enjoying a bit of a renaissance in recent years, meaning there are now even better, more efficient ways to direct trains, corral visitors, lay down conveyor belts and profit, profit, profit than ever before. To that end, we’ve put on our builder hats and constructed a list of the best management games you can play on PC in 2020. Whether you want to be a budding city planner, wannabe farm herd or survive against the elements, there’s a game for you below.
This is an updated version of our best management games list for 2020, and we’ve added and removed seven new games in the process. This time, we’ve focused on games that are fun and easy to play right now as opposed to sticking with some of the all-time classics, but the aim remains the same: finding the best management games that are deserving of their famous time-sink status and will have you feeling like a well-oiled, time management machine by the time you’re done.
Don’t see your favourite game on the list? Make an impassioned case for it in the comments below, and maybe you’ll convince others – and us – to give it a go. Or maybe you’re not looking for a management game at all. In that case, check out our regularly updated list of the best PC games right now, to find something new worth playing immediately.
Best management games
There are plenty of great management games of all kinds to be found on PC, and we’ve selected 20 of the best below. We’ve split this article over a handful of pages, and you’ll find page links at the bottom of each page. Onwards!
20. Oxygen Not Included
Oxygen Not Included is one of a handful of Dwarf Fauxtress games adorning the list. As in its inspirations, you take charge of a small group of hapless people arriving in an inhospitable location, in this case the centre of an asteroid, and you must mine and construct the tools they need to survive. Where it differs from most of its peers is in the engineering rigour it requires from players.
You’ll start off creating what you need to grow crops and turn algae into breathable oxygen, but resources deplete and demands increase rapidly. Block by block you’ll expand to create more space, more resources, and before you know it your colony is a mess of inefficient pipes and wiring, your crops are withering from the heat, and your duplicants are urgently building life-saving machinery while holding their breath inside a toxic cloud.
It’s brutal, but it’s also wonderfully engrossing. Hours disappear in an instant as you wrestle with each new challenge which befalls your colony. The challenges feel fair, too, because they all spill outwards from the game’s careful simulation of basic scientific principles. There are alien plants and wildlife to discover within the asteroid, but it’s the basics of liquids and gases and heat conduction and electricity generation which will consume your thoughts and destroy your work, and each is clearly depicted via the game’s side-on art style.
If you find RimWorld is too much about the psychology of your colonists, and not enough about constructing thermo-aquatuners so those colonists don’t boil, then give Oxygen Not Included a go and watch whole evenings be swallowed by it.
Where can I buy it: Steam
19. Anno 1800
Anno 1800 is arguably one of the finest city builders ever made. There’s just so much to sink your teeth into with the latest entry in Blue Byte’s historical building and trading game, and the more you play, the better it gets. Set in Western Europe during the nineteenth century, this is a game that starts out with idyllic rural farmsteads and ends with the hulking great railways and smoke-pumping factories of industrial commerce.
Its early hours may feel overly familiar if you’re an Anno veteran, but the reason we’ve included Anno 1800 in this list and booted out its illustrious predecessor Anno 1404 is because of what happens after you’ve gone full industrial revolution. Once one island is up and running, it’s time to move onto the next, each one coming with its own population, resources and labour requirements. Soon, you’ve got colonies all over the world with ships going back and forth all across the globe. It’s a lot to keep on top of, but it’s precisely what makes Anno 1800 so thrilling and exciting.
It gets even better when played with a friend in its multiplayer co-op mode, too. Whether you want to split the load or just really get into the nitty gritty of one colony’s urban development while your partner keeps things ticking over everywhere else, Anno 1800 caters for dozens of different play styles. Or, you can test your world-conquering chops by going head to head with said friend in its competitive multiplayer mode. Whatever you’re after, Anno 1800 has it all.
Fish are magical beings aren’t they? Well, anything that lives underwater is pretty impressive – so obviously, the best thing to do with them is to keep them in tiny little fish prisons, so you can gaze longingly at their sweet, gormless faces forever. The idea of the deep sea can be absolutely petrifying, so it’s nice to be able to see them at surface level, where it’s safe, and you can breathe. It’s nice up here.
Megaquariam is a game that’s all about managing an aquarium, from hiring the best staff members you can, to making sure your tanks are the best they can be for your fishy friends. Some fish are bullies, while others are perfectly capable of living in harmony with one another. Others might like rocks, or plants, but mostly, they just want a bit of grub, kept at their optimal temperature, and for the glass to not be tapped.
The people you have coming to your aquarium must also be kept happy or else they’ll leave, get tired, need to pee, or get hungry. Plus, in the spirit of all those Bullfrog management games of yore, you’ll also need to make sure there are lots and lots of bins. People who come to these places don’t just take their rubbish home with them if there aren’t any bins knocking about. They’ll just drop it on the floor, the monsters. Benches, drink machines, toilets, and bins. The only things you need to keep people happy. And the fish, of course, let’s not forget the fish.
Where can I buy it: Steam
17. Slime Rancher
Slime Rancher might look cute on the surface, but beneath its gelatinous, googly-eyed exterior lies a heart of pure chaos. Unlike the beasts you’ll find in other animal management sims such as Planet Zoo or even Jurassic World Evolution, the smiling blobs of Monomi Park’s farming slime ’em up excel at getting themselves into scraps while you’re off gathering resources and doing some exploring, whether it’s bouncing out of their respective pens and escaping, or accidentally eating the “plorts” (or poop) of other slimes and turning into all-consuming tar monsters. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the anarchic world of rearing unpredictable livestock, then Slime Rancher is the management (or maybe that should be wrangling?) game for you.
It’s not all about putting out slime-related fires, though. In between feeding your blobby herds and vacuuming up their plorts to sell them for the highest rate, Slime Rancher eventually settles into some familiar rhythms. There’s exploration to be done, secrets to uncover, materials to craft, farm plots to expand, and more exotic (not to mention more profitable) slimes to find oozing out of the landscape. Yes, the entire economy is based around the buying and selling of slime manure, but it sure puts a jolly old face on it.
It’s this sunny take on the farming games that makes Slime Rancher one of more approachable management games on this list as well. While wrestling with wild slimes can prove manic at times, it doesn’t get bogged down in the complexities of slime diets, pen conditions or anything else. All you need to do is make sure all that poop is scooped on a regular basis, because otherwise bad, bad things can happen while you’re away. Still, even if you do come home to find entire sections of your farm have gone up in smoke, one look at a slime’s jiggling grin is all it takes to make everything okay again. You might be starting over, but d’awww just look at their little faces.
Where can I buy it: Steam
16. Dungeon Keeper
Not every horse in Bullfrog’s legendary stable of genre-defining 90s management games stands up well by today’s standards, particularly in terms of interface, and that’s why Themes Park or Hospital of yore aren’t here. Dungeon Keeper sails close to the wind, too, but it remains fiendishly playable, especially if you install the free KeeperFX fan expansion pack which unlocks all sorts of high resolutions and assorted third-party fixes and maps.
This game is about building a monster lair, keeping said beasties happy, and ultimately hurling them at invading ‘heroes’. It might be a bit daft compared to more modern games on this list, especially when most of its gags are delivered with the sneering narration of Richard ‘Daddy Pig’ Ridings, but beneath all that is something much moodier. There’s a palpable loneliness to Dungeon Keeper. Its ill-tempered creatures shuffle through dark, rocky tunnels, angrily trying to sleep in their filthy lairs, collect daily pay they have no apparent use for, tinkering away to build traps and spells that only benefit a distant employer and… oh God, the metaphors. Am I… am I a bile demon?
But that’s the thing: where so many management games in the Bullfrog idiom were built around a core of pleasing people, this is, frankly, built around abusing them. Be it the monsters who toil and fight endlessly for your gain, or the humans you murder, imprison or torture to further swell your ranks, Dungeon Keeper is a deliciously dark game in a far more profound way than its snickering voice-over.
We should say, too, that this is the rare management game where the oft-arbitrary rules of where you can and can’t built, that game of architectural Tetris, are totally justified, because you’re limited by the layouts of the living rock, underground lakes and massive gold deposits. You’re carving out a dark little world of your own, and that is the main reason why we keep returning to Dungeon Keeper. It also fuses management and strategy in an entirely natural way – you carve out your world, and then you fight to either defend or expand it. For that reason, DK can be a slightly harder sell to someone who just wants to buy and build, but this stuff never feels like an abrupt or unnatural shift.