Cozy city builders are finally letting me design pretty places in peace

Sometimes I just want to thrive and vibe without the demand to survive.

Gourdlets - a tiny pastel village with veggie people walking around

City builders are so often serious business with their resource management and tech trees and threats of impending starvation via overpopulation. I’m happy to get into the weeds on occasion, but sometimes I don’t want to survive. I do not want to manage. I just want to vibe and build in peace, please. 

There have recently been less demanding city-builders like Dorfromantik or Before We Leave—games of the chill variety that don’t threaten you with natural disaster on the regular. But the newest trend of cozy city-building is the true balm for my soul.

The colorful building toy Townscaper really set the internet’s desire alight for experiences that are just building. I’m talking about no goals whatsoever. No resources, no puzzles, no objectives, no shred of strategy. Just a neat little set of pieces that can surprise and delight with the tiny ways it reacts to your building process.

If you’re still hungry for other extremely low-key city construction, there are even more right at your fingertips. (Though if you do want some serious city management, we’ve compiled a list of some most anticipated city-builders of 2023 as well.)

Gourdlets

Gourdlets has no goals at all and that’s a to-do list I can handle. It has a demo available on Steam and is planning a full release sometime in 2023. In the newest version of its demo, you’re given a tiny starter area of grass on which new little plant people arrive to walk around. As you paint new tiles of land, be they grassy or snowy or desert-y, and add other features like docks or campfires, the little gourd pals will walk about fishing, roasting mallows, and otherwise taking advantage of the little diorama you’ve created. I remember a lot of folks (including me) wishing that Townscaper had tiny people walking about navigating its wonderful architecture and Gourdlets delivers on that inclination to admire your little ant enclosure. 

The Block 

The Block is a tiny grid city toy that launched at the end of 2022 on Steam and is probably the closest thing here to Townscaper, though with a lot less verticality. The Block gives you a single square of land (from your size of choice) and continuously hands you randomized buildings, foliage, and decorations that you must place adjacent to what you’ve built so far. You’ll continue building outwards, and rotating pieces and skipping ones you don’t want, until you’ve filled the area. And that’s it! The Block is a very tiny game for a rather tiny price, like a little cooldown activity when you log off for the day. 

LakeSide 

(Image credit: Massive Galaxy Studios)

LakeSide is currently in early access on Steam and its main game mode is in fact a traditional city builder with resource management and constraints and enemy attacks. But it also has a creative mode where you’re free to take all its many lovely buildings and add them to your island mountain village from its very nice side-on perspective. You can close and reopen its creative mode a few times to see different foundations like Atlantean oasis and mountainous cliffs or grassy ravines. The rare side-scroll perspective and earthy color palettes make it very chill to build in, and hey, maybe you give the standard mode a try at some point too. 

Islands & Trains 

Islands & Trains doesn’t have a release date yet but it does have a demo available on Steam. Like Townscaper, this one lets you immediately click little builds into existence on its grid with chill little plip and plop noises. Though here, your creations actually move. It’s like your very own model train set without all the glue and that horrible dusty green styrofoam stuff. In the demo you have a fair bit of freedom to construct three-block-tall islands decorated with farmland, houses, and livestock. You’ll weave train tracks in between all that and once you’re happy, set down an engine and flip the lever to listen to it chug along through your pastoral builds. 

Garden Galaxy 

While Garden Galaxy is actually about building little gardens, not cities, I believe it’s in keeping with the cozy builder spirit and it’s also the game on this list I accidentally spent three uninterrupted hours playing. It launched at the end of 2022 but still has a free demo available on Steam, which has been enough so far to consume my entire night with its idle game adjacent routine. Little fire sprites appear on the regular to offer you coins, which you in turn feed to a flaming, talking pot who awards you with random bits of decoration or floor tiles to expand your world with. 

Tiny Glade 

Tiny Glade doesn’t have a release date yet, but we’ve absolutely got our eyes on it. Like Townscaper, Tiny Glade uses procedural building pieces that respond to what you place around them. Its medieval-ish stone forts have rounded towers you can raise or lower, wooden fences that sprout gates when dirt paths intersect with them or become stone walls if you make them taller. As development continues, the creators have shown off additions like playing around with roofs, day and night settings, and some friendly sheep for atmosphere. This is definitely the prettiest thing on the list, a perfect prompt for screenshots and new desktop wallpapers. 

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