SimCity 101: Beginners Guide

So, if you've never played SimCity before, welcome. I played the original SimCity almost twenty years ago and then SimCity 2000 after that. Then, I stopped playing SimCity until January of this year. Now, I'm hardcore into the new SimCity 5 and I can't get enough.

The following is information that only pertains to you if you have never played before. If you have played before, this article will bore you to tears. With that warning in place and as per the theme of this blog, welcome to SimCity 101.

How the Game is Played

This is a simulation game where you play the roll of mayor for a fledgling city that you create by designing and laying out streets, zones, and standalone buildings (known as ploppables) in an attempt to build the greatest city possible given the limitations of the terrain.

What kind of limitations will you experience? Some levels have sheer cliffs, some are bordered by water, and some have rivers or valleys that cut right through the middle of them. There will be deposits of ore and oil that you can dig up to earn money from -- unless, of course, you accidentally pave over them first with houses.


In this version of SimCity, there is a leaderboard system that decides -- based on population or trade dollars earned -- which cities are the best. This blog is dedicated to getting my readers to the top of that leaderboard.

Happiness and Money

The people who live in your city are individuals with their own quirks and metrics. However, as a group, they behave quite predictably. When you give them places to work, money to spend, and places to party, they will respond by becoming quite happy and -- by proxy -- give you large portions of their paychecks to make sure you can keep doing what you're doing.

When they are unhappy, however, your city will descend into an Alighierian hell the likes of which you cannot possibly comprehend. You'll lose everything and your city will sink into the sands, dragged down by the weight of it's own sewage.


New to this version of the game, your city can specialize in certain things. For instance, you can specialize your city in "education" -- which sets you on the path toward building a grand university at the center of your burgh. You can also specialize in "mining", which will allow you to build advanced mining rigs.

Layout and Space Management

SimCity is and has always been about maximizing space. In the original games, if you set up a 3x3 residential complex in a 4x3 square, you wasted those three extra 1x1 blocks. Over time, all the 1x1 blocks that you wasted combine together to reduce the maximum population you can achieve.

The same is true in this game, but the stakes are even higher. There are no predetermined 1x1 grid squares, so it's very difficult to determine which space is wasted and which is well developed. There are tricks to maximizing your population and I will be sharing these advanced strategies later on, but for right now it's enough to understand that roads to nowhere and open land without anything on it is the bane of anyone looking to rise to the top of the leaderboard.

Of course, if you don't care about leaderboards and you want to design a city that spells out your name in paved dirt roads, you can ignore everything I just said and go have a blast.

Downtown vs. Burbs

Developing a well balanced city with a concentrated downtown area (a "center city" business district) is an art. It's about making people happy and then manipulating land values and density balances to shift people to a particular section of land that then will develop skyscrapers in response to your restructuring of your citizen's demands.

The flip side, though, can be equally fun. If you build a little suburban community surrounding a massive university where people can learn and commute to their jobs in another town, that takes it's own set of skills and suave.


In this version of SimCity, your neighboring city sites are essential for developing not only your region but your own city to it's greatest potential. If your neighbors are lazy and allow their cities to be overrun with crime and garbage, your city will suffer. However, sixteen hardcore majors all working together to balance the demands of millions of citizens is a task that is both challenging and incredibly rewarding if you can pull together the right people for the job.

Of course, you can attempt to control all sixteen cities by yourself, but for your own personal mental health I would discourage you passionately.

Utilities and Upgrades

The people can take care of themselves up to a point. That point is where you come in. You must provide guidance and supply utilities to give Sims essentials like power and police protection.

Equally important, in order to maximize their effectiveness while minimizing the amount of land that these utilities use, you need to add modules that upgrade and improve their quality.

Steps to a Great City

Finally, having played a lot of games of SimCity, I can provide you with a tutorial of sorts that will guarantee you success with the minimum amount of headaches. This game at first glance may not seem formulaic, however if you follow these suggestions -- in order -- I guarantee that you will start the game well on your way to generating an amazing city:

  1. Set the game speed to "cheetah" by clicking the arrows icon in the bottom right corner until all three arrows are lit up.
  2. Lay down only medium-density streets or better.
  3. Start with a small grid near the highway connection. Zone one block of residential, one block of commercial, and two blocks of industrial. Then, let it sit there.
  4. Set up a wind power station and a water tower.
  5. Spend time looking at the water table overlay and plan on putting industrial zones and dirty ploppables like sewage and garbage on areas that are the lightest color (aka, no water)
  6. Lay down roads on the surface that trace the lines of your water table so you can visually see where the water isn't.
  7. Zone all the industrial areas in the proper places -- again, not over water
  8. Put down a sewage pump, not over water
  9. Put down a garbage dump, not over water
  10. Run medium-density roads from the corners of the map to your highway connection
  11. Choose a location near the middle of the map for your first three service buildings
  12. Put down a fire station
  13. Put down a hospital across the street from the fire station
  14. Put down a police station near the hospital/fire station
  15. Now, add three new medium density roadways wherever you would like
  16. Ring the industrial zones you already established with a thick buffer of commercial zones
  17. Zone the remaining areas residential
  18. Put down an elementary school in your residential neighborhood
  19. Decide where you're going to put your train station (if applicable)
  20. At this point, you will have a bustling city with which you can fool around and experiment. Go nuts!

If you haven't played SimCity or your were just looking around to see if it was something you'd be interested in, I would encourage you to check out the other pages of this Web site to see screenshots and videos of in-game assets so that you can get a feel for how cool this game really is. And if you do buy the game, look me up (AngelikMayhem) in the Origin game server and I'll answer any questions you have and maybe play a game with you.

Enjoy the Web site. - AM

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