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5 Brutal City-Building Strategy Games That Want You to Fail

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There's no greater feeling than being admired by those who love, and those who rely on you to pave the very way to modern civilisation. Actually pulling it off and establishing a route worthy enough to travel, on the other hand, well, that's another story altogether, and one I think we've all seen end on a drastic note more often than not. But that's a part of real-time strategy, whether we like it or not. It's a learning curve we're not always capable of wrapping our heads around. And that's okay.

Strategy games have been pushing us to realise our maximum gaming potential for decades now, with gameplay teetering more and more to the challenging side of things than the leisurely side. And while that's all well and good, we do have to stop and acknowledge the difficulty spike every once in a while, if only to realise that times are changing, and games are becoming more demanding than ever. Just take a look at these five unforgiving city-building strategy titles, for example. These are prime models that showcase brutality in its rawest form.

5. Frostpunk

Frostpunk | Official Launch Trailer

Building a burning capital from the icy ground up isn't a breeze, especially when its citizens rely on the little heat produced to survive. Top that off with an impending storm that knocks at your doorstep every once in a while, and you've got yourself a ticking time bomb, destined to capsize in a sea of frost and sleet. Unfortunately, your job is to fight tooth and nail to defend it from reaching such a dire point.

Frostpunk, unlike many city building games that hold your hand until you've found your feet, thrives from dunking you in the deep end without an inflatable to keep you afloat. Without a lengthy tutorial to get you into the swing of things, you're basically left with a small frozen homestead with starving citizens, desperate for a ray of hope. But if you can't build something to conquer the frozen wasteland in time, then you'll soon find yourself tossed from the throne and into the outskirts, branded as a failure. So, no pressure or anything.

4. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty - Teaser Trailer

StarCraft II has been on the shelves for just over a decade now, meaning the community base has managed to burst at the cracks, still flocking to the eSports domain every year to fight for the throne. And it's because of this decade long tenure of honing skills and snagging wins, that any new player will sadly struggle to adapt to the platform. Of course, AI enemies aren't the issue when starting out in StarCraft, but more the actual players you pit against.

While anyone can learn StarCraft and sharpen their skills over months of training, it is an incredibly difficult world to conquer when faced with millions of die-hard veterans. But then, with millions in prize pools pocketed every year, it really is no wonder people face the difficult spike just to get a peek of the podium. It's a strategy game worth racking your brain over, we'll just say that.

3. Age of Empires IV

Age of Empires IV - Official Launch Trailer

Age of Empires has had a long-standing history of testing its players, whether it's through the financial division or upholding a successful colony. What it does offer with its chapters, as a consolation, is guidance. And that's something many brutal strategy games don't cater to these days. From the moment you set foot on your new homeland to the second you watch it burn under enemy fire, Age of Empires bolsters you every leg of the journey.

So, why is it difficult, and, above all, why would we label it as brutal? Well, take one great look at the detail Age of Empires goes into and you'll quickly drown in its pools of mechanics. And, if you don't put a blockage in the bottleneck, then you'll find yourself flooded in debt, disasters and death. Come to terms with the vast ocean of knowledge and tackle it with brute force, however, and you'll find yourself sitting comfortably over an empire worth evolving. Just be prepared to mould over a whole heap of research before ascending the throne.

2. Surviving Mars

Surviving Mars Official Announcement Trailer

Like Frostpunk, Surviving Mars draws you away from the luscious landscapes bursting with breathable air and plots you in a tattered wasteland, hoping you possess the knowledge and skill to remodel it into a thriving community. However, rather than having you carve through barricades of ice and thistle, you're instead put on the piping hot planet of Mars, strapped with a sun-dried population all hungering for a reason to thrive and continue living under your rule. How you sway the community in your favour, however, is the intricate part.

Setting up a colony on Mars isn't supposed to be the easiest thing in the world — and Surviving Mars does a first-class demonstration of how failure can often be inevitable when attempting such a thing. Thanks to its high difficulty that hits you right off the bat, you're essentially left to idle over an hourglass as your ambitious faction spirals out of control and succumbs to either the lack of resources or the rival colonies that only wish to banish you. However, put a lid on the pipeline of obstacles that are hurled at you and you might just, well — survive Mars. Here's hoping, anyway.

1. Banished

Banished - Gameplay Trailer HD

Although the previous entries in this list all plan for you to fail from the get-go, Banished at least gives you a fighting chance. Or at least it does, providing you aim for an easier difficulty setting before sinking into the enormous open world to build your community. However, strike for the hardest mode and you'll quickly release how much one game can throw at you — from a 360° angle at that. Ramp up the disasters, limit yourself to fewer starting families and resources, and you've got yourself a sinking ship. The bad news is — you're the captain of said ship, and you're descending…fast.

Banished, like the majority of city-building games on the market, has you moulding over endless books on strategy before you're able to settle in with an iron fist ready to rule. Once familiarized, of course, Banished opens up to a whole ocean of possibilities. Reaching said milestone, however, requires years of in-game curveballs and drastic events that only aim to fracture your world. But with that said, it's a learning curve worthy of tackling — just to enjoy the fruits of your labour in the long run.


Tired of strategy? Looking for more content? You could always take a look at one of these lists:

5 Video Game Masterpieces Everyone Should Experience At Least Once

Jord is acting Team Leader at If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.