August 26, 2015 Update: We've added a number of new entries to this list. Check them out within.
Business doesn't always have to be serious. Business can be fun. Also, business usually has a tight set of rules and revolves around resource allocation. So in a way, business in the real world already is a sort of game. But if you want to play that game, it’s actually much easier to just turn on your PC and play one of the many great business tycoon simulations out there.
There is a special flavor for everyone. Historical business simulation? Done. Present day urban planning? Got it. Science fiction space station businesses? Yeah why not.
This is a very PC centric genre, there are few ports on consoles that are above anything but “passable”. Interestingly enough though, it seems mobile touch devices see the most innovative new entries here, leading to a small renaissance of a genre that was in a steady decline into obscurity for years now.
#20 Prison Tycoon
See, Introversion Softworks Prison Architect is actually not the first “lock’em up”. It’s probably not Prison Tycoon either. But Prison Tycoon takes a very different approach. The game tries to be LAPD Blue serious, and not fun at all, which given the grim subject matter doesn't really make for that great a game. Especially when considering how problematic the prison industry in the US actually is.
#19 Dungeon Keeper
Upending fantasy roleplaying genre conventions, Dungeon Keeper tasks the player with building and defending a mighty dungeon against invading heroes. Created by game design antihero Peter Molyneux before he became the laughing stock of venerated game designers, Dungeon Keeper is truly a great game that had a big impact on the overall genre for years to come.
#18 Imperium Romanum
Inspired by the popular Caesar series, Imperium Romanum tasks the player to take care of certain hairy scenarios during ancient Roman times. Unlike other tycoon games, there is no regular business building mode, but just a number of levels, the player has to get through, akin to certain scenarios in the Sim City games.
#17 Tiny Tower
Another super successful portable title, Tiny Tower took the iOS and Android devices by storm, selling like crazy and - of course - inspiring a ton of clones. The game is simple enough. Build a skyscraper, floor by floor. Sim City / Tower style. But with the typical mobile gaming caveats like a lot of in built microtransactions.
A spiritual successor to both Dungeon Keeper and Theme Hospital, made by ex Bullfrog employees, Startopia has the player create a space station to accommodate a variety of aliens with special needs. As the Theme- games and Dungeon Keeper, Startopia is a bit silly in tone, but delivers quite intricate business simulation underneath.
Bad people are always doing well, as the saying goes. Also, being the ruthless dictator of a carribean paradisical island can be a hard job, a taxing job. So of course you are entitled to a few spoils. A nice big presidential palace. Stylish sunglasses. Tropico has been around since 2001, seen three sequels, with Tropico 5 apparently in the making. Bad people are always doing well. So little surprise there.
#14 Anno 2070
Another series originating from the Heroic Age of German Business Simulation, the Anno series combines city building, trading and real time strategy elements to a sizzling mix that has seen a half dozen entries to the series so far, a couple of ports and spinoffs, as well as a trip to the future in the most recent Anno 2070.
#13 Airline Tycoon
This German made series of tycoon games originated in the late 1990s, the Heroic Age of German Business Simulation. As the name implies, the object of the games is managing an airline, buying planes, having affairs with air hostesses (it’s a German game...) and the like. The series was eventually released outside of Germany, several times actually, eventually with a dedicated plane building mode attached.
Another venerated series, Caesar harkens back to ancient Roman times of 1992 AD. Because nothing says city building like building Rome (and certainly not in a day), Caesar successfully combined aspects of Sim City and Civilization in one neat packet, that eventually should see three sequels and a number of spinoffs, namely Pharao and Zeus - Master of Olympus.
#11 Cities XL
The biggest feature of this bold Sim City clone was supposed to be a massive multiplayer mode that would have connected the cities built by the individual players. Sadly, Cities XL lacked the required player numbers to make this a viable longer term option, so the servers were turned off in 2010, a year after release, already. The game having a subscription fee certainly didn't help the lack of popularity.