Towers and Kingdoms and Sandboxes, Oh My: Games For the Control Freak In You


It’s been a really rough couple of weeks for me, control-wise. I am the kind of person who likes to be In Charge, and right now I feel like I’m not In Charge of anything. Among many other things, my family is selling my childhood home. I have literally never existed without this house as my fall-back address, something I could always go back to. Just now I’m coming to grips with the fact that the streets on which I rode my bicycle as a child are streets I will likely not see again, will probably never bicycle again. Ay. Forget about anything else going on in my life right now, that’s enough to make me feel like we’re just on a rock hurtling through space towards chaos OH MY GOD WHY ARE WE ALL HERE WHAT IS THIS.


Perhaps that’s why, for a non-gamer, I’ve been hitting the world-building games super hard. I usually prioritize other things over games, but you know what? The games that put you in charge of your own castle, tower or world have been a real stress release for me. I thought it was just for this past bit of time, but looking back on it, it’s been my whole life. When I was little, I would resort to Gungan Frontier or Roller Coaster Tycoon. Games that let me a) make something that b) I was totally in charge of. So if right now you’re flying by the seat of your pants a little, here are a few recommendations to keep you a bit saner while you plunge into the chaotic mystery that is life.


Tiny Tower, by NimbleBit

Ah, the original tower-building game. I actually don’t know if that’s true, but I don’t remember anything like this before it happened. Tiny Tower is exactly what it says on the box—you build your own teeny tiny skyscraper on your phone or tablet. You build floors that are either apartments or businesses. Move tiny “Bitizens” (named for the bit-tastic design style) to work at your businesses, generate income and expand the tower. That’s it. That’s the game. But the true fun part is seeing what kinds of stuff you wind up with. See, I got a robot store the other day.


There are also challenges, like this one where you have to create a whole bunch of root beer and cuckoo clocks for Oktoberfest.


You can dress up your Bitizens, repaint your floors, you can even visit friends Towers to see what you’re missing and be jealous! Easy, calming, casual and perfect for any control freak. Free for iOS and Android—there are a lot of in-app purchases, but I’ve never made one. I can confidently say that you can play this and spend absolutely zero money.



Lil’ Kingdom, by Glu Games

The game play is a lot almost exactly like Tiny Tower, except Lil’ Kingdom has you dig down into the earth under a castle to build your business and inns. And depending on your style, you might like the graphics a lot better. I’m constantly impressed at the thought and care that went into the design—it’s really pretty!


Dumble Dorm has been my favorite so far.

I named my Princess and my castle after Alanna of Trebond (bonus points if you get this reference!) even though the Princess is pink and not very like Alanna at all. Ah, well, it’s a tribute to my childhood. You can also hatch pet dragons. Mine’s called Knucker (comes with the name, can’t change it don’t think I haven’t tried).

This game is free for iOS and Android. Like Tiny Tower, you can make in-app purchases if you like. But I haven’t found it necessary yet.


The Sandbox, by PixOwl Games

Okay, so everyone loves The Sandbox except for me, but I still recommend trying it. Let me tell you why. The Sandbox is legit a world builder, thus the name. Drop pixels of different elements to create all sorts of stuff. There’s a free-play mode and a bunch of campaigns (some free, some not). Definitely start with the first tutorial campaign, though, otherwise you’ll be totally lost.

I am only now just realizing how much that indent in the side of the mountain looks like a phallus.

I am only now just realizing how much that indent in the side of the mountain looks like a phallus.


Here’s why I don’t like it—I’m so much of a control freak that it’s too free-form for me. There are not enough rules! GAH! But if that’s your jam, definitely go for this, and it’s not like there are no rules—it’s all based on the laws of physics (you can even build things based on electrical circuits).


This game is free for iOS, Android and Mac. You can, of course, make in-app purchases.


Minecraft, by Mojang

I am scared to start playing Minecraft. I have seen full-grown IT nerds reduced to tears over this frustrating, yet rewarding game. You mine resources in order to build your own house and all sorts of other structures and things, EXCEPT THINGS WANT TO KILL YOU. IF YOU LEAVE YOUR HOUSE IN THE DARK THEY WILL FIND YOU. Just ask Vikki:

Dejectedly, I wandered and cut wood and then it started getting dark and I panicked –panicked like this was real life! Being outside in the dark before had led to the chicken fiasco and death so I ran. I didn’t know where I was running but I ran as fast as my pixellated feet would carry me and then I saw a giant black spider with red eyes and a weird green thing and I knew nothing good was going to come of those so I just kept running and they chased me and then – I saw my house! I cannot even tell you the relief I felt… until I couldn’t get through my door because I still wasn’t good at walking through small places. While I bumped into the wall repeatedly, something kept shooting me in the back and, by the time I got in the house and shut the door, I had only three little hearts left.

No worries, though. If that does sound really stressful but building really cool things in a multiplayer world sounds amazing, then you can always play in creative mode. There are no monsters in creative mode. If you’ve got basic networking ability, you can set up a private server on which you and your friends can play together.

Get the game for Mac/PC ($26.95), iOS ($6.99), Android ($6.99), and Xbox. You can also play a demo version on your computer before purchasing to make sure the game is right for you.



Deepworld, by ByteBin

I might be bending the rules of this roundup a little with this one, as it is both a creative world-building game and an adventure game. But I couldn’t resist. Deepworld is like if Minecraft and Mario had a baby. This is that baby, and also it’s steampunk. You find yourself in a post-apocalyptic world with nothing put a pickaxe and the clothes on your back.


You share this world with, well, everyone (massive multiplayer). And the world is always changing because people are always building things in it. I’ll admit, it is a little stressful. But just look how cute my little dude is!


This game is free for iOS and Mac, and is coming soon for PC and Android! You can upgrade to premium, which gets you other cool stuff (and makes sure the developers get support!) and you can, as per ushe, make in app purchases even further in-game coolness.

That’s my list—it’s by no means a definitive one. For instance, I left off the Sims because everyone already knows about it. I also discounted any farming games (including the one that lets you farm zombies) because of personal preference/an association between all farming games and getting dumped. So I’d really love it if you shared the games that indulge your inner control freak in the comments below! Until next time, queermos!

This has been the sixty-seventh installment of  Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology.

Feature image via Shutterstock.

Header by Rory Midhani

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. Terraria is my favorite world building game. It’s on Steam and really cheap- like 5 bucks maybe. It is similar to Minecraft in that you have to build a house right away or little beasties will come out of the woods and eat you. There’s also terrifying bosses to fight like the Eye of Cthulhu and Skeletron Prime and you can play multiplayer with all your friends which is really fun.

    • My girlfriend came home yesterday after playing Terraria at a friend’s house, grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me while squealing “OH MY GOD I CAN’T WAIT TO PLAY THIS FOREVER WITH YOU!!!!”

  2. I’m also terrified about playing Minecraft. It’s something I KNOW i’ll just spend endless hours on and when I’m at work, it’ll be all I think about. I even had to stop playing all those ‘tycoon’ games because it just wouldn’t stop.


    This is my life right now. I’m a Gemini and Mercury is in retrograde, which means I’ve been stuck in two cities in the span of a week while traveling, I keep receiving terrible work related news, all of my expensive things keep breaking, and I’ve had tons of miscommunications with everyone from employees to the lady who’s kids I’m babysitting to my work customers.

    And I wonder why I’m enjoying playing the Sims on my phone so much.

    Lady, it’s not just you. Blame Mercury. Thanks for this.

    • I was about to comment saying Tiny Death Star is way better than Tiny Tower for nerds because you get to collect characters and stuffs xD I’m also playing it obsessively. Maybe some of these other games can distract me…

  4. Ali, I remember my parents selling the home I grew up in and it was really hard on my brother. Hugs to you! I wish I could have given him more at the time but I had already moved out. “/

    • Thank you! We closed yesterday, and yeah, I’d been moved out. But it’s still weird, ya know? Like, up until yesterday my childhood home was in our collective possession and today it’s not. It’s just really—strange. I will literally never see the inside of it again.

  5. I really like Eufloria. It’s not as much world building as world protecting, but it’s really calming and there’s no violence, which is nice. I also like that there’s no other characters, it’s just a really simple graphical interface and it looks beautiful!
    I’m someone who doesn’t play computer games really (I’ve played Portal and Morrowind and that’s really it) so I like that it’s easy to get the hang of and the controls are simple, but it does get challenging. When it does get hard, the fast pace doesn’t feel too stressful because the music is so calming and the visuals are so sweet. I really recommend it.

  6. Rollercoaster Tycoon! God, I love that game. Theme Park was similar, but not as good.

    Tiny Tower – damn you, I’ve just re-installed that on my phone. I tried to forget – too many good memories. Now I’ve clicked install and will pour it a glass of wine and serve some lemon drizzle cake, whilst reminiscing about our shared school days and long summers and listening to Britney Spears.

  7. I totally love Lil Kingdom! The ogres and dragons are my favourite characters but everything is just really well done, even the items they sell in the shops are quirky and well suited and the detail they put into each floor is great.

    It’s killing me though that I just can’t seem to land the Magic Shop and it seems there’s a cap after awhile; like you can construct a floor but you can’t actually build anything in it.

    In terms of other world building games, I’m actually into a lot of the games by Kairosoft Games- I got really into Oh!Edo Towns but if you want the full versions you have to pay…

  8. If you’re willing to dish out a couple of bucks, I’d say KAIROSOFT’s games are the best damn city-building games in this world. They are the perfect reason to drop out of college.m

  9. My missus loves these kinds of games, so for me the least boring to watch (on xbox thus using the tv) is Tropico, she’s done the most recent two. The slightly satirical nature of it makes me laugh. Plus the music is great. Basically you’re a dictator in charge of an island and have to keep your citizens happy or not, depending on the level you’re playing. Build mines, museums, schools, hotels, army barracks, create trade alliances, immigration policies etc. The impressions by voice actors of other world leaders are funny too. Nixon is my favourite. Various platforms available, (she has Tropico 4 on xbox and steam), worrying how much my girl loves being a despot.

  10. I was more of a Kel fan myself. Something about the stoic tall lady that I just loved. Although, if we were talking all Pierce books, Emelan was my jam. Rosethorn/Lark, guys.

    Uhh… but back to the point of the article. I just got done with a long weekend meeting my girlfriend’s family, and while it was wonderful and they’re all amazing I think it’s time to delve into my introvert quiet place. Gonna try out some Deepworld on this cross country flight.

  11. I just started playing Minecraft last week. I did it to understand why my 12 year old was crying. I started playing survival and the first two days terrified me. I could barely walk properly let alone build a house for myself and I got killed because I went out after dark to kill a chicken. Now, almost a week in, I just planted wheat and beets. I’m really hoping my beets grow so I can make red carpet which will look so lovely in my home made of oak and stone and THIS IS WHAT MINECRAFT DOES TO YOU.

    • I’ve seen your posts and I wasn’t going to include Minecraft because everyone already knows it exists but then I had to quote you because it was just tooooooo funny. Basically I want you to know that you playing Minecraft is the reason that it’s on here. Also I recommend trying Deepworld. It’s wayyyy less stressful.

  12. Oh my god Autostraddle FREAKS ME OUT SOMETIMES. I was literally just thinking about Gungan Frontier this morning and how obsessed I used to be with it, and wondering if anyone else remembers that game, and then I browse through old geek posts and FIND A REFERENCE TO GUNGAN FRONTIER. This is so weird.

  13. “I’m so much of a control freak that it’s too free-form for me. There are not enough rules!”

    Never has a single sentence described my life and my gaming-endeavours so perfectly. Thank you.

    But also you have GOT to try the Smurf’s Village app; perfect for a control-freak! You get to farm stuff (trust me though, it’s cooler than Farmville)and do little quests and build things. It’s great. And also Smurfs are just really adorable.

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