by Harry Guinness on
If you’ve any interest in writing nicely then a $1 ballpoint won’t cut it, you need to look at a fountain pen.
Minecraft is great! Until your two-week project recreating the Sistine Chapel gets anachronistically exploded by Creepers. If you’d like some other games that feed your need for creativity, check out the options below.
We’ve selected games that, for the most part, omit the “survival” elements that have become so closely linked with crafting in modern titles. The games below allow you to simply build, no need to hunt for materials or level up your character, no need to fight off other players just to keep your stuff from being blown up. Enjoy.
Imagine if you combined the simple destructive mechanics of a game like Angry Birds with the grid-based building of LEGOs. That’s the gist of Besiege, an indie darling that’s been in Early Access on Steam for a few years now. The game is loosely broken up into stages, each one of which requires you to build a contraption to destroy medieval structures and armies. While the building tools start off simple with basic carts and canons, they quickly expand, allowing you to assemble Da Vinci-style flying machines and map out dozens of controls to your keyboard. Updates to the game have added expanded stages and an open-ended creative mode, as well as multiplayer and level editor options. For just ten bucks, it’s a fantastic bargain with a ton of replay value.
If you’ve ever felt the longing to run your own simulated version of NASA, and then staff that space agency entirely with the little squishy Minions from Despicable Me, then Kerbal Space Program is the game for you. The game tasks you with building 60’s-era rockets and other somewhat realistic spacecraft and going on missions in the near orbit and the rest of the solar system. In addition to the building mechanic, Kerbal includes oddly realistic physics and astronomy for a game that’s so lighthearted in tone, plus you’ll have to manage your agency’s budget and research projects. It’s surprisingly hard when treated as a pure simulation game… good thing there’s a sandbox mode for less structured building and tinkering.
Terra Tech includes base-building, resource gathering, and an open world, which makes it a lot like Minecraft. But unlike Minecraft, you don’t have to go around the world using meaty legs or tamed horses. Nope, the whole idea is to use all the stuff in the open procedurally-generated sandbox to build kick-ass vehicles, either rolling around or flying through the air.
The game’s block-based building engine is amazingly versatile, allowing for everything from simple buggy-style cars to fighter jets massive walking mechs. It has a standard single-player mode with open world aspects, but if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are multiplayer competitive and creative modes, too, along with a more structured gauntlet for challenging your engineering skills.
Poly Bridge may remind you of that bridge-building in your high school physics class. And that’s because it pretty much is. But it takes the bare bones of simply building a bridge to specifications and expands it into something much more stage-based and fun. Your 2D drawing of a bridge expands into a full 3D model once you’re finished, perfect for watching all those cars and trucks just barely make it over your under-budget project. (Or, alternately, crash and burn.)
The game includes both an easy-to-use GIF tool for sharing your hilarious near-failures and access to the Steam Workshop in the PC version. The Advanced Mechanics system adds newer elements including copy-and-paste design and hydraulic pieces, for drawbridges and other moving parts. It’s available on PCs, iOS devices, and the Nintendo Switch.
Mixing the conventional management aspects of a city building game with the more open-ended creativity of a construction game, Block’Hood tasks the player with going vertical to overcome real-world problems of city management. The game was designed by an architecture firm to teach people about the realistic problems with modern urban areas.
While the cities-slash-towers you build are completely free in terms of design, every modular block is connected to and affected by those around it. You’ll have to carefully manage your resources and outputs to keep building upward and make sure both your structure and the people inside it stay healthy.
The Scribblenauts series is all about solving small, self-contained problems by conjuring up… well, pretty much anything. The central mechanic is a huge vocabulary of words that are tied to specific objects, which you can “give” to your player character simply by spelling them out. Drop whatever you can think of into the physics-based stage and use it to accomplish your straightforward task. The sheer variety of objects on hand makes the game continually surprising, doubly so since it added the ability to use adjectives to modify your creations.
Various editions of the game are available, but Scribblenauts Unlimited represents the most expansive option, with support for an item editor and a creative mode. That one’s available on Windows, iOS, Android, and the older Nintendo 3DS and Wii U consoles. If you own something newer, the multiplayer party game Scribblenauts Showdown offers similar word-based creation, but in a multiplayer party game focus on the Xbox One, PS4, and Switch.
The title of this game is somewhat misleading. Yes, in SimplePlanes you can indeed make some very simple planes. But the reference is to the tools you’re given, not the results of your efforts. And as you might be able to guess, a few simple tools can create some impressive results.
The 3D polygon-based building engine in SimplePlanes can be used to recreate everything from a basic paper airplane shape to a fully-rendered WWII bomber, and just about everything in between (including cars and boats), all behaving according to realistic physics and aerodynamics. If you don’t feel like spending ten hours lovingly recreating every bit of a Mustang P-38, you can download someone’s design from the online gallery (or the integrated Steamworks mod system) and run them through the game’s environments or AI combat arenas.
The simplest game on this list is just for mobile phones, but it still allows for an admirable amount of creativity. CATS: Crash Arena Turbo Stars, from the same free-to-play developer as the Cut the Rope series, tasks the player with creating a Battlebots-style death machine and pitting it against other players in one-on-one fights. (All of them are piloted by cats. Naturally.)
The 2D creation system isn’t as open-ended as the other games on this list, but it still has a lot of flexibility in terms of parts, weapons, and overall designs. Unfortunately, the game is free-to-play, so you’re looking at some serious grind if you want to best the players who have been facing off against online opponents for a while.
All these other games are thinking small. Why build a car or even a city when you can jump straight into phenomenal cosmic powers and build a solar system? Universe Sandbox² is, well, a universal sandbox, wherein you can make star systems and planets, then smash them around like balls on a pool table measured in AU. Realistic astrophysics let you see what would really happen if you tried to use the Earth as a wrecking ball to blast big chunks off of Venus. You can build your own planets and stars from a variety of elemental materials, up to and including dark matter and gravity-warping black holes. If you happen to have a VR headset, the game will support it, further immersing you in your godlike delusion.
We’ve covered Nintendo’s cardboard creation engine, Labo, before. If you have a Switch console and you’re ready to graduate to building real stuff you can actually touch, it’s a great bit of fun. The main “Variety Kit” includes a smattering of toys like a motorcycle steering stick, a robot that uses the Switch Joy-Cons for movement, a fishing pole controller, and a fully-functional piano, while the Robot Kit lets you build a giant mech suit you can wear and the Vehicle Kit includes steering wheels, gas pedals, and joysticks.
Once you’re done with the included activities, some of the kits can be used in other Nintendo games, like the motorcycle steering column for Mario Kart 8. To be honest, the included games for actually using all this stuff are a bit humdrum, but the creation doesn’t stop with cardboard. The Labo system includes a basic visual programming language that allows you to make your own games and gadgets. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it should be more than enough to entertain the kids… or maybe even a few young-at-heart adults.
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