Base-building and management simulator games scratch a particular itch. There’s that perfect gameplay loop that comes from doing menial tasks and then, later, building systems to help automate those chores. But these games are often more fun with others, letting you create abominations together or ruthlessly mess with each other’s work.
So we’ve created a list of some of our favorites that support cooperative play; mostly online multiplayer with a few entries that support couch co-op. This list broadly covers base-building, automation, survival, and certain types of crafting games. What they share in common is a particular game loop, with resource gathering and crafting complementary to other goals — from exploration and fighting to growing a city to managing a successful amusement park or farm.
This list focuses on official, developer-backed multiplayer modes. Even if your favorite doesn’t make an appearance, many popular colony management sims (like Rimworld, for example) have multiplayer mods.
First, some classics
Terraria is the 2D sandbox survival game to end all 2D sandbox survival games. You could easily burn hundreds of hours simply exploring and building, even without explicitly attempting to fight the game’s numerous enemies. It has everything: exploration in an absolutely massive procedurally generated map, crafting and base-building, and so, so many bats. Build your base, seek upgrades, and fight bosses to advance the game’s story.
Online multiplayer supports up to eight players, with some older console editions offering four-player split-screen co-op. (Developer Re-Logic first released the game on PC in 2011; it has been ported to its fair share of platforms since.) The Nintendo Switch version also supports two-player couch co-op. Terraria can have a challenging learning curve for beginners, so the multiplayer mode is a helpful way of having a guide.
Terraria is available on Windows PC, Linux, and Max via Steam and GOG, and on PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Nintendo Switch, Android, and iOS. Cross-platform play is not available.
The world phenomenon sandbox game hardly requires introduction, but this list would not be complete without its presence. It is the second-bestselling game of all time (Tetris holds the top spot), and Polygon has called it “among the most influential games of the 2010s.” In Minecraft, the only upper limit is your creativity, and the community that has formed within and around the game is its centerpiece. You can play around with your friends or create meticulous works of fan art with the game’s signature mix of exploring, mining, and crafting.
Because the game has been out for more than a decade, multiplayer will vary between players who have the original Java Edition of the game available for PC, or the Bedrock Edition for PC, consoles, and mobile. You’ll need to have the same edition of the game to play online multiplayer. Consult our guide on how Minecraft multiplayer works for more details.
Minecraft is available on Windows PC, Linux, numerous Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo consoles, and Nintendo 3DS and Switch. Minecraft’s website has an extensively detailed chart noting console compatibility for cross-platform play.
If farming is more up your alley
Your grandfather wills you his old farm in Pelican Town, freeing you from your soul-crushing JojaMart corporate job. This farming and lifestyle sim is a modern classic for good reason. There’s lots to do, and you can tackle it at your own pace: Till the land, sell crops, raise farm animals, mine, fish, and socialize with the townspeople — or lean into one of these activities if you find any of the others onerous. It’s soothing and rewarding, and the game’s storytelling and characters are delightfully memorable.
Build up to four cabins on your farm, and invite friends to online multiplayer. You can choose to either pool your income or manage separate balances — useful for playthroughs when others might drop in or out of a session.
Stardew Valley is available on Windows PC, Linux, and Mac via Steam, GOG, and Humble and on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android, and iOS. No cross-platform play is available.
Farming Simulator 22
This first-person farming simulator puts you and your friends right on the farm, giving you the freedom to design anything from a vineyard to a potato farm to a depressing Monsanto-like empire. This franchise has existed for eons, and this entry builds upon its predecessors with a staggering number of tools and crops — all in the name of immersion. Drive that tractor around your acreage and harvest those rolling fields of wheat, baby.
Online multiplayer supports up to 16 players on PC and up to six on console. Good luck running that farm with just a handful of people.
Farm Simulator 22 is available on Windows PC and Mac via Steam, and on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X with cross-platform play.
If you’re nostalgic for RollerCoaster Tycoon
While Planet Coaster is a great single-player descendant of RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, Parkitect has a multiplayer mode currently in beta. This theme park management sim is much closer to RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, before the franchise changed its graphic scheme from isometric pixel art to a more fluid 3D look. Parkitect takes that classic toolkit — the pathing, coaster building, and terraforming tools are very similar — and expands ride types, decorative options, and support staff management. (And with its online features, other players can upload their ride designs, and you can build them in your own park.)
Up to eight players can build a park together cooperatively through online play, but I like to play it “competitively” by seeing who can build the more popular ride — or by slapping weird decor onto a ride my partner has created.
Parkitect is available on Windows PC, Linux, and Mac via Steam, Epic Games, GOG, and Humble with cross-platform play.
If you love the automation of it all
Factorio is the champion of the automation management sim space — it’s also the champion of making a factory so complicated you don’t understand how it works anymore. Gather resources and do lots of building in order to eventually launch a satellite into space. You could also play it like I do, and get wrapped up in making complex creations in an attempt to solve one specific problem, or to kill those bugs, or to make railways for trains, or to kill more bugs, or to adapt your electrical grid to the cascade of upgrades, or to kill those fucking bugs. The research tree is incredibly dense, and each new discovery opens worlds of possibilities for your build. I’m an engineer now.
Players can play cooperatively (or PvP, if you’re feeling antagonistic) by joining a server. Though it’s best around two to eight players, streamers have shoved hundreds of people into theirs for maximum chaos.
Factorio is available on Windows PC, Linux, and Mac via Steam and GOG, with cross-platform play. It will come to Nintendo Switch on Oct. 28.
Satisfactory takes the assembly line vibes of Factorio and sticks them in a first-person perspective replete with 3D graphics. There’s a focus on exploration and base-building, but instead of having oxygen as a limiting factor, you face enemy threats, much more in line with something like Valheim (though the foes are nowhere near the difficulty of Valheim’s big bosses). The game is still in early access, but the multiplayer is already polished enough to have fun. Building an assembly line is intensely satisfying: Elements can be built in chaotically or snapped to a grid, and each upgrade beefs up your base. When things are hooked up, you can physically run around your factory, and even stand on conveyor belts as they tote you around.
Satisfactory officially supports four players in online co-op (a higher upper limit is technically possible) with no current plan for PvP. It’s a chill experience unless you play it like I do: like a jerk who runs around stabbing multiplayer partners until they die, allowing you to steal all their stuff.
Satisfactory is in early access on Windows PC, Linux, and Mac via Steam and Epic Games, with cross-platform play.
Astroneer sets you on a large planet full of mineable resources with a special “deformer” gun that sucks up and spits out the low-poly environment. As long as you build tethers back to an oxygen line, you can freely explore the planet, using that gun to burrow deep into its depths (and even make a tunnel through the planet’s center). You can research and build technology, and eventually explore seven planets in the solar system. But it’s also a compelling sandbox game that lets you goof around by making smooth paths which you can snowboard down.
In online multiplayer, which supports up to four players, I like to work together to build large oxygen grids, and do snowboarding competitions to the core of the base planet. Just be careful not to snowboard straight into a cavern — to your death. Not that we’ve done that.
Astroneer is available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Windows PC via Steam. No cross-platform play is available.
If you like base-building with a side of boss fights
Valheim broke the survival sim mold by eschewing many of the genre’s grindiest elements. The game sticks players in a large open world inspired by Norse mythology, where they must gather resources in order to build shelter. You aren’t forced to keep yourself from starving or fret over other traditional survival sim concerns. Instead, you must fight off smaller enemies and build toward fighting terrifying regional bosses, lest you be gated from large areas of the game. (It’s also entirely possible to die in stupid ways, like getting trapped in a poorly ventilated home filled with poisonous fumes.)
Online multiplayer can support 10 people on a server. Though you can play alone, the game is much more fun with friends. Having someone else on your team to help maintain your base, or assist in defeating bosses, feels like a must.
Valheim is in early access on Windows PC and Linux via Steam. It’s coming to Game Pass on PC on Sept. 29 and on Xbox in spring 2023 and will support cross-platform play.
In the vein of games like Forager, Core Keeper keeps the grind fun while offering challenges through exploration, crafting, and fighting. Set in a procedurally generated cave with a grid-like layout, players must blast through the squares of wall around them, revealing resources, regions, and enemies. It mixes the blocky sandbox of Minecraft with the pace and boss fights of Valheim. As each region is blocked by its big bad boss, the play loop involves exploration and gathering, base-management and crafting, then venturing out with your crew in an attempt to fight to the death.
Up to eight online players can have adventures together in Core Keeper, which is for the best, given the game’s resource management and exploration challenges.
Core Keeper is in early access on Windows PC and Linux via Steam.
If you’d prefer to focus more specifically on surviving
“Everything wants you to die” is how developer Facepunch Studios describes Rust — a statement that is incredibly and objectively correct. Admittedly, this game’s difficulty leads me to watch Twitch streamers play it instead of personally playing it. The brutal survival game famously drops you into the world with nothing, not even clothes. The only thing worse than the game’s cruel environs are the assholes who make everything feel horrible. It’s comically bleak, and an entertaining time with friends (though it’s a bit difficult to meet up with them.)
A Rust server can house up to 100 players, though there are massive servers with more — and of course smaller parties as well. Unless you’re prepared to die repeatedly, you might not want to hop into an enormous server on your first go of it. But who am I to judge?
Rust is available on Windows PC, Linux, and Mac via Steam, and on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. Cross-platform play is available on consoles but not on PC.
Don’t Starve Together
The aim of Don’t Starve is, of course, not starving to death. If that sounds boring, then you should know the game kills players in dozens of bleakly hilarious ways. The Edward Gorey-esque aesthetic is a great match for its Gothic elements. Play as a character whose dead twin sister can be spawned as a friendly ghost, or one who turns into a beaver after chopping a certain amount of wood, or another who’s a pyromaniac with a beloved lighter. Build bases to save up food for the winter, shave beefalo to make fur vests, watch pigs in houses fight their spider neighbors. Don’t let the Deerclops get you, or the kilt-wearing walruses with blow darts.
The game supports up to six online players, but a co-op of two is just as fun — fewer mouths to feed, but enough players to make base-building more grand. Also, there’s someone there to revive you when you (inevitably) kick the bucket. Developer Klei also hosts larger servers where you can dip in and out — just remember to empty your pockets before leaving.
Don’t Starve Together is available on Windows PC, Linux, and Mac via Steam and on PS4 and Xbox One. Cross-platform play is not available.
The best of the rest
Developer Thunder Lotus bills Spiritfarer as a “cozy management sim about dying,” which sounds at odds with itself. But in the game, you build a little base on a boat that coasts down the River Styx while helping the dead fulfill their unfinished business in order to move on. A combination of seafaring across the world’s map of varied islands melds with its cozy management sim play, which includes farming, crafting, cooking, and making a precarious stack of buildings on your ship. Each character has a distinct storyline that makes it difficult to say goodbye.
This is a rare couch co-op entry. Player one controls Stella, who assumes the famous responsibilities of Charon (yes, that Charon), while the second player plays as her cat, Daffodil. Unlike other couch co-op games where one player is second fiddle, Daffodil can do most of the management sim tasks like cooking and watering crops. The only thing the cat can’t do is talk to spirits, which honestly just makes sense.
Spiritfarer is available on Windows PC, Linux, and Mac via Steam, Epic Games, and GOG and on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.