Last week we featured the best free iPad games, but there were a few new categories there that weren't in my original best free iPhone games post. One of those categories is simulation, where your micro-management skills pay the virtual bills. Some of these will look familiar, but others may be new to you. Keep in mind that all of the current picks here are free-to-play, but subsist on in-app payments for various non-essential perks, so if you're not a fan of being nickeled-and-dimed, this list might not be for you. Buckle up hit the jump to see our favourite free simulation games for the iPhone.
Tiny Tower is a really simple social management game with 8-bit-style graphics. Your job is to populate a tower with bitizens, assign them jobs relevent to their skills, keep their respective businesses stocked, and build more floors on top of your building. Over time, your bitizens earn you money which can be spent on purchasing new stock for various types of stores, or for putting the next storey onto your tower. You'll need to ferry bitizens from the ground floor with the elevator if you'll ever want to move new people in, plus once in awhile VIPs will provide you extra bonuses, like knocking off a few hours from your restocking time.
Tiny Tower occasionally gives you Towerbucks for handling the elevator, which can be used to hurry restocking, construction, or elevator upgrades. Towerbucks can also be bought through in-app purchases.
The Sandbox is clever mix-and-match game with an 8-bit art style. You take the role of an almighty creator trying to combine various elements in the right order at the right spot in order to complete a puzzle. Those goals can be as simple as evaporating water and as elaborate as discovering electricity. In that sense, there's a definite Doodle God vibe, except this is a lot more fluid. Beyond painting element-infused pixels, you also have control over a wide variety of environment elements, including temperature and weather. The real magic of The Sandbox is that elements all behave as you expect them to - trees catch fire if you turn up the world temperature, dirt falls when you paint it in the sky, and electricity surges through metal and shoots off the ends of wires with sparks. Given, all of that action is in chunky pixels, it's still all very believable. Outside of the puzzles, you can also go freestyle to make your own creations and share them online in the burgeoning pixel art gallery.
Though The Sandbox is free, new elements are unlocked with mana points, which are awarded as you play through missions or bought through in-app purchases. Mana points can also be used to purchase hints for particularly tricky puzzles - luckily the hints aren't too expensive. There's Game Center support here to track achievements, but it's not Universal, so unfortunately no enjoying this one on the big screen.
My Country is a city simulation game where you build businesses, attract residents, and connect with neighboring communities. It's about as close to a full-featured, free version of the premium SimCity game as you'll find. Sure, there are some of the FarmVille trappings of having to tap on buildings to collect revenue, but there's a ton of depth to the resource structure; for example, to run a business, you have to gather up equipment either through other business or upgrading residential units to hire the required professionals. You need to juggle ecology ratings and electrical demands as your city expands from one era to the next. As you complete missions, you gain experience points, level up, and unlock new buildings to propel your metropolis to further heights.
The in-game cash you earn from running businesses within your city (or country, once it gets big enough) is generally what you use to expand and unlock new buildings, but you can also use the premium CountryBucks currency to complete most of the same tasks.
Order Up!! To Go is a cooking and restaurant simulator that tests your time management skills. The gameplay is twofold - for one, you're working on building up the reputation and menu for your restaurant, always with an eye to the next establishment, so there's a fair bit of budgeting involved. The cooking itself is very similar to the Cooking Mama series in you cut tomatoes with downward swipes and flip burgers with curved swipes (though I wouldn't mind some accelerometer control for that). What really keeps the game fun is the variety of other mini-games and the great humor both in the writing an art style. Smaller nuances, like recognizing customers as they come in and using the appropriate spices adds even more depth to the frantic gameplay.
You earn silver coins through regular gameplay, which can be used to buy your ingredients, access new restaurants, and hire extra help, but you can speed up the process with premium gold coins acquired through in-app purchases.
The Sims FreePlay is a classic life simulation game where you tend to a collection of virtual people, each with a variety of needs and colorful spectrum of personality quirks. You do everything from steering their conversations with other Sims, decorating their home, getting them to work, and making sure they bathe regularly. A recent update even added the ability to play as and care for child Sims. As you guide your Sim to accomplish daily tasks, you gain experience points, level up, and unlock new items. Unlike the old Sims games that had a handy fast-forward button, activities in The Sims FreePlay all happen in real-time, so when you put your little people to sleep, they're gone for 8 real hours.
As you play, you earn Lifestyle Points, which can be used to immediately satisfy your Sim's needs and quickly complete tasks. Those can be bought through in-app purchases, alongside the game's currency, Simoleans, which your Sims earn through various kinds of work.
The UI is better-suited for the iPad; on the iPhone, I find gameplay a little cramped, but everything is still there, and in the world of simulation games, there's really no contest. Saved games can be manually synced to the cloud between iPhone and iPad, but that can prove to be a hassle if you switch back and forth a bunch.
There's a wide world of free iOS sim games out there, and new ones are coming out all the time. What have you been playing lately ? Anything you'd like to see on this list? As with the other features, you can expect this list to be updated over time.