Sandbox vs open world
The sandbox and open world genres are often mistaken for one another and some even believe the two are interchangeable. That is actually not true. Open world games have a slew of mechanics with the one constant being an open world where players can explore. Generally speaking, open world games can be linear or non-linear in terms of progression as long as the player can explore the world whenever they want, it’s an open world game.
Sandbox games, by comparison, may or may not have an open world, but the player retains almost full control over the game space. For example, Rollercoaster Tycoon isn’t an open world game, but it is a sandbox game. You have an objective that you can tackle however you want. You can build whatever rides you want, bulldoze any existing rides, change the landscape, and even build rides underground. The game doesn’t care how you complete the objective.
Open world games generally focus on where players can go. Sandbox games generally focus on what players can do. They often overlap, but they are not the same.
The entertainment value in sandbox games is having way more control over the game world than you normally would. Minecraft is another excellent example. Minecraft gives you a whole world and you can literally mine the whole thing if you want to. It’ll take roughly two billion years to do it, but the game gives you that option. That’s a level of freedom you can only get in a sandbox game.
In short, you can have open world games without sandbox elements and sandbox games without open world elements. Since there is a differentiation, they are not the same genre.
Crashlands burst onto the scene in 2016 and immediately became one of the best sandbox games out there. In this title, you play as an intergalactic trucker. The game starts with you stuck on a random planet. Your job is to defeat bad guys, craft items, and build yourself a home away from home. There is also a quest line where you can save the world while retrieving all of the packages you lost. It’s a huge game that also doesn’t take itself too seriously. You’ll have to shell out $4.99 to play it but there are also no in-app purchases. The game is also free with Google Play Pass if you use it. This same developer also makes Levelhead, a linear platformer but it has a creative mode with a super high degree of customization. It’s also pretty fun if you like to goof around with creating stuff.
The Escapists 1 and 2
Price: $6.49 and $6.99 respectively
The Escapists 1 and 2 are excellent sandbox games. You play as an inmate in a prison and breaking out is your sole purpose. You can craft various items and concoct various ways to get out. That includes dressing up as a guard, tunneling out, or even making your way out through the ducts. You must also do the usual prison stuff like work and eat. The second game adds some feature and has a bunch of extra places to break out of. However, you really can’t go wrong with either game. They are both also free with Google Play Games as well if you use it.
Price: Free to play
Godus is a city building simulator with an extra degree of power for the player. Not only do you play as a god and keep an eye on your civilization, but you can design, mine, and sculpt the entire game world to your tastes. That puts it squarely in sandbox land. As a simulator, it’s pretty decent and you can do things like nurture the growth of your little civilization or blow it up with natural disasters. The choice is yours.
Price: $6.99 with in-app purchases
Minecraft another of the most popular sandbox games of all time. For those who have been living under a rock, Minecraft is a game where you mine things, build things, kill things, and use your creativity to its maximum. Players from all over the world have enjoyed the game and its mobile version actually isn’t half bad. Updates in 2017 brought Minecraft’s mobile version on par with its console, PC, and Nintendo Switch counterparts for true cross-platform play. Microsoft actually does a great job with this one and its popularity isn’t just a passing fad. It’s been popular for many, many years.
Old School RuneScape
Price: Free / $10.99 per month / $99.99 per year
Old School RuneScape is one of the best MMORPGs on mobile. Like most MMORPGs, it features an open world you can explore at will along with a ton of story and side quests to complete. You create a character, get right out there, and explore. The game also includes a rich in-game economy among the players, decent character class options, and tons of stuff to do in terms of quests and exploration. It’s also a subscription model instead of the usual free to play model so you can’t really pay your way to the top. Here is our list of the best MMORPGs if you want to look at other options.
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Price: Free / $2.99
Almost any city building simulator is a sandbox game and Pocket City is no different. You can design a city from the ground up, including various types of buildings, roads, utilities, and more. Additionally, the game has a living economy that you can tweak with things like tax rates and the density of the buildings you make. There are plenty of city builders on mobile, but we like Pocket City because it’s a premium game with no microstransactions so there is nothing but you and your decisions to drive the game forward. The premium version runs for a scant $2.99 and it’s free with Google Play Pass if you have it.
Rockstar Games titles
Rockstar Games is one of the biggest developers on Google Play and in the gaming industry at large. Of course you know the studio best for its Grand Theft Auto series of games and they are among the best sandbox games on mobile. There are a few to choose from, including Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas. They play basically just like their console counterparts except with touch screen controls. Additionally, Rockstar does Bully (Google Play link) which has a similar sandbox style but it takes place in school instead of city streets. You can’t go wrong with any of them.
Price: Free to play
Roblox is another older sandbox game and it’s one of the most popular on mobile. The game is almost pure player freedom and you can craft a whole world and do various things in it. You can also enter into other people’s worlds and play there instead. You can do play solo or with people and it would honestly take months to describe all of the things you can do in the game. Between the sheer number of player-created options and the stuff you can create yourself, it’s no small wonder this game is popular, especially among sandbox fans. The game can also sync your account cross-platform so you can play on console, PC, or your phone if you want.
Price: $5.99 with in-app purchases
Rollercoaster Tycoon is an excellent sandbox game. This variant is a port of the first and second games from PC into a neat (and relatively inexpensive) package. The game is simple. You start a scenario with a specific goal and build a park capable of achieving the goal. You can landscape the park, build whatever rides you want, and set up everything the way you want to. In addition, this version of the game includes a park designer feature to create your own scenarios and a couple of DLCs with more content. There are other tycoon style games as well, such as Transport Tycoon (Google Play link) if you want to play with something other than amusement parks.
Terraria is right up there with Minecraft in terms of game play except this one is in a 2D space. Years ago, this used to be a pocket edition that was smaller and less powerful than the PC version of Terraria. However, the developers rebuilt it and it’s the same as PC and console these days. You can create multiple sized worlds, do a bunch of stuff in those worlds, and even play with up to seven other people if you want to. You can mine, craft, defeat enemies, build stuff, destroy stuff, and collect some of the 800 items available in the game. It’s not quite as deep as Minecraft, but tons of people play this game for years without getting bored or running out of stuff to do. It’s also free via Google Play Pass if you use it.
Thank you for reading! Try these out too:
If we missed any of the best sandbox games for Android, tell us about them in the comments!