I played the original SimCity back in the early 90s, and also SimCity 2000, both on the PC, and loved them both — But I never played any of the later releases. I found the iPhone version quite boring (it felt little different to SimCity 2000). I've got the digital deluxe version, but don't think the extra was worth it. Compared to others, I haven't had too many server issues (I'm on Europe East 2), but I have lost progress a few times.
Generally, my experience has been hugely positive. Without SC4 to compare to, I've been able to approach the game on its own merits, and I've loved it. I've played five cities, all in the same private region.
City #1 - Education
My first city went pretty well for the first 100,000 residents or so. I built a small industrial area in a little valley at the bottom left, and lots of residential and commercial. I tried to keep on top of the various demands that were made, whilst prioritising education. You can see the university looking over the valley. I also added lots of high wealth areas, particularly the area to the right of the main highway in the photo above. This city worked well for quite a while, but it wasn't too long until I realised that the city was going to need fairly major changes to grow beyond it's present limitations. (Incidentally, I appreciate the small map sizes because they force you to design well, and not just build out.) In particular, the lack of avenues means I can't cope with the increases in traffic beyond about 150,000 residents. So, with those lessons learned, I created a second city in the same region.
City #2 - Trade
As you can see, this city failed. At the bottom right is an oil field and a few bits of light industry. I placed commercial down both sides of the main highway (this works very well early in any game, by the way). The rest of the left half of the map was residential. I planned to export the oil and use the revenue to build the city. I managed to build a trade port, and exported a fair amount, but I never received sufficient revenue to make it worthwhile. I couldn't keep up with the demands from the Sims, and eventually almost everyone either left or had their houses burned down. In the end I gave up fighting them, and left just the little bit of residential I needed to power the oil drilling. I chugged along, but every time I thought I was making a bit of money, I would need to invest in something else. Eventually the oil field ran dry, and I didn't have the inclination to bulldoze the lot and start again. It was time for a new city.
City #3 - Industry
This third city was designed to be an industrial area. Although I was playing solo, I wanted to use the connectivity, so this city was going to do all the nasty grimy things, like mining, garbage and power, to leave my fourth city looking pristine. You can see a coal mine and power stations in the foreground, and in the far corner are several ore mines and smelting works producing alloy. These were all exported or shared with other regions. Although the concept is a good one, my experience didn't meet my expectations. In particular, I often had difficulty adequately sharing resources. For example, this city had a surplus of 450MW, but I could only share around 100MW with my other cities. Likewise, although I shared 48 garbage trucks with other cities, I rarely saw any in my other cities, and the garbage wasn't kept off their streets. I decided in the end that perhaps the glitch servers were contributing to these problems, and I had better return to the experiment at a future date.
City #4 - Tourism
This was another failed experiment. The idea was to build a city of tourism. You can see three major tourist attractions - a stadium, and next to it the Arc de Triomphe. Just next the the Arc is the Globe Theatre. Because I wanted tourists in, there's also a ferry, airport and railway station, and lots of parks. Money was the big problem here, and the stadium was a big mistake. I didn't realise you had to pay to host events, and having borrowed to purchase it, I couldn't afford the $150,000 or $200,000 to host events. I only managed to hold one before being forced to raises taxes to 15%, which only delayed the inevitable. The city is losing several thousand an hour, and with all three bonds maxed out, it would be painful to get back on an even keel.
City #5 - Trade
This is my most successful city, although it's not much to look at. The important area is on the left. Having made little money by drilling for oil, I decided that I would manage the whole supply chain. I began by importing coal and ore, and smelting alloy which I exported. On the profits I began to import oil and make plastics, which I again exported. With a little education (you can see the community college in the bottom right), that opened up high-tech industries, and I built a processor factory. Once production began, I stopped exporting the alloy and plastics, and used them to make processors, which I exported instead. Keeping a careful eye on what quantities were required, I then added more smelting factories, oil refineries and processor factories (and a recycling unit) until I could unlock consumer goods. This added a further link in the chain, and I therefore stopped exporting processors, and exported TVs and computers instead.
That might sound relatively easy, but I assure you it's not. The nice thing about it is you can essentially leave the sims to themselves, and you don't need to worry about too much beyond the basics (their residential area is to the right, and you can see it's pretty plain). The critical thing to make this model work is that you must ensure that the goods can get to where they're needed, when they're needed. That's surprisingly tough. This is why the detail of this version of SimCity really wins out. To make this work, I had to ensure that every truck could get to the place where it was needed without a long detour or getting stuck in a traffic jam. If it was delayed, the factory would stop producing and amazingly quickly you can end up backrupt. You'll see that I attempted to keep the depots near to the edge of the map to try to avoid the trucks getting stuck in jams, and I tried to make sure that the sims commuting to work wouldn't get in the way of my deliveries. The odd road angles you can see in places are where I had to make adjustments to avoid traffic chaos. I seriously regret not using avenues when putting down my ploppables. Traffic very nearly killed this city stone dead. I was doing fine until the population went above 50,000, and then the traffic was so bad trucks would move less than a hundred yards in an hour. I lost over a million dollars in less than 10 hours before I was able to put it right (a combination of new roads, street cars, and removing certain junctions). What's great is that the level of simulation allows you to pinpoint precisely what's causing the hold up as you can click on individual cars in the jams, and work out where people are coming/going from/to and try to build better routes for them. Once you've exported enough to upgrade to trade ports and can import/export by rail and sea, the problem is much easier to solve, but it's tough crossing that line.
This city now was a fully upgraded trade and electronics divisions, and I have about $8 million, and am making a profit of about $1.5 million a month/day (all this with less than 80 thousand sims, who don't need much looking after). I'm intending to build a great work airport with the proceeds, but that needs a huge amount of resources, so even at that rate it will take a while before it's built.
In summary, I'm really enjoying SimCity. It's challenging, and there's a good variety to the game play. It's a shame the sharing between cities isn't foolproof yet. Nevertheless, it works just fine as a single player game, and I've really enjoyed being able to switch to another city when something my cities has stagnated or failed, knowing that my work in the new city might help my old one out. Because all these cities are in the same region, even the ones I've abandoned still feel part of the game, and I'm much more likely to return to them than I would if they were just a saved game file on my PC. If you've been put off by the push to multiplayer and the small city sizes, then don't be. It really is a great game.