You don’t start with a drone system at first, but when it unlocks, it’s a game changer.

The premise of a base-building game is that you’ve got a world full of resources, and you want to build up infrastructure to harness those resources and/or achieve objectives. If you’ve played Minecraft, you get the idea.

I’ve played a few such games recently. So what do they do that I like, and what would my ideal base-building game look like?

The Games


Craftopia is very clearly inspired by Breath of the Wild and its successors and other imitators. It’s also got one of the most interesting and colorful build systems of any game on this list. You can build oversized conveyor belts that funnel stuff into big cel-shaded machines that do stuff. The machines are sensibly designed, with important fundamentals like a material splitter with four configurable modes.

You move the world through different stages of development, from the bronze age to the industrial revolution, by powering up towers at specific locations with specific materials. There are villages with NPCs who give out quests, which can range from “bring me a bunch of things” to “go kill these mobs”, and it’s stingy about where or how to satisfy these goals - which encourages exploration.

Craftopia includes what to me is an essential element: reasons to build all this stuff. The world is full of monsters, including giants and bosses. You can build vehicles, resource farms, and weapons to let you explore and tackle these challenges. You can skill up different fighting styles, from two-weapon melee to ranged combat to magic.

The game is very concerned with stewardship of the natural world. It’s possible to chop down trees in a way that makes them not grow back, or harvest berries. Ore reserves can run out. The world isn’t an infinite resource generator.

Forever Skies

You descend from orbit onto the roof of a wrecked skyscraper, in a world where a super-virus has taken over the surface and your personal immunity level is a game mechanic. You find a very basic airship, and the tools to expand it.

Your goal is to fly from site to site - elevated platforms, windmills, and skyscraper research labs - to harvest resources, develop new medicines, and try to find a cure for the virus. You walk in the footsteps of a mysterious figure called “Noah”.

Let’s talk about the most genius move this game made, which is to solve the problem of sending you out into a big world and having you lug stuff back to base. In this game, your base is your vehicle, and it’s the only way to get from site to site. You’re never more than a minute or two away from everything you own and all the gadgets you’ve built.

Aside from that, the game can get brutal when it comes to food, water, and illness. A momentary lack of caution around broken glass can give you a disease, which requires complex medicine to deal with. There’s no fightable monsters as such, but there are dangers like centipedes and wasps mutated by the virus, and you have a couple of basic weapons to use against them. Rather than combat, the game is about surviving a hostile environment.


Havendock is easily the most colorful and cheerful game on this list. You ride a raft to a barely habitable cluster of tiny islands in an endless ocean. Pick up driftwood and seaweed to start building out a community.

Every so often, other survivors will arrive on a raft, and they’ll join your community if you can supply them with something they need, from medicine to food. They’ll also do work around the community by operating the machines you build, and some of them come with special abilities such as a bonus to bartending or the ability to talk to penguins.

Your base can’t just grow forever. The skeleton of the dock you arrive at can be fleshed out, but it has a fixed final size. There’s no enemies to threaten you, just an unfolding mystery for you to explore.

What distinguishes Havendock for me is the level of automation you can set up. You can assign people to operate machines, and they’ll not only do that, they’ll intelligently gather resources needed to do so from your various farms and factories and such. The output from your devices, like food from a cooking station, will accumulate up to a certain limit at that station. You can prioritize which stations get attended to first, mark certain stations as off limits (so somebody doesn’t grab a material you’re trying to accumulate for a project), and more.

Planet Crafter

Planet Crafter lands you on a rocky, Mars-like world with nothing but your omnicrafting tool in hand, and a mandate to make the planet livable. Messages trickle in, informing the player about who this is and why they were sent here, and thoroughly exploring the world as it progresses through the stages of terraforming can yield more clues about who or what may have been here before.

You have three health meters, only two of which are under your control to start with: food, water, and oxygen. You can synthesize water and oxygen to start with, but you must shepherd food much more carefully.

The keys to success in Planet Crafter are keeping these meters in good shape, progressing the terraforming effort to unlock new devices, and exploring every god damn inch of the map. You start with fundamentals like heat, pressure, and oxygen, but later on can make progress on a biosphere, from tiny plankton to mix-and-match custom animals. Like many other games mentioned here, there’s nothing trying to kill you except the environment.

You don’t start with a drone system at first, but when it unlocks, it’s a game changer. Your drones can move stuff from container to container, with a simple numeric priority system to let you control what gets serviced first. Unfortunately, drones and an auto-crafting station are just about the most complex automation you can make. Fortunately, they get a lot done.

My biggest complaint about Planet Crafter’s building system is that sizes aren’t standardized, and aside from a simple “lock” indicator when building, there’s no grid or alignment. Construction feels sloppy and haphazard to me.


A survey expedition was sent from an overcrowded, resource-starved Earth to the new planet. Hundreds of groundbreakers, scientists, and command personnel were going to make it happen. So when you wake up and stumble out of your hibernation pod and don’t find (almost) any of them, you’ve got a mystery: where are they?

Like Havendock, Techtonica actually includes other characters - just not very many. They are voiced, and they have opinions, feelings, concerns, and even commands for you. They’re part of the mystery, but they also want to solve it with you. Mission logs you’ll find around the world greatly expand on the story and do some very amusing world-building. The expedition comes off as staffed by a bunch of independent-minded blue-collar types, more interested in getting the work done than doing it by the book.

Techtonica is easily the best game on this list when it comes down to plugging base elements together. There’s a grid system, from the smallest 1x1 elements to larger 3x3 or 5x5 floors, and the machines snap to this grid and fit neatly into it. Machines have designated inputs and outputs, with ports at their bases to facilitate this. You plug machines together using inserters and conveyors, and there’s different varieties of these devices. There’s a surprisingly nuanced power-grid system where you both supply juice to your devices and accumulate it in giant capacitors. You can even wire different power-grids together with big cables.

My only complaints about the system are that I can’t take it even further, with macros that let me place a bunch of machines in a standard configuration, because if Techtonica loves anything, it’s massively parallel banks of identical factories.

Common Elements

Here’s what I have seen from these games, in no particular order:

The base. You build a series of rooms (or platforms for Havendock), then place devices inside of those spaces. The time cost to return to your base varies, and you might find teleporters or other mechanisms that can get you back there faster.

Fixed vs. procedural worlds. How random is the map? With Forever Skies, it’s very easy to procedurally generate a map - there’s no terrain, just points of light in the middle of a wrecked city. Other games won’t have random maps for story reasons.

Harvesting limits. Games like Craftopia and Techtonica can put long-term but inevitable limits on harvesting. Other games, like Planet Crafter, are fine with you drilling for rarities like Zeolite pretty much forever.

Material routing. The gold standard for this is drones on a priority system. “This container supplies this material, that container demands it”. Havendock and Planet Crafter both have variants of this system. Other games typically use conveyor belts, with containers used to buffer the supply vs. demand on a given conveyor line.

Motives and Monsters. Each of these games has some kind of goal aside from “survive the environment while building out your favorite house”. Sometimes that’s a story goal as with Havendock or Planet Crafter. Other times, it’s to beat dungeons and fight bosses, as with Craftopia.

My Ideal Game

So let’s build a game that would appeal to me, specifically, building from all these elements.

You have a vehicular base. As with Forever Skies, you cruise around from site to site. To make this interesting, let’s say that as technology progresses, you go from a wheeled truck-type thing (e.g. the Landmasters from “Damnation Alley”) to a hovercraft that could cross water to an airship that can fly and land anywhere.

We’ll also say that there are “foundations” out in the world, either pre-existing or buildable, where you can set up other bases. Eventually there might be teleporters or autopilots or something that let you move to these other bases.

There’s a grid. I really do need a nicely arranged grid to build on. We’ll use Techtonica’s grid system, rooted either in the vehicle’s main room or a base foundation. If your vehicle docks at a fixed base, their grids don’t interact, but you can still move objects from one grid to another with cargo cranes or something.

There’s multiple routing systems. You start by hand-hauling stuff or levitating it with your omnicrafter gizmo, but you move up to conveyor belts once you start setting up fixed bases. Like Techtonica, machines have fixed input/output ports, but you can fit drone adaptors onto those ports later on. This way, you get to choose whether a machine is fed strictly from something nearby, or whether you just supply it via a loosely arranged drone network. Sometimes I really do want to build a little assembly line that only sources parts locally, but other times I want to accumulate iron ore from every drill on the map.

There’s a mystery to solve, and monsters to fight. There should be something to unravel about the world, and the first answers you get should prompt more and more questions. Aside from that, a basic battle system would be neat. For opponents, you might have bio-engineered creatures, rogue robots, or weird energy emanations. There should be a reason you can’t just snipe these things from your vehicle - so they might be found in abandoned complex or caves around the map.

The map is random, the story isn’t. You can generate random maps with Perlin noise, as Minecraft does. On those maps, you can easily generate isolated spots for access to facilities or caves or whatever. These are basically instanced zones where combat can happen. Then you arrange the story-relevant instances such that earlier encounters are closer to your origin point, and later ones are farther away. Access keycards or the like can keep players from skipping important story encounters.

There are other characters. There should be at least a few NPCs who are important to the story. They should be unkillable by random accident or player malice.