This combo of Surviving Mars with factory building has you automate and expand a lunar colony in the wake of disaster

An upcoming management-automation-strategy hybrid called The Crust is looking pretty promising, a concept that looks and plays like it'll be a combination of Surviving Mars and a Factory-building game. You're put in charge of an automated building and mining system on the lunar surface shortly before a disaster that leaves you as one of the only people with a fully functional, operating lunar colony. From there it's up to you to ship resources to Earth, aid disaster survivors, and build up your base's capabilities.

The Crust had a demo during the recent Steam next fest that's still available, though I don't know for how long. I spent perhaps too long with it—just because I thought the premise was so interesting and fun. If you hurry you can probably jump in for a few hours of exploration and base-building, though the demo build doesn't have colonists to land on the moon yet. It also has a few bugs, some really offputting placeholder robot voices, and all the things you'd expect an unfinished, unreleased game to have going for it.

You've got two bases: Aboveground and below. The aboveground facility has the big stuff: Power generation, exploration vehicle facilities, and launch sites. Below ground you set up mines, ore processing, and manufacturing hubs.

That below-ground layer is neat, featuring the kind of processors and conveyors gameplay that has made factory-builders like Satisfactory and Factorio so popular. The facilities and production for processing lunar ore, however, aren't anything like those other games. Lunar regolith has a richness level for many different minerals, containing multiple worthwhile things to use. It thus has to be processed and sorted into different oxides, along with worthless slag, before you can use them.

I also really liked how part of the demo involves securing mining sources outside of your own base. The region you're in doesn't have unlimited resources, so you have to reactivate huge mobile mining rigs, send out surveyors to find deposits of rich regolith, and then arrange cargo vehicles to come and go from your base. That—alongside fulfilling orders from Earth—adds a fun new layer of then moving, shipping, and receiving goods on the aboveground base layer that have to be moved below efficiently or vice versa.

The Crust is due to launch in the first quarter of 2024, and will at some point prior to that run a Kickstarter. You can find The Crust on Steam, and developer VEOM Studio on their website.

Jon Bolding is a games writer and critic with an extensive background in strategy games. When he's not on his PC, he can be found playing every tabletop game under the sun.