More Data ! ... and some Interesting Discussions ... Thanks, Guys
The Distribution so far:
Considering the first 51 replies so far: (after subtracting the two Banner Ads, and multiple replies by single individuals), we essentially have 35 responses up to this point. Many of the respondents noted that they either have played, or still play, at multiple levels. For the purpose of assembling the distribution shown above, I settled on one level for each person, typically either: the highest level they played, or the highest level they won, or the highest level that they enjoyed -- whichever seemed most appropriate. (Obviously, my assumptions are subjective; and this still is not a scientific survey.) What is remarkable though (excluding for a moment the one vote at the Ridiculous level, and the 4 outliers at the Insane level) is how we basically continue to have a very tidy "bell curve" centered on the Challenging level.
Challenging is considered to be the best AI, which doesn't resort to cheating. Under the circumstances, I think the game developers have reason to be pretty happy with the bulk of this distribution. As for the outliers, well ... Good for them !
Continuing Discussions: One of the discussions that interested me focused on the research, enchantment, and gameplay strategies that players might use during the first 50 turns or so, to optimize their initial gameplay. (See replies #33 (Kongdej); #45 (StillSingle); and #51 (Droghar).) I think we all recognize that the starting set-up, and the early turns in a 4X game, can make a huge difference in how the balance of the game plays out. IMO, Kongdej made some good recommendations in that regard; BUT he suggested that a "very rigid" and consistent pattern would always (or usually) be optimal. StillSingle and Droghar took some exception to this view.
For my part, I tend to agree these two guys. I am happy to believe (in my innocence) that there is no single pattern of choices that is always going to be optimal. Quickly casting "Inspiration" and "Enchanted Hammers" on your first settlement MAY often be a good idea. Researching the first 3 or 4 Civilization advances (and "Shard Harvesting" from the Magic column) before tackling any other research advances MAY often be a good idea. Training your first pioneer immediately MAY often be a good idea. Setting your Tax rate to zero during the first 20-50 turns MAY often be a good idea. Concentrating on buying several champions in the early turns MAY often be a good idea. AND concentrating on leveling up your Sovereign in the early turns MAY often be a good idea.
BUT, bottom line, there is no single, rigid, course of action that is always going to be optimal. People will have their favorite approaches; different factions (and custom Sovereigns) will suggest different approaches; and the level of difficulty played upon, will permit different approaches. There are still lots of meaningful choices, and viable alternative styles of play, to experience in E:FE. Comments? ... other views? ... suggestions ??