Fallen Enchantress is classic turn-based strategy: magisterial design, beautiful stylized art for grown ups, moving & evocative score, interesting decisions throughout. It has sweep and detail; variety and rigour. It is logical (the way fantasy must be to work at all -- Tolkien and Martin understood this, but few others) and it also stirs our sense of wonder. Puzzling criticisms have been made of this design, mostly by younger writers. But for mature strategy gamers, FE has an exciting "lived" quality: your Sovereign has cataracts and is past his best, but he quests on -- the world is wide and full of terrors. It's a bit like being plunged into a cross between Middle Earth and Westeros, without (thank the gods) any lame RPG narrative imposed from above. The mechanics and those luminous numbers (Initiative that means something) tell the stories. And out of the cauldron of those random maps (the heart of the game, where design time should be focused) what quirky, strange, and surprising stories emerge. I am old and have played them all: Master of Magic, Age of Wonders, Warlords I-IV, Disciples, the Civs -- these are great games, compelling, you keep coming back to them. Fallen Enchantress is such a one. It's a gem, a game for the ages. I didn't play its precursor, but bought the game after hearing Tom Chick rave about it in great detail (the man does his homework) on the 3MA podcast. And the designer himself spoke with great gusto. I'm glad I listened. Since then I've spent many many enjoyable hours in this crazy world that delivers just the right action-result ratio: I make a decision and that has a measurable, satisfying, and timely effect (not always what I wanted of course, if the Ophidian eats my henchman); clear, sweeping, and pleasurable. Thank you Derek Paxton and Brad Wardell. I can see why you love this game.
But I wonder if the population cost for Pioneers does not take the game in a weak direction. I haven't played 1.2 a great deal; and I'm keeping an older version installed because this change worries me. It seems to slow the pace and detract from the sweep and grandeur of the Expansion part of 4X. Expansion is fun, borders are fun; it's enjoyable to see your colour spreading across the map; and worrisome (in a fun way) to see other colours encroaching.... nDervish and other writers have made the same points. The population cost is a penalty that sets my cities back, guts them in a way (30 pop is a lot when you start at 3 and grow by 1 or 2 people a turn), and penalties -- especially in the areas of city growth and expansion -- aren't a lot of fun. The population cost is what killed Civ III in a way; or for me made it a chore, seeing your cities reduced as a settler is produced. And then, the more cities you had, the more corruption ran rampant until that city on a far away island that your fertile imagination just wanted to plant could do nothing. If the problem with expansion is that expansion becomes the single and ONLY best strategy every time, then a mechanism must be created to set up interesting decisions (the Sid Meier mantra) about expansion: bonuses for other things might be better, or allow for more powerful buildings in highly developed cities; something interesting and compelling to do instead of building the pioneer for expansion. Perhaps Pioneers might be given the option to travel to an already existing city and boost growth there, or help with production (rather in the manner of the old caravans in one Civ or other) -- again, in lieu of their traditional role as city builders. Too, the pop cost would really constrain the deployment of Outposts -- this is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game: they have multiple functions, they are fun, the AI seems to be good at aggressively deploying them. A great feature I'd hate to see curtailed. But perhaps all this has been playtested. In general, though, bonuses are better than penalties.
In his essay on the design of Civ IV, Soren Johnson writes that in Civ III the designers dealt with the perceived problem of Infinite City Sprawl by raising corruption and waste penalties for more cities to high levels. This, he says, was a grave mistake. It killed the city sprawl, yes; but it also wrecked any pleasure the gamer took in expansion. "Gamers simply didn't like having their production taken away from them -- there was nothing fun about founding a city and finding out that it can only ever produce one shield per turn." Don't want this to happen to FE. When I read in Frogboy's post that Faction Prestige (a positive bonus at least, though a comprehensive list of sources of Prestige would help) will be dropped in favour of more Unrest penalties I get very worried (along with nDervish, whose posts are worth reading about all this). Surely we don't want a game focused on corruption/waste/unrest management. That just doesn't have the savour of high fantasy.
I'm sure good decisions will be made; this is the only time I've written with a concern about a game still in development. Fallen Enchantress is worth it.