Just some of my thoughts on the Galactic Civ IV 0.40 so far and what I hope to see in the future.
As a 4X game I feel like Galactic Civ IV excels at three of the four X's. I like the Galactic Civ game as a storytelling device. I want a fun challenging game, and for me it doesn't matter if the A.I. isn't playing completely fair. According to Brad to make the A.I. smarter the turn times would be increased dramatically. If I remember right he said making the A.I. 10% smarter doubles the turn time which just isn't reasonable to most players.
Explore- Galactic Civ IV has really stepped it up from III. Exploring is more dangerous because of pirates, monsters, and peacekeepers. I appreciate that I have to be careful with my early survey ship or it might become a snack for a leviathan I failed to notice. Sectors have also added a new exploring element as it gives time for a race to dominate that sector, and I've found untouched sectors full of anomalies to survey. This extends the exploration phase and is a major improvement to me. Lastly the number of different anomaly events that can be encountered give life to the galaxy and exploration. The survey ships remind me of Starfleet ships going out to explore the wider galaxy.
Expand- I really like the new colony system. There are more choices to expansion now rather than grapping every available planet. Do I take the junk Class 1 planet near my home, or do I go explore and look for something better? I chose to look for something better and my colonists got eaten by a giant space monster. I think sectors also benefit expansion in that when invading a new sector a beachhead from which to coordinate attacks needs to be established before I can begin conquering the sector. I'd really like to see the some of the A.I. races try to guard slipstream entrances when they are at war with races in other sectors. It's a good strategy as well as provides a storytelling device as the A.I. tries to prevent the invaders from getting a hold in their space.
Exploit- Galactic Civ excels at this with how many resources there are to exploit. The ship upgrades that require resources just provide another option to put resources towards and another way to exploit what you own. Because of the colony system I would appreciate more ways of getting resources only found on worlds. Some of this is taken care of with all of the new mining missions, but I have found myself short on many resources only found on worlds.
Exterminate- This is where Galactic Civ III has been the weakest for me, and I hope Gal Civ IV will be able to improve. I'll be breaking this up into macro and micro combat to try and explain what I mean. I personally feel like war with other civilizations should be the most tense and interesting part of the game.
At the macro scale we have the battles taking place on the map. I would like to see the A.I. do a better job of waging war. In most of my games in Gal Civ III the A.I. would struggle to take planets late game even if they had overwhelming force. I often loss only 1 colony per war that I was involved in, and in later games it was rare to lose any. Having the A.I. continue to push it's advantage would make games more interesting and create a scramble to recover when a fleet is defeated/destroyed. The Total War series do an excellent job of this where losing an army leaves a often leaves a region undefended. Losing a major battle is often a punishing affair that will cost blood and treasure to recover from. I would like to see more of these turning point type battles. One of my games in Gal Civ III actually had a battle just like this. I was expanding into Iconian territory with a fleet they couldn't stop alone, but I was at war with two other races as well. I took a class 8 planet that was my jumping off point into the Iconian region. After taking the planet all three races attacked and the final one managed to annihilate my flagship fleet. This killed my momentum and the alliance would take one more system before I stopped the bleeding. Eventually one race backed out of the war and I was able to push forward again. Unfortunately the A.I. is hardwired to focus on fleets defending planets meaning it rarely harms fleets that are close by, but aren't defending a planet. Keeping ships close to planets rather than defending them meant I got to choose the terms of the battle more often than not This often leaves the A.I. in a less than ideal position. If the A.I. can prioritize ships in opens space it will be able to pick more battles it can win, or at least do damage. (For some reason the first couple of turns at the beginning of the war the A.I. will launch attacks against fleets in open space, and after this it will stop)
The biggest issue in the macro war for Gal Civ III in my opinion was the tech that give each planet some interceptors, The A.I. doesn't seem to really understand that these ships will regenerate and often will sit fleets outside of planets leaving them to be picked off. It may work okay if the A.I. was better at taking planets, but as is the A.I. struggled to deal with this tech. It often sent single ships that would have had a better chance of surviving in a fleet and it's largest fleets would sit around waiting to be destroyed. Mid game wars are the most interesting in my opinion, but I would like to see this change to favor the end of the game.
Moving onto the micro scale this is the actual combat between fleets. Galactic Civ III had interesting combat in the early and mid game. Combinations of tiny, small, and medium ships add some variety to fleets as well as fleet combat. This variety is important to make battles feel more like actual battles rather than something to just resolve. Most of the time at the end of a Gal Civ III game the A.I. will build almost exclusively carriers. I've had one game where the A.I. copied my strategy of composing fleets solely of medium ships and I have lost more ships in that game than any other. That A.I. also cowed the Iconians and Tywom without losing many ships. I really would like to see fleet composition be important to the game. First thing that I would do is provide an answer to carriers. I haven't played with or against them yet, but I heard they still dominate the field. My personal preference to fix this is to have multi targeting systems as well as weapon systems that are explicitly designed to deal with tiny and small ships.
Fleet composition types could include but not limited to:
Fast hit and run (We can do this now that battles aren't all or nothing)
Turtle fleets - move slow, but hit really hard
Carrier Fleets - Excellent unless the enemy fleet has some flak cannons
Balanced - Jack of all trades
Overall these are just some of my ramblings on the Gal Civ series. It has been my favorite game series and I hope that Gal Civ IV adds to and improves on what is already an great game. At the end of the day if you throw some new ship parts at me I'll be happy.