I have been wondering for a while how to make the environment more important to decision making in an exploratory strategy game for a while. Exploratory strategy being focused on novel game play, interesting unit mechanics, radically different faction features and strategy, as opposed to competitive strategy based on APM like Starcraft. No obsessive balancing and generally designed for single player since that makes balance less important.
What kinds of things would be interesting to play with? Currently I have a few different aspects to make a standard strategy per map less viable.
There are some basics that are easy to handle like random resources, deadly to competitive games but fine otherwise. You would mainly want to randomize rarer resources, that changes the options for teching up but doesn't make one player doomed, or in my preferred case of single player let the computer roflstomp.
Another method I had in mind was making some units better or worse in relation to map objects. Building the Order of Pyromancers' Motherhouse near the base of a volcano giving some sort of bonuses.
Finally the third method I am currently implementing is a weather or biome type system. So some maps would have wet climates that rust metal or rot wood and such things. Or storms that endanger units with metal and so forth.
But I also want to think of more original methods of doing things.
On the city building side, because I believe that any strategy game can use more base/city building:
One aspect of city building that is a perennial problem is that you have one optimal housing block that you mostly just place over and over. This mainly comes from my experience with Impressions games, but it was pretty much the same in games like Majesty and Hinterland with markets and what not.
Part of the problem in my opinion is the separation of services from housing and I have a few ideas about this:
To borrow from the pyromancer example, and apply it to Impressions games:
In Impressions games housing that tiers up has more space per area of land used. And no matter what housing level all workers are effectively the same. This is both unrealistic and simplistic.
First we make housing more sensible. You can decide what tier of housing to use, including how tightly packed it is. Houses still require services but they are calculated before a house is built. Houses can still tier up if you want them to but its not automatic. Citizens with more services than required for their housing type provide some sort of other bonus.
So we have altered the supply method. Now we need to alter the demand. As I said following from the pyro example, pyromancers need top tier educated citizens to recruit. Pyromancers also prefer volcanoes as discussed earlier. So a block for mages in general takes highly educated classes to be supported. And then pyromancers in particular have a volcano breaking up the optimal block. Maybe housing around a volcano needs some other special things.
And I guess we necessarily want a distance cap on labor, to prevent building perfect housing in some flat open land and having it move to where the demand is. Even terrain issues in Impressions games didn't help because of labor not having a distance cap.
But as with the RTS game methods I was hoping people could provide some more ideas on how to keep things fresh.