To me, realms mode was just shy of being something truly great! This sort of LITE Story telling strategy game that could’ve been perfect, if just given a bit more love and playtesting.
I feel like the weird dynamics that you’ve listed so perfectly, while disjointed and not functionable as a game in its current state, were so close to creating something really novel.
I’ll just list off the components and the things i’ve liked about them:
-Merc management: I felt that this was a fairly simple way to create a “party” or “squad” without adding any unnecessary clutter. Realm designers have the ability to name some of the characters that you come across and even tie a bit of story to them in the encounters (via flags/triggers that set off possible outcomes based on if the characters with you or an outcome that happened…a combo of both)
The only thing i felt it was missing was just the simplest of unit upgrade system…just a poof level up get +5 stats or whatever when you win a battle with them still alive. I feel like just something as small as that to register that you kept them alive and were able to distinguish them from casted creatures/villagers would have just been the aesthetic fix that was needed to make them pop a bit more. Also some sort of way to name creatures, like is super big in the xcom games, could have been a great way to make build a little connection with the random dudes you hire in the towns.
Not really gameplay stuff as much as thematic stuff, but sure it’s all gameplay.
- Villages: What I really liked about this was the idea of having a sort of unit building/maintenance management, without the fiddliness of the full fledged strategy games. It gave the possibility of a unique LITE strategy system, that i could play when i don’t have a whole weekend to blow on a game (can’t remember the last time i’ve had time for that lol)
The constraints of how far you could move them was nice as well, unique.
Were I felt they came short was not being able to be integrated in the strategic game at all in any other way then to supplement your wizard, thus making battles painfully easy. Fully upgraded villages were also too easy to win battles with under most circumstances…or they’re just useless…I feel like having a few more viable options with them like: Having access to more spells, being able to upgrade the %'s of getting more useful troops, adjusting the tier upgrade system (maybe having a middle tier between “Not enough troops” and “Way too many troops”), etc could have been easier tweaks to making the thing work.
I’ll leave it at that, as I’m sort of feeling a redundancy of going too in depth with my thoughts on it, but as a realm designer (gotta add that to my resume xD), I’ve felt like i’ve spent alot of time (which designing realms in this game requires xD) to sort of stew over this stuff, and really hope to see a fully baked version of whatever realms are in some way in the future.
That said, I did take a few stabs at addressing the issues of the game with some of my realms. They sort emphasize the time management mechanic in the game, which tries to force decision making on time constraints. For instance: I’ll have objectives wired into encounters that force the player into a sort of puzzle that isn’t linear (i.e you have objectives that you must do to accomplish the realm, but you have freedom to come up with strategies on how to do it)
One of the interesting dynamics i’ve played with is having multiple villages on the map that are within range and can fight together. I’ll restrict mana/resources on the maps so that you’re sort of encouraged to build villager compositions of a little variety. Also, I’ll reinforce the lords in the map by a good margin, but place villages in such a way that you can recruit them (if your resource management is right) but risk wasting you too much time if you rely on them too much…This can result in having a village that only reinforces you with 1-3 troops, which is a nice balance at times against a lord with 3-6.
It’s hard to go into detail, but if your curious about realms that try to mitigate the problems that you’ve mentioned through design constraints of the editor tools, you can check out some of the ones i’ve published (I’ve named them in alphabetical order, Ahnaahn being my 1st realm in the series, Heron being the latest)
They are a bit wordy, in order to try to convey the varied objectives/puzzles of the realms through the story telling, but you might find them a cute effort at the very least xD