EDIT: Please forgive the wall of text.
While normally I read or skim everyone else's post before making my own, this time around I decided to just throw in my opinions, and then go back and read...everyone else's post. So things covered beforehand, I'm sorry, I won't know about.
Is it feasible to have a screenshot/drawing of what we're looking at, Brad? Something to go on?
Regarding Combat Speed and Combined Armies
I think Sauron was so badass because he could use one attack to hurt so many people at once. I mean, seriously, how cool is it to watch some giant [thing] clad in black steel swing a massive warmace and send dozens of infantry flying through the air? Wouldn't mind having something like this in game...
Otherwise, having varied speed makes sense.
However, there is one thing that really annoys me in strategy games - when I have two infantry guarding an archer, and the horseman can run between them unhindered and kill my archer. Or just attack my archer - cause harm. So, I was thinking...
Again, please note I haven't played the Beta.
Since in most games, Horse > Archer > Infantry > Pikemen > Horse, why not allow for pike weapons to either strike at a further distance (if tiles are smaller, so that one tile is not a massive distance, then one tile away) or allow them to counter charging cavalry from within a certain radius. So if my Halberdier has a halberd, if any horseman comes within one tile of him, he can take a swipe.
Now, the reason why that's in here with Combat Speed,..Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic had a nifty system of draining your movement points when your unit retaliated on an opposing unit's turn. That is, if I moved my Halberdier 5 of his 15 movement points forward, and two horsemen come at him, he can make a swipe at one (let's say that attacking costs 7 movement points). That swipe would leave him with 15-7=8 movement points for his turn. The next horseman comes, he makes another swipe, and thus is at 8-7=1 movement points next turn.
A higher combat speed (determinance of actions per turn) could play into that. Thus, if my halberdier had 30 movement, and could take actions from that pool, it's better than him having 15 movement. Heavier armored units should have a penalty to movement/combat speed without some sort of alterations. This makes armies filled with lightly armored dual wielding dervishes as viable as an army of heavily armed and armored knights.
Short version: I like it.
Yes. Morale is good. I would take it a step further...from Panicing/Routing > Low Morale > Normal Morale >High Morale > Zealous Morale, where Zealous Morale represents a totally blind devotion and a desire to destroy anything and everyone.
Leaders could impact morale - a Sovereign always has High Morale for his army (initially, as a basic) while leaders could have morale variance based on their leadership qualities. Winning/losing battles, running low on supplies (if such things matter) could impact morale before and after a battle. Likewise, if you are going to have multi-national armies, perhaps have there be a penalty for using soldiers of the nationality that you are currently at war with.
That is, if I just captured one of Procipinee's cities and recruited 500 of her soldiers into my army, my soldiers would look at them and say, "Well, they're with us now, huh? A pity that Bob can't see this. Where is Bob, you ask? Oh, one of those bastards ran a spear through him. Yeah, we want them around...what's the boss thinking?" while Proc's old soldiers would look at mine and say, "Didn't they just slaughter our defenders, take control over our city, warp our way of life, and generally make our city a smoldering shadow of it's former glory? I don't like this."
Regarding Tactical Combat: Turn Length/Battle Length
When I first saw the limit, my first thought was this, "Okay...so if the battle lasts all day and night begins to fall, both sides fall back to their camps, lick their wounds, and can try again the next day. Or perhaps they arrange a night sortie into the enemy camp." Essentially: Battle has ended for the day, pull back and regroup.
This was done in Sid Meier's Pirates! as when night fell, you couldn't see the enemy ship(s) and they escaped (essentially leaving the map). I think that this makes sense...soldiers did not spend all day fighting in melee combat. There was no way that it could be done. As fit or strong as a soldier would be, spending hours moving around in heavy armor and swinging a heavy sword, or hours moving around and fighting with sword/mace/axe and shield would be totally impossible.
So instead of having a set number of turns or a set amount of time, why not simply incorporate fatigue? I know that a number of games play around with a fatigue bar, and I think that's a viable method here. Barring that, expending a unit's total movement points or using a bunch of unit abilities simple wears units down. Instead of having a set amount of turns where you must win, you could have a set amount of turns where your units have to win or they'll need to head back for nap time.
Fatigued units slowly become next to useless. Perhaps there are levels of fatigue - using all unit points makes a unit fatigued. Using abilities excessively makes a unit fatigued. Fighting in prolonged combat makes a unit fatigued. As time goes on, fatigue takes its toll naturally, so even a unit that has just been standing by doing nothing will, after a large number of turns, will be tired.
Thus, units that fight and act on the battlefield become tired faster than units that do nothing, but all become tired after a while. As units become more fatigued, their abilities and actions cost more points. Perhaps, following with my Halberdier example above, after 15-20 turns of fighting to attack, where once it cost 7 to attack (or counterattack) it could cost 10 or 12. After 40 turns of fighting it'll cost 20 or even all points to attack. My halberdier has gone from being able to do a lot in one turn (move, strike, move again, counterstrike) to just one thing or two (move or strike, no more). Eventually, attacking would cost ALL movement points, or even cost more - making that unit totally worthless.
As a Sovereign, it could be possible to use spells to freshen units in combat. "Second Wind" could take one level of fatigue off of all units, or could replenish 50% of all unit's fatigue bar. "Breath of the Sovereign" could totally undo fatigue, at a cost of essence.
Champions/generals with high leadership incur a reduction in movement points needed to do anything. So my level 15 General with 10/10 max leadership gets a, I dunno, 75% reduction on actions. Therefore, having a leader with high leadership would massively offset fatigue, but eventually the fatigue would overcome the general.
However, it could easily get to the point where Sovereigns are just spamming "Second Wind" or "Breath of the Sovereign" and making battles last an eternity. Therefore, I think that eventually, night should fall and units should be forced to fall back. Battle length could be determined, then, by what you decide it to be. Perhaps when battle begins, the screen pops up saying "Tactical Combat" "Auto Combat" etc and showing the various armies and their bonuses and features, so on so forth. On the screen would be either a bunch of buttons, or a little clock (or sundial, or what have you) and you can 'grab' the sun with your mouse and move it to where you want combat to be. Want to fight at dawn? Move it all the way over to the left. Noon? in the middle. Dusk? Very end.
You, Brad, and the Beta Testers will need to determine the set length. Perhaps a battle lasting all day (morning start) would have 100-200 turns, and one lasting a few hours (dusk) would last 10-20 turns. Perhaps many more, perhaps much less.
Barring fatigue, perhaps leadership would determine how long you had to fight. I really think that having leaders should matter, and leaders who are skilled in what they do even more. It will draw a debate in terms of battle - do I want a leader capable of slaughtering dozens of soldiers with each attack, ala Sauron? Or a mage-type leader who can unleash waves of fire and roast armies in their plate, ala some sort of high mage? Or perhaps I want a simple man who is so skilled at battle, he can use soldiers like the slaughtering leader and the mage leader? Options, yet again.
Sword of the Stars had a set tactical battle length, usually of 4 minutes. There was a slider, at the start of a game, where you could have battles last but a minute, or up to ten minutes. It was up to the player(s) as to how long, and it didn't change. So if I want to have long battles, I set it up before the game. Short battles...before the game.
Likewise, as a Sovereign, I could have the power to adjust the length of combat...mid combat. Casting "Nightfall" or "Eclipse" could reduce the number of turns of combat. Casting "Shine" or "Sunlight" could increase the number of turns of combat.
To be random, or to be rich? Ah, who can say? King Arthur: The Role Playing Game had 'rich' battlefields. That is, whenever I'd start combat, a painting-like picture would come up next to a number of battlefields with a description. The "Sandy Bay" could have once been a battlefield where King Uther Pendragon cast down his enemies amidst flourishing forests next to a village-packed bay.
It allows for a lot of strategic options. You could easily design maps that place emphasis on fighting amongst rivers, or hills, forests and villages, etc. Perhaps battlefields could encompass a choke point in a valley. However, I found this method somewhat...difficult to use. It made choosing battlefields somewhat difficult, if not pointless. If I have my general build a fort next to a bridge, I expect that fort and that bridge to be taken into account. Else, what's the point of fighting next to that bridge?
When it comes to randomness vs. pre-made maps, either have a LOT of pre-made maps, or use the random. Because without a LOT of pre-made maps, it'll be impossible to determine things from the area. This also should take into nearby things...if I fight in the vicinity of the Well of Life, I'd like the effects of the Well of Life, if not the Well itself, to be part of the battle (my units regenerate 1 hp/turn perhaps).
I favor random that takes into account nearby things. I also favor the ability to build things on the map, such as fortifications (build an actual fort, ala Total War, or build up traps and the like...Elemental could be one of the few games that takes sappers into account!) that will influence battle and actually show up. Some things that could be done...
- Rabbit Holes - all horsemen that are charging have a 60% chance per tile when passing through the rabbit holes to be dehorsed and take damage. Digs a number of small holes between the armies. Horses that pass through the holes have a good chance of stepping into the holes, resulting in broken limbs and the loss of a rider.
- Sharpened Stakes - enemies who try to cross the sharpened stakes take damage and lose movement points. Sharpening stakes and arranging them like a pike wall is an excellent defense, but not one to make idly
- Tar Pits - initially, tar pits reduce movement through them by 75%. When the tar pits come into contact with fire, they burst into flame, dealing heavy fire damage to all units within them and reducing combat abilities. Extremely expensive and difficult to manage, covering fields in flammable, sticky tar is a method of sabotage that can undo even the best army.
Regarding Winner Take All
Allow for retreat, but at a penalty to fatigue, movement points, morale...etc. One thing in King Arthur that I really hated was when I'd engage an inferior army in Auto Battle. i'd win, the'd retreat. Repeat. Twenty or thirty times later, it's really annoying that I've chased this enemy army across the whole GAME world because they keep retreating time and time again. Make it so that if I retreat, I can get away within reason. Do not make it so that I can get away time and time again...certainly, after the first retreat, every other retreat should take a large chunk out the universal map army movement points.