Let me start of by saying I love this game. And as a programmer who wishes he had the time to create a game himself, a lot of ideas tend to pop up in my head. I have been looking to these forums and the Steam discussion board and have seen some remarks as to where you're going with this game in the future, but I might make some mistakes in my assumptions ;-). This is gonna be somewhat long. Feel free to use whatever idea strike your fancy or ignore whatever doesn't :-).
First of all let me delve into the world map. I read that you're developing this in a way that removes Limbo from the equation, works with a migration mechanic and perhaps eventually allows the player to even beat the corruption. I love this outlook because that was kind of a thing that I wanted to suggest myself. When I currently compare a world map starting game to a sandbox game it is painfully clear that emptying Limbo gives me a most definite advantage.
I like the idea of being able to send out a caravan to a new map. Aside from setting aside the people to do so, I had the following idea. Allow the toolsmith to build wagons that the migrants can use to take some resources, food and water with them, and perhaps some tents that can serve as makeshift housing for the first days as they resettle somewhere. Giving the new migrant group more things to work with takes more effort and resources, so you get an interesting tradeoff between a quick, small and/or poor mission, or an expensive, well prepared, large mission.
I know that beating the corruption... or let's just say, winning a map, was not part of your initial vision with this game. But it is something a lot of players seem to like as an idea. So what if, in addition to the normal migrations, you could also do a mass exodus. Maybe the first couple of maps are truly unwinnable according to the original philosophy of the game. If you see the survivability of your current map go downhill, see if you can migrate your entire population. The corruption takes over and you have a corrupted map, but as a tradeoff you can start one map with an exceptionally high starting population. Later in the game through research you might learn ways to fight the corruption and eventually you might be able to attempt to win back these corrupted maps.
I think you may need to rethink some of the things about the market. The way I experienced it so far, the market is good for two things... hiring villagers and getting keys for lootboxes. Villagers are much more valuable than any resource in my experience.
So, about these keys and lootboxes. I'll be honest with you, at the moment I am not really fond of how this is working. Lootboxes seem to spawn much more often than keys. I end up buying keys (which in itself I don't mind) but eventually the keys in the market run out and on future maps I am ending up with a bunch of lootboxes I can't seem to open.
So next, the laborers. The number of villagers you have is so vital to this game that getting them from the market at any opportunity is very valuable. And I don't think decreasing the frequency with which they appear, or raising the price for which to hire them, is really going to change that. My idea would be to make hiring laborers a temporary thing. Maybe they work for you for a day for the price you pay. You could then increase their availability and decrease their price a little bit. That way it becomes more of a tradeoff where you can buy temporary manpower which I think fits the idea of market laborers better. And if you really want Kajeet to become part of the permanent workforce of your villagers you could have some kajeet who are particularly fond of their stay in your town join occasionally at random, like nomad appearances. (I don't think that's needed though tbh, the temporary manpower thing would work well enough to give them a thematic niche imho).
Finally there is the thing that the market is world consistent. I generally like that idea... but the issue that arises is that some resources are easily in excess, and some resources are easily in shortage, and as you progress through the world I kind of have the feeling the market would just be a big excess of the resources you often dump, and eventually run out of the materials you tend to buy. Perhaps the market could slowly keep re-balancing itself, perhaps adjusting the prices according to demand.
Guards, golems and building range
So, here I am, building my maze, keeping it accessible for builders to repair the walls when needed by building firepits, and I have some firepits outside the maze for if I ever want to expand. And what happens? During the night my golems rush forward to the entrance of the maze and start fighting the hordes before the entrance to my maze.
So, here is a thought... could building range and patrolling/fighting range be two separate things? Have most buildings generate both as usual, but firepits generate only building range. Or perhaps flip it around, the general range is only building range but guard towers define fighting/guarding range. (That would also give guard towers a real obvious purpose in your town planning).
On a quick sidenote... could we please at the very least get a curtain wall gate option? I have built this very nice maze that even to some extent forces the hand of spectres... but the moment I want to build a gate my villagers could use to get to the outside of the village easily the whole effort is wasted. So at the moment I really cannot build a city gate if I want to avoid giving spectres free access.
I have already read that you acknowledged that guards are pretty much useless compared to golems. To give guards an edge, you could do various things. Give golems some of the following properties:
- They don't level by themselves
- They don't use equipment
- Golem combulators have to be fed resources (wood, stone, crystal accordingly) instead of just automatically taking them
- Golems can be upgraded (leveled) by spending time in the combulator draining resources
Guards could have some of the following properties:
- They gain more benefit from equipment than normal villagers
- Not being mindless golems, they use squad tactics (coordinated ganging up)
- They actually go and help nearby villagers in danger instead of doing their programmed task
- They listen to certain generic instructions by means of a rally flag (and perhaps they have the capacity to take golems along, but golems don't react to this rally flag on their own). The rally flag could work only within Guard Tower range, giving another use to Guard Towers.
- An up-gradable option on the barracks can recall them when near death if energy's available
Research and study
So... something that popped into my mind might really fit with the feel of this game in terms of research. And that is philosophers. Have a university where some scholars can conduct research... and where the elderly can function as philosophers. The scholars do the actual research, but every elder who comes by gives a speed boost for as long as they hang around.
This research could do all the standard things. Make buildings available or upgrades to buildings. Perhaps the more advanced spells could be locked behind research as well. Equipment quality could be improved. And perhaps some generic perks could be unlocked. Like a small boost to lumberjack efficiency, but only for lumberjacks that are at least level 10. Even more advanced research could unlock another bonus that kicks in at level 15 and so on. Research could also unlock options for the medical center which in turn can increase lifespans of villagers who regularly visit the medical center.
A school could teach kids, not a very innovative idea in itself of course. So, this teaching could have a kid reach a certain level before coming to age. But perhaps research at the university could in turn increase this starting level as the academic level of the city evolves.
Perhaps scholars could travel to another village to share some selection of their knowledge there. This would take a little time... like a day of gametime in the origin village before the scholar is "on his way", and another day of gametime in the destination village for the scholar to arrive. That way various villages could diversify their research and benefit from sharing the fruits of their efforts.
There are some statistics available in the game, but I often have the feeling they don't really give me the information I need to effectively play the game. Especially managing food and water can be tricky.
Instead of just a net food increase in the village, it would be very useful if I could see production and consumption numbers separate. If I know my consumption numbers, I can at the very least make a decent estimate of how much food I actually need to stockpile for the summer or winter.
Furthermore, farms are a tricky beast. With harvesting or manufacturing buildings, it is clear that for a higher production I need more workers, and if I add more workers I get a definitive higher production. But farms also incorporate crop growth and it is very hard to get a grasp on how those interact. Can two farmers keep up with the crop growth on a large farm or do I actually need four for that? If I could somehow see how often villagers within a specific job, or even specific villagers, are without work, I could use that information to see if I have too few or too many villagers set on that job.