We had a playtest yesterday that gave me a chance to see some of the recent changes (new Structures, min Unrest = 1) in action. Everything worked pretty well; the scores were rather high by the end of the 3rd Epoch (at which point we stopped), but that could have been because the first 2 epochs were each a bit long, and certainly a bit because the low Unrest floor loosens things up. Happily, the scores were again close, with only 2 VP separating first and third place.
One ongoing issue that I need to address is what to do when a player's bonuses from Structures and Advances authorize him to take an action for free (eg build a structure at no cost) -- how many "free" actions may he take? The easiest ruling is simply to say "you only get one free action", but it's not as simple as it sounds -- there's a valid counterargument that says that if the player has earned the right to take actions for free, he should be allowed to take as many as he can. Some of the actions are self-limiting anyway, but nevertheless, I need to think about this more.
Two ideas for possible changes emerged, one sparked by a suggestion and one by an observation.
The suggestion was to renumber the Unrest track, so instead of 1/2/3/4/5/6/7, it could be 1/2/2/3/3/3/4/4/5 or something like that -- the idea being that voluntarily taking on Unrest feels very crippling, but maybe players would do it more willingly if it increased their position on the track without changing the actual number of their Unrest. This is a pretty interesting suggestion, and one that I'll certainly give some consideration, and maybe a solo test.
The observation was that (a) trade routes are very dependent on building (since they're formed by adjacent cities), and (b) historically, trade routes were long and didn't necessarily connect to cities. To that I'll add that (c) roads networks can make it such that everyone is connected to everyone else, so everyone may have comparable numbers of trade routes. The idea this sparked was to have 7-8 "premium resource spaces" spread around the board, and have the trade route scoring category correlate to how many of these you've connected to your capital with roads. But roads would take on a different form -- instead of being a tile, they would be a stick placed on the border between two territories, creating a connection between those territories.
I like a few things about this idea. First, it separates cities and trade routes a bit -- cities certainly help with trade routes, but aren't absolutely required. Additionally, it separates the economic exchange of trade routes (although it's still quite abstract) from the cultural exchange of trade routes, which would still relate to connections between cities; it's simply that the stick pieces would BOTH form trade routes AND connect up cities (so presumably, this encourages you to place a city on or near a trade route). However, it adds some complexity and more components, neither of which the game needs at this point. It's the kind of thing that could end up in an expansion some day if it's too much complexity for the base game.