In search of more turn-based games to fill my baby-watch time (see my reasons), a friend told me about this fantasy mod for Civ IV where they redesigned the gameplay almost from ground up. I went looking for it and found Fall from Heaven, a free player mod (version 1.0 released in April) that rewrites much of the Civ IV game from classic countries and developing nations, to more of one set in a fantasy world where it is about improving characters and combat. If you want to download this use the download.com site; they also have some screenshots there.
The set up is that there are a number of different races: orcs, merfolk, minotaurs, knights, etc. that each have their own religion. The units are very different and there are many more upgrades/enhancements that each character can get. Thus most people start with Warriors that can actually last quite a while gaining new skills. The city buildings are completely different with lots of added benefits: with wine, your brewery raises revenue and food; hunting lodges to improve your scouts to hunters and assassins. You can tame wild animals, etc. The tech tree is very different, and so are many of the Wonders.
While the map style looks the same and some of the units are still around, the gameplay is quite original. This took a lot of work to put together. This is what I call a player mod done right. Most other mods are simply changes to the units, or smaller fixes here and there. I'm surprised Firaxis doesn't consider licensing and selling this commercially. I'd put this comparable to the Rise of Nations commercial add-on, Rise of Legends, but instead of three new nations, this one has about eight. It's obviously more well known because of the big marketing engine of Microsoft Games behind it.
It's these kinds of player mods that I really enjoy. From over a decade ago, the MMORPG text-only games like MUDs had a programming aspect to it so users could add more areas to the game. Most MMORPGs don't allow that any more because of uncontrolled growth and often poor execution on most users parts. Secondlife, while not really a game, is gaining a lot of success (see Wired article) because it goes the very opposite direction: build all you like. It can be chaotic, but this is really pure capitalism at work: the successful ones should get the most attention and reward. To make a success, you need good planning and execution, as well as all the other things: marketing, delivery, customer satisfaction, etc., but it still starts with having a good idea that people will want.
I was about to go pay $50 to buy a new game like Caeser IV, but I thinkthese guys should get my money instead, if I can figure out how.They're off working on the next version, Fall from Heaven 2.
Good Player mods deserve more credit