For me, a good map design is a map when you feel that every movement you do with every unit is important.
That means you never have phase like this :
- just pass a turn because you are in a good defensive position and wait that the ennemy kill themselve to you.
- a turn or many turn where you only move your unit to point A to B, without any incitation to care about playing fast
- a phase where you have all your party in the same place, you use 4 or 5 of them to eradicate the threat, and with the other you just wait, because move forward without the 5 other units could be dangerous, and you have no reason to do that, or you must wait than bolting tome of ennemy dude run out.
In most of the map, you have phase like this with only some turn really fun and the other pretty boring. Many map have only the 4th first turn that it really meaningful and the rest it’s pretty trivial. It’s not a question of challenging or difficulty. Just increase stat brainlessly don’t make this more fun. It’s more about to feel you need to take care about all the tool you have in your disposition to just beat the map, and that the only management is not “take care that this unit take the most of the kill”.
An example of map I’m doing right now :
1er phase, you need to rush to save a cleric in the middle of the city. You need to move at max movement with your to cavalier, and the other unit need clean the way and block or bait the ennemy in order that they don’t block the way. It take 3 turn to do this.
2e phase, by doing this, the officier of the city is informed of your presence here and call every one in his troops to kill you. Because you rushed in the middle of the city, you’re surrounded in all direction. And moreover, some bandit come at the same turn, to destroy some habitation, because the soldier don’t protect it. So you need to defend yourself first because your slow and support unit are exposed. After that you need to split your army to at 3 corner of the map to save the village. And at the same time you must kill the boss, before the small group of unit that go on their own to save one village get rip. Than means multiple objective, a reason to play efficiently (without ltc), and all the sub objectif in fact have some use to accomplish the main one.
For example, you need to clean a staircase to access to the habitation of the north. But by doing than, you take a great position to take down the really scary mage downstair with a longbow you get there. And to kill the boss, you need to go in this narrow aisle, and be exposed to this mage really dangerous because you haven’t anything against them.
On the other hand, the other village give you a barrier staff, so it’s another option to clear this threat. And the last one give you an hammer that trivalise the combat against the boss, who are pretty tedious without that.
What makes this map fun for me, it’s because you need to adapt to the new situation during the chapter. When you prepare yourself in the preparation screen, you have something in mind, and you need to totaly change your plan and adapt to the surprised situation after that. That’s why the challenge need to be well balance : you need to be able to change your plan, make some mistake, but compensate with all your tool at disposition. If you redo the map, and make a full plan because you know what to do in advance, it should be fairly simple.
In fe vanilla, Chapter 7: The Rebellion of Ostia is a good exemple of good design like this. In my first ironman blind playthrought, I succeed to win the map, without loss, despite I really fuck off my strategy at the beginning. I plan to go at the right at the beggining, but the event in turn 2 fuck off me, because you need to go at the left to save the three cavalier. And after that, i was surprise by the wyvern who in fact move and are so buffy. By chance I had a lucky dodge by my healer, but even if it dies, it’s not a big deal. Loose a guy should be a part of the challenge. After that, you need to go kill the boss, and here is the boring part, for what I say at the top. Even with the reinforcement, it’s boring, because the safe option is just wait, play very slowly. It’s more safe because you will not punish by ambush point coming from nowhere, and moreover, you get more xp !
Never reward the slow play, always reward to play fast. That’s what make a map fun. And be creative in the mechanic to do that. A turn count to respect or it’s a game over it’s pretty a bad way. A thief who stole a chest, it’s pretty boring if it’s always that. You also need to reward playing fast by making the game easier if you play fast. For exemple, you can be so fast that you kill the balista, or the bolting mage before they could attack you. And so, you avoid a bad position where all your party will be exposed to this threat, so you can fight with all your team, and not just the tanky one, that make the next battle so more easier.