I often play on real-world / true start location maps, because I feel like the game gets more immersive that way. Sometimes, I let the AI play itself just to see what happens. The problem is, as I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed, some parts of the world tend to be much more densely populated than others, which makes the game very unbalanced.
In Freeciv, the civs in the sparse areas almost always win - it's either Mongolia, Australia, or some North American civ, depending on what civs are included on the map. In some other civ games I've tried (Civ 3, maybe?) the opposite happens - the lone civs fall behind on technology due to tech trading etc., and are overrun once they make contact. I think that's actually preferable - that is after all basically what happened in real life - but ideally they should be more or less balanced.
Thankfully, in Freeciv, we can change all sorts of settings and try to improve the balance. So, first, what ruleset and settings do you think would be the best way to help those cramped Europeans fare better?
We can also think of this as a development issue. How could the game be made generally more balanced in terms of dense vs. sparse? Obviously, you can try to make sure maps are always balanced, that is, all areas are equally dense (or the dense areas have better resources etc.), but that puts a pretty big limit on scenarios. Whether it's a historical map or fiction, many scenarios include some civs that are more isolated than others, but you don't want them to start at a huge advantage.
Various topics about the game, the website, or anything else Freeciv related that doesn't fit elsewhere.
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As you state that the benefit of having lots of contacts is easy trading of tech, you could try to make that a bigger advantage -> try high researchcost to make trading tech better in comparison to researching everything oneself (of course this makes also conquest for spoils of war and stealing tech with diplomats more powerful options)