Like the title says, what happened to the farmers/craftsmen/peasants/malcontents division that was talked about a while back? I just realised it wasn't in the game when discussing city building in this thread. I remembered seeing a screenshot that showed this system recently, in the 'welcome to the first public beta' thread. This is the screenshot I mean:
I really liked this system in theory, because it allowed each type of citizen to produce different things. So farmers produce food, craftsmen produce production, peasants produce a little production, gold, and research, and malcontents don't produce anything. To me this system is much more elegant than what we currently have, where food is just produced at maximum capacity, research and production a fixed amount per citizen minus unrest percentage, and gold the same without the unrest reduction.
Re-introduce this system, and allow the player to control how many of each productive citizen (with +/- buttons next to each type?) there should be. The following will need some balancing, but I would start with this:
1) Farmers each produce the tile's grain yield in food. So with a yield of 3 and one farmer, that farmer can feed himself and two other citizens.
2) Craftsmen each produce the tile's materials yield in production. They don't produce anything else (gold or research). This would allow you to increase the production of your city immensely, but at the cost of no tax or research production.
3) Peasants produce a little tax and a little research, maybe some production as well, depends on balancing.
4) Malcontents still don't produce anything of course. (Maybe spawns some bandits near the city once in a while?)
What this will accomplish is not only give you more direct control over how your city functions, but it will also reduce the number of buildings required to specialize a city. Want a city to grow? Add more farmers (no more + food per grain buildings). Want it to become a production powerhouse? Add more craftsmen (no more workshops).
There should be some limit on how big a city can grow, because otherwise you could just keep adding farmers and it would grow. This could be done in a few ways:
I) You could set a maximum amount of food that can be produced per tile yield, but that's what we have now.
II) Have unrest increase as the population grows, so at some point there are no more peasants to convert into farmers.
III) Have growth shrink as the population grows, all the way down to zero. You could keep adding farmers, but it wouldn't do anyting.
II and III are how civ4 handles it (health and happiness), which was a good system imo. Like civ, you (the player) could then choose to fix these problems by building certain improvements that either reduce unrest or increase growth.
Expanding on this
The system I describe above could work I think, but it could be taken further.
A) Buildings could change or add a production type to a certain type of citizen. Examples: Tax office makes farmers and craftsmen produce taxes, but increases unrest. A labor camp makes malcontents produce production, but increases unrest. A festival reduces food production, but also reduces unrest. A school increases research from peasants.
B ) Some buildings could create a whole new type of citizen. A library allows sages that produce a lot more research but no taxes. A merchants guild allows merchants that turn some production into gold. A cult of the damned allows cultists, that increase death mana from a nearby node, but increase unrest as well.
C) Resource tiles could be changed as well, so that for example a nearby mine doesn't produce anything on its own but allows miners that produce a amount of metal/gold/crystals per turn.
The system I have described above could lead to some un-fun micromanagement if not properly handled. Example: If farmers only produce food, you wouldn't want to produce more excess food than required for growth that turn (if there is no other benifit to overproduction), forcing efficiency fans to manually adjust the number of farmers each turn. AI can handle this just fine, but it isn't fun for a human. Therefore there should be some toggles that help you shape your city over the turns. The 'Enable growth' toggle would when activated increase the number of farmers each turn so there is enough food to grow the city. The 'Avoid unrest' toggle would prevent any automated change in citizen division that would increase unrest. The 'Avoid negative income' toggle would prevent any automated change that would make the nett income of the city become negative. And there could be 'Maximise' toggles for each category of citizens or producable resources (production, research, gold, metal, mana, etc).
This system could also be vulnerable to cheese tactics, by quickly changing citizen distributions to whatever you need at that moment. See a large army comming? Turn everyone into craftsmen and build an even bigger one before they get to the city. Need a lot of mana for a spell? Turn everyone into a cultist. Etc. This could be punished or prevented, either by having an temporary unrest penalty for large changes in distribution, or by limiting how fast distribution could be changed (for instance allowing each group of specialists to change by only one each turn). Neither solution is perfect, but both are workable I think.
Now, in conclusion I think this would both allow cities to become much more specialized, and reduce the amount of utility buildings that you need to build in a city.