OK, found a new hiccup with this error.
I deleted the contents of the screens folder, as suggested here: https://forums.elementalgame.com/364302, and found out the following:
1) If I tell impulse to redownload the contents, there is no change (the game still crashes after ~5 seconds on the splash screen).
However, if I leave the folder empty, and run Elemental from a desktop shortcut, I can successfully get to the intro video. Of course, another problem comes up in that the program sits forever on a black screen after playing the video, but its somewhat of an improvement.
And I think the offender may be found. If familytreesubwnd.dxpack is deleted from the screens folder (and all the other files are left in), the program seems to work. I've managed to get to the main menu, can fiddle with the options, and at least get the screens to set up a game.