Great post Suunman! Particularly about why people find MoM to be fun. MoM is not a great game because it had stellar AI; it is simply great because it is fun to play enough that you can overlook the other shallow parts while playing the game. And technically, its AI wasn't bad when it came out in 1993! and low-res GFX was fair for its time period too. If it had stellar AI and maybe sprinkle of hi-res GFX, then it'd be THE GAME of ALL TIME.
One thing perhaps MoM may be "advantaged unfairly" is the lack of multiplayer concept. It was single player only and the design made the various races and units unbalance. In some way, this actually helped the game to be fun and variable, maybe this is the reason why modern games don't feel so fun when you play different factions. There are certain units in MoM that I don't enjoy play, like Klackens, but you know what? the rest 80% of the races are great fun and diverse that require different build paths. It's precisely this lack of a uniformity in Tech X enables Unit Y path that breaks up the monotomy of a TBS game.
Let's face it, games are for fun, not to punish yourself with mindless chores or drudgery. Nobody wants a cakewalk, but the game design itself should not make it that only 1 or 2 upgrades paths would let players have advantage and beat the AI. That just makes the next game so much less appealing. MoM does not have the greatest AI, and it cheats incredibly with the "Impossible" difficulty, but this somewhat makes up for the need to overcome AI's ineptness. However, the sheer variety of the ways you can win in MoM is why people are willing to overlook this AI problem, it's just not the same game when you try something different. I can fire up the next game, use Death Magic, and do something completely different than the previous game when I used Chaos Magic, and still win the game (but need to survive the AI's resource bonus in early to mid games).
Also it is NOT fair to beat up MoM on its AI ineptness, because that comparison simply beats down MoM (while ignoring everything else great about it), and it does not say anything positive about Elemental. I'm sure AI in Elemental will improve, but it's nothing to write home about right now. More importantly, from everyone I've read here in the forum, people's main complaint on Elemental are 2 fold. First types involve game implementation, which include bugs, interface and unit stat balance issues. This stuff more or less happens to all games, MoM had its share but got better by 1.31. Elemental may have more share of this issues due to its Beta and launch timing. Then you have other complains about game mechanics. This is where the original fundamental design was lacking, and the most prominently mentioned aspect has been magic system's impact to this game. Magic is truly where it shines in terms of fundamental game design in MoM. It's hard to quantify, it's a sum of its various magic books, the opposition of Life vs. Death, or Nature vs Chaos vs Sorcery, and also the various the offensive and defensive counters. All these add up to make the the USE of magic fun in MoM.
The Elemental game is a War on Magic. Many people, including me, looked forward to this game, not necessarily because it's MoM2 (well, honestly I was at first), but more of a good fantasy magic 4x game that reminded people of MoM and AOE:SM and other classics. Instead, Elemental made Magic somewhat secondary to the goal of the game, and it also made it "just like another tech tree". In Elemental, it seems that more advanced magic simply meant higher costs and higher kill stats. This takes the fun out of the Magic system. You can have various "potency" or levels of Magic spells, but it's not a tech tree and cannot be treated that way.