Okay, started a game last night with the 1.19 beta and I have the following suggestions/observations as it pertains to my early game strategy. I was playing on Challenging World with all 8 races also set to Challenging.
My initial game strategy still works and I consider this an exploit that needs to be adjusted.
My game strategy is 'the Rush'. What I basically do is found my city and spend most of my initial gold on armor and a boar spear. My first Tech research is Warfare and my first Arcane Spell is Arcane Weapon. As soon as I build my first city, I start building a Pioneer and then a Caravan (because I have the x trait from the Sovereign setup).
I then wander around my position picking up anything I can. When I get Janusk, I add him to my party and outfit him with armor and a boar spear as soon as I have enough gold. I pick fights with everything in order to get experience and with that experience I add STR and CON to increase my attack and health points. Usually in the first 20 turns I add a 3rd hero and outfit him/her with armor and a boar spear as well.
Roughly around turn 40 I have met at least one or sometimes two AI factions. As soon as I get Arcane weapon, I cast that spell on every member (usually 3) of my party and attack the nearest faction. The AI faction is usually guarded only by the Sovereign and a spouce, or sometimes a peasent or two. My party which is usually at level 3 and have armor and boar spears easily take out the AI and I end up with 1 to 3 extra cities and another mana shard. If there is another AI close, I might or might not attack them as well, but I *always* take out someone in the first 50 turns. The AI is never prepared and it effectively doubles my empire. This tactic has never failed.
So how shoud the AI defend against it?
1. The AI should equip it's hero's from the store the same as I do on turn one or two and should check to see if the store has upgraded equipment. This should happen at the start of every turn for every 'hero' under it's command.
2. As soon as contact is made with another faction, the AI should start to build some guard units in every city under it's control and not peasents, but some type of unit with a defense as well as attack values.
However, even if the AI did that, there are two other problems which still would make this a viable strategy because the AI does not expect an attack in the first part of the game. The AI needs to research a tactical offensive spell as soon as it can and the AI needs to find a way to get experience for it's hero's in the same manner that I do. Even if the AI outfitted better, the fact that my party comes at them at level 3 or sometimes 4 while they are at level 1 puts the AI at a real disadvantage in a tactical battle.
Also tactical battle against a city is too easy, especially in the early part of the game. Suggestion: Allow excess popluation to be outfitted as levies prior to the tactical battle. The excess population would be equiped like peasents and grouped by 4. Any losses by the levies effects the factions population after the battle. This could be taken farther later in the game by having Tech reaserch that allows the levies to have better equipment although it will fight at a disadvantage (armor and weapons perhaps 1/2 effect).
Final Suggestion: For whatever reason, Stardock has been hesitant to remove the Equipment option when you create your Sovereign although I don't know of a single person that uses this because the point cost is prohibitive. I suggest that instead of purchasing equipment, allow the sovereign to purchase tactical spells or special abilities instead. The reason for this is obvious, the better/stronger the initial Sovereign is, the more likely they are to survive the an initial early game 'Rush' while adding some 'favor' to the game as well. I would recommend that these spells and/or abilities be randomly selected at the start of the game so you can't count on certain AI personalities to have certain abilities or spells. I would also recommend that IF the AI can't effectively purchase better equipment for itself at the start of the game, that depending on the level of difficulty, the game awards better equipment to these sovereigns at the beginning of the game. Nothing out of the ordinary, but at least some basic armor and a decent weapon. After all WE are going to outfit OUR Sovereigns with good equipment, the AI Sovereign at the very least should do that as well.