The leader of a group of units starts out founding his village . His group is some sort of nomadic tribe, or a group of survivors from a big war (...As legend goes, Rome was founded by Aeneas survivor of the Troyan war... Yep, Rome was founded in a way very similar to the capital of a typical TBS game!)
They find themself in a foreign and hostile land and first thing they decide to build a town. They need food and soon (SOON!) they need horses too, not so much for fighting at first, but to carry their stuff around and move faster.
That should be the main idea behind any strategy game of this kind. I haven't read the Elemental book, and quite honestly I probably never will. The idea of the great cataclism is fine, but it is just one of the many possibilities a game like this one can and should offer.
The point of this post is to suggest a point of view that has to do with realism, other than gameplay, because IMO Elemental as a game is very hard to like, not only because the gameplay is slow, but also because the player is really unable to REALISTICALLY relate with what is going on in the game.
As things are now a wizard alone builds a city (should be a small group of units) he is supposed to be a leader, but he is alone. Also he builds a city and suddenly there are people in there... still he walks around alone for 100s turns (25 years!!), heroes don't come out from his village or his troops, but instead he has to find them around. The guy is the owner of a city but inexplicably he doesn't have the money to get nice clothes or a horse until he finds money around... That's right, the citizens pay no taxes, instead all money in this world is scattered around and he has to find it!... Sorry, not "find it" but just "step on it."
Let's face it, I could accept a game like chess where the realism is very abstract, but the gameplay is well conceived... Or I would be able to accept a slow but very realistic game (could be interesting actually, low lifespan as a game, but interesting)... but an abstract game which is slow and boring makes no sense!
What I am suggesting here, of course is to add enough optional things to the game for it to be played in a realistic way. Allow the leader to get a small army from the beginning (without all those monsters around being stronger than a reasonable garrison), allow a basic "horse" technology to be built from the beginning (maybe horses should be found, and horse riding/fighting skills developed, but the fact of being UNABLE to ride for so many turns IMO is just silly... The leader should soon have a horse!) - develop a good road system and a good boat system (fishing could give a lot of food...) and if you want to add extras, like flying machines or teleport, they should be only available as an option, so that players can personalize the magic specific to their world. Everything should be conceived starting from a realistic approach, because IMO once all bugs are fixed, EWOM will still eventually fail because players have no idea of what the hack they are doing half of the time, or why they are doing it! Walking in a desert for 30 years, with gold appearing around cities, only when researching a technology? WTF!!!
With realism players identify with their leader, otherwise the game will be impossible to like.