While Strategic planning certainly has a major role in a 4x game, how well battles are executed on a tactical level has always had a huge effect on the rise and fall of empires as well.
One only has to look at the history of the American Civil War, for example, and how many rabbits Lee pulled out of his hat in the early parts of the war to truly respect this. Of course, Lee's overconfidence in his own men, and his underestimating the Union's tactical situation there, cost him Gettysburg, but that single battle changed the complexion of the Civil War in one stroke. Sure, the Union had the production advantage, and probably would have won eventually in any case, but thanks to Lee's (and others) tactical genius, the war lasted four years, not one.
As to how this relates to LH, the way I envision this is that, sure, your strategic and research decisions will definitely set the tone for a lot of things, and enable you to divide and conquer, how this executes on the tactical level is just as important.
And if a battle takes three minutes to execute instead of two, well that's no major loss of time, considering how much time you will be spending on other aspects of the game (exploration, city building, diplomacy, etc.). AND, again, you can always autoresolve if you don't want to be bothered, and an Advanced Combat Options checkbox would appease those of us that enjoy seeing how our build/research decisions are panning out tactically as well as strategically, while the rest of you can have 'quick' combat.
Plus, players will feel less 'cheated' in tactical combat at times if the tactical implementation is better than it is currently. Note the LOOONG discussions we've had in many threads about swarming, weapons/ability implementations, and unit placement, including this one. This is because a good handful of players are feeling 'cheated' by the current tactical engine in many cases. Elemental promises much, but the tactical execution seems to lack in delivery, which disappoints more than a few of us.
It amazes me how much money Stardock keeps leaving on the table with the Elemental franchise. The more flexibility you incorporate into a game design (by giving your customers more decisions as to the game THEY want to play), well the more appeal the game will have to the market at large. And it isn't like some of the 'naysayers' amongst this group are asking for the moon and the stars here. Most of the requests I've read are well within reach of the designers, and many have said 'make it a checkbox' on several items so WE can enjoy the game WE want to play, but not force everyone else to have to do the same. Somehow, though, those at the top are content to straightjacket the design into their vision only. Sure, this is great for Brad and Kael, and a good number of customers will be content with this. But the goal SHOULD be to grab and hold onto as much of your customer base as possible. While maintaining an awesome design, of course!
Elemental has SOOOO much untapped potential, it isn't even funny. This game could blow MOM and other designs out of the water, instead of just 'keeping pace'. I think it currently suffers from tunnel vision and too many LCD (lowest common denominator) decisions, though.
Elemental COULD be game of the year, if the designers would stop selling the design short with implementation decisions IMHO.
While I gave up on E:FE during the Beta (mostly due to bandwidth restrictions/tight finances), I've been along for most of the E:LH Beta. And I spent a good amount of time working inside the code of Elemental: World Of Magic, as I loved that game enough to ACTUALLY try to share mods and such with like minded individuals on this forum. So I do see the work that has went into Elemental since the beginning. And the untapped potential...
That's not to say that there aren't a lot of really cool features built into the design. I do like a good number of the concepts and design decisions that remain in Elemental. But a design is only as strong as it's weakest points, and weaker games lose out on replayability. People will be more willing to invest in expansions and such for stronger designs, due to replayability, and Elemental certainly could be a stronger design.
LH is pretty much in the bag now, so this discussion will have to wait for the next part of this franchise. But for those of us that bought into the dream at the beginning (I bought E:WOM at Best Buy, after absolutely loving and paying full retail for several installments of the Galactic Civilizations franchise, and Political Machine too), the next part won't be free, and whether we invest more money into the Elemental franchise will be totally dependent on where the game goes from here.
One statistic I've heard often is that it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Just how important existing gaming customers as a whole are to Stardock remains to be seen. The ball is in your court, Brad.