It seems there may be some changes incoming.
Yes, a bunch of tweaks and minor bugfixes. I haven't started going through my list, but I think I will soon. (I have fwiw just implemented an unrelated change that eliminates puzzling trade connections between rivers that are two tiles apart.)
Workboat starts with fish and 4 hammer cities seem very strong on marathon because improving sea resources didn‘t slow as much as everything else.
It seems like a rare edge case, but workboat first starts could use a nerf on marathon imho.
Work Boat and a coastal start (which typically has seafood) and Fishing as a starting tech and, ideally, a Forest Plains Hill in the city radius. That's indeed pretty narrow. Producing the Work Boat extra fast by working a production-only tile means that the city won't grow – which is normally an advantage of Work Boat over Worker. Well, with population growth being slow on Marathon (and one Warrior -arguably- being sufficient for exploration), growing to size 2 before a Worker seems undesirable anyway. Perhaps most importantly, Worker is also cheap on Marathon, so I don't see how Work Boat is being advantaged over Worker. Even if it is, to some extent, it wouldn't worry me because Work Boat starts are imo rather undesirable on Normal speed. Edit
: Your point is that worker speed is affected by Marathon while Fishing Boats still only take a single turn; I see. Still, I don't think it's a problem on the bottom line; at least not one that would justify a cost increase for Work Boat.
Is city maintenance behaving as expected in marathon?
Distance maintenance seemed too low in the play-along game, but I guess that's an issue with Huge map size. Game speed currently affects maintenance only through an inflation adjustment.
Regarding game settings, it sounds like you intend to play on Marathon, but I'm not sure. Marathon favors warfare and an experienced human player runs circles around the AI when it comes to that. Here
's a recent discussion about that – not involving mods, but I don't think the changes in AdvCiv make a fundamental difference.
What map script do you generally suggest to produce interesting games?
Fractal is the default in my mind. I find the uncertainty about the number and size of the continents interesting. PerfectMongoose is arguably even better at that and is, in many ways, more realistic, but the maps can turn out too watery (too many small continents, chokepoints created by bays), negatively affecting game balance and AI. There's been progress on that front; I think the script plays pretty well by now. Not sure how much the Earth-like climate (less locally varied than Fractal) affects fairness.
Which of the options chosen for the play along (no tribal villages, no tech trading, no random events) favor the AI?
The reluctance of the AI to trade techs, especially the "not just yet" response, is in my estimation a major handicap imposed on the AI – by necessity, I think, because, if the AI were allowed to trade rationally, tech would spread around very rapidly. No Tech Trading levels the playing field, i.e. makes the game more difficult for the human player. (Unless the human player is, for some reason, unable to trade techs aggressively: starts isolated or falls far behind before tech trading becomes available.) Without tech trading, however, war trades and peace trades (reparations or brokered peace) are rarely affordable. AdvCiv lets the AI trade cities at peacetime, but the conditions for that are pretty narrow, so it's not a great help. The "fair and forthright trade," "shared discoveries" and "traded with our enemy" diplo modifiers also don't play much of a role without tech trading, and the AI will rarely be able to ask for a gift or demand tribute, so those diplo modifiers, too, are diminished. As a result, Friendly attitude becomes very difficult to reach without a shared religion and Annoyed attitude also somewhat rare without warfare. I don't think diplomacy becomes entirely bland without tech trading, but it's a major element of gameplay removed and not a favor to the AI in terms of making the AI fun to interact with. There is certainly also much to criticize about the gameplay that results from tech trades being allowed, but, to me, it's the lesser evil. Keeping the player count moderate reins in the pervasiveness of tech trading.
The human player should be better at locating Tribal Villages than the AI, and, below Monarch difficulty, the AI starts exploring a few turns later than the human player because it won't leave its first city unguarded. (But the AI does start with 10 free production at the capital, so another Warrior doesn't take long.) On Emperor and Immortal, the AI gets 2 Archers and 1 Scout. In BtS, it's even 2 Scouts and, on Immortal, 3 Archers; that'll clearly make Tribal Villages benefit the AI more than the human. With just 1 Archer and 1 Scout for exploration on Emperor in AdvCiv, I don't think the AI gets much of an advantage from Tribal Villages being enabled. For me, it's more a matter of early exploration being driven too much by Tribal Villages when they're enabled or being unexciting when they're disabled; and Tribal Villages sometimes leading players down unusual tech paths vs. introducing too much (random) unfairness – despite the substantial reduction of gold and research rewards in AdvCiv.
The AI logic for dealing with Random Events is very primitive, but, then, most Random Events don't require any particular response or preparation and just aren't very impactful. (Maybe that's their saving grace. I find most events ill-conceived and poorly implemented, so I've been treating this feature as irredeemable and have only fixed a few major issues.)
Which would you recommend (including map settings) for a newer player who looks for more challenge without more AI cheats?
I would recommend the mod's default settings, i.e. Normal speed, Fractal, Standard size, Medium sea level, 8 players, or possibly Small size, Low sea level, 7 players –, all options unchecked. Well, see above about Random Events. The mod adds some options for an extra or special challenge (Rise & Fall, Start Points as Handicap, No Slavery), but I don't suppose those are recommendable for a "newer" player. If Marathon is a must, then perhaps Large size, Medium sea level, 11 players – although this will magnify the role of tech trading.
Regarding AI cheats, on Monarch I still find the AI freebies and discounts pretty subtle. On Emperor, the mod turns part of the AI discounts into slight cost increases for the human player. At least this makes things more transparent (and it reins in the tech pace and makes the map less crowded with military units). Immortal is where the game feels heavily and overtly lopsided to me.
To find the right settings, it could also help to look at some maps in Debug mode (Ctrl+Z, requires the chipotle cheat code in My Games\Beyond the Sword\CivilizationIV.ini) and perhaps to run AI Auto Play (with the map revealed) for one or two hundred turns. Also helpful for getting an impression of the AI behavior.
Oh, and there's already a thread
in the AdvCiv subforum with some opinions about game options.