Since I have some internet access while on vacation, I'll chime in some thoughts. Thanks for the feedback too!!!
Several thoughts on the setup.
What I wanted to do was help the player get out of the early game rut when nothing really happens, at least compared to earlier versions of Cradle. The challenge in earlier Cradle was based on trying to dig out of a very deep hole because you were hamstrung...the AI had more settlers, more advances and more cheat bonuses. I wanted to close that gap, and felt that getting more settlers from goody huts was a way to make the game a little quicker and fun.
I also figured that the city cap would place a limit on peaceful expansionism. I do play the game with a house rule not to raze or starve any cities, so any conquest that I do has to take that aspect into account.
What you can do is move those nomads back to your cities and get a pop boost. A bit of a micro-management hassle though...
The AI will also pop huts, and has the same percentage chances, so they also benefit. As you have noted, the AI also builds a lot of Scouts too, so they can scour the map quickly (and see the follow-up notes on Scouts below).
I'm still in the process of rethinking this, but a determining factor has to do with the size maps and the quantity of civs that I normally play too...(gigantic/14+ civs) With that many civs on the map and with my house rules, I figure that the player may be able to dominate a few civs (with a little help from the player being able to establish himself quicker), but there will be others that will have the time and space to provide later challenges.
And after the Upate upload, for my current test game, I decided to scale back the nomad chance from approx 20% to 14%. I also noticed that although Slavemasters cannot be built by the player or the AI, they can still be popped from a goody hut, so the enable advance has been changed to fix this. I really wanted to downplay the battleslaving ability.
And keep this in mind...They will upgrade to Jav Cavalry, and then you may face some good sized, extremely mobile enemy Jav-Cavalry stacks. I have lost some cities in this way in the early game. (and see ZOC feedback below for related info)
Refer to the Great Library (Concepts) for the exact specifics.
In my current test, I now have to work harder on slaving, but it is possible to still create some cities that are nothing more than glorified slave pits. It's just that slaving probably will not be possible in all cities like it was earlier, so farms and pastures become more valuable.
I actually never built farms/pastures when I played Cradle. I think that this difference of opinion is a good thing because it points out that either way is a viable option.
The removal is aimed on placing more difficulty on a player's defense. It adds a tactical element because the AI is not constrained and can better bypass your defenses now. Rather than having several turns of repositioning troops on a front, you have to committ to battle a little faster
It forces the player to deal with intruders rather than simply block them, and in the case of the Jav Cavalry stacks, places even more importance on inner defenses and mobility. If the AI gets behind your lines, you now have a much larger problem on your hands than in the past.
I rethought ZOC after a long argument with the AoM crowd...and one thing that I pointed out was that a ZOC in actual terms, deals with the threat that a dug-in army presents in a realistic fashion, not through some invisible force-field that would without fail, force every attacking army to walk miles (in the case of CTP2, up to two tiles distant) around a defender. The truth is...in a real battle situation, an attacker can walk past a dug-in force, but it is what the defender CHOOSES to do that determines ZOC. If the defender chooses to do nothing, there is no ZOC.
And in geographic terms...most terrain in any given chunk of land has a multiplicity of bypass points that would negate just about any choke point/ZOC established by a defender.
Leonidas chose his terrain very well and was able to hold off a superior Persian army, but was undone when the Persians were literally able to walk around the Greek forces.