All 3 - template, number of teams/players and map should to fit together. Maps good for 1vs1 are bad for 3vs3, and so on.
Visual part is really important to me. But to some extent.
I like to play the map without the need to zoom in and out to play, to make an attack / deploy. Same with connections, I want to know them at first sight, not having to remember which is not connected to the other despite looking like it is. Connections across the maps are nice addition, but make them well visible and don't make too many. The borders of the territories should be clean, not overlapping, and the map itself shouldn't look like it's not finished yet. Territories shape is not important, triangles are just as nice as any random shape (if it's clean). Nice graphics on maps (like 「 Ra 」's, Incaman's etc.) are just an added value, wouldn't play those if they were bad in other things.
So, as I'm too stupid for team games, and play mostly 1vs1, now I will say just about 1vs1 maps, for template that remind 1vs1 strategic - 2 - 4 starters, 1 - 3 in each starting territory, 1-10 in starters, 3-10 initial income, some wastelands.
Now, as for the rest - I believe map should be balanced. And by balanced I mean few things (this is totally biased and subjective opinion, you know):
1) bonus sizes - not big discrepancy, if map have bonus of size 1, it shouldn't have one which have 10. For me, I prefer
when no bonus is smaller than 3 territories, and if the size of the biggest bonus is max twice the size of the smallest one. Maps with bonuses of size 12+ are rather bad idea to me. So that pretty much mean no super-bonuses to me, but even the small ones are bad, too much to think about.
2) bonus value - depending on the size of the map, and don't really have to be constant ratio or same territories-bonus relation for all territories. So, in most cases I prefer bonus to be "bonus=#territories-2", but depending on the other things it's not wrong to make it slightly higher or lower than that. It's not so big deal, as it can be changed in the settings, but adjusting it each time is meh.
3) total number of territories / bonuses - already kind of limited by visual aspects, but I would go further than that. Now, it's not a rule, and this numbers are just imaginary, but maps smaller than 30 territories are mainly decided on picks, maps bigger than 300 are usually decided by expansion. Those number varies and are different for the given amount of starters, but you get the idea.
4) bonus shapes - can be anything really, but make them differ along the map, make some easier to defend / capture than the other. Adjusting the bonus values accordingly to that is good idea.
5) shape of the map - variety please. Don't make it uniform, make some chokepoints, "islands" (blank spaces between the territories), "clusters" (areas with no "islands").
Europe map fulfill almost none of these, even for 3vs3. I don't get why it's so popular / high rated.
I think that would be all from me.
I think I answered most questions, the remaining ones:
What would you say are the top 6 maps in terms of how frequently they're played in high-level or clan competitions?
I think 6 most played
(doesn't mean best) maps are: ME (because it's most-mastered map), MME (because it's improved ME), Turkey, Imperium Romanum (because these are good ones), Battle Islands V (because it reminds ME, and is good one too), Europe (because people are stupid).
Could this be a competitive map? What would have to change to make it better?
Umm, could be... Completely subjective opinion: if I could change something, I wouldn't use +1/2 and +2/3 when I have +6/7 (see point 1). Also, keeping constant relation "bonus=#territories-1" is not the way to go, I would make the safer ones worth less, difficult ones worth more. Possibly also add a connections between the left and right side, or some other distant places, to make it more dynamic.
Edited 3/7/2014 10:17:38