Nice idea for a thread! The only two games in this genre that I really, really enjoyed have been HoMM2 with its opera music and wonderful art and fun good/evil campaigns, and the first Age of Wonders, which really took me by surprise.
I did appreciate HoMM3 eventually. I didn’t like it when it first came out because I didn’t enjoy the art and the music compared to HoMM2, but eventually I got back into it years later after being disappointed in HoMM4’s inexplicably brain-dead AI. Going back to HoMM3 at that point really made me appreciate it. Though I never really enjoyed the campaigns as much as HoMM2’s, and it never felt as wonderous as HoMM2.
I loved the HoMMV demo. I just got sucked right into it because it was sooooo freaking hard. I think it was the beginning of the second week, a hero would come into the area, and wipe you out. So I started the demo over about 6 times before I finally was able to survive that attack. After that, the rest of the scenario wasn’t as hard. Just being able to survive that first attack meant getting the best start possible in the first seven days, so that I could get the most troops ready by the time he came. And from that point on, you had such a solid start, it wasn’t as hard.
Unfortunately, when HoMMV came out, it started off with a really easy boring human campaign. I never got past the first three scenarios or so, it was just too boring. Funny that what got me to buy it Day One was just how fucking hard that demo was, and then they start the game with a campaign so easy I never played the game again.