Nice job on the comparison of the 2 maps!
makes road scoring more challenging which is necessary with fewer player competing over an (otherwise) identical area.
Some people disagree. Here is a quote from Bruno Faidutti's web page on China:
The smaller board is more or less the size of the original Kardinal und König, while the larger board on the other side makes the game more interesting with four and five players - even when three players is probably still the best.
I'm not sure if I've played the 4/5 player side with 3. If so... maybe once? at most.