If so, why didn't they leave the location tiles blank so players can be free to place whatever location tiles they want to play with?
In a game obviously designed for variability, I wonder why the special actions are printed on the map instead of leaving those spaces blank and randomly assigning a special action tile to them. As it is, map A will always have Harbor, map B will have Barn, etc. But it could easily have been variable, so map A would one (or two) of the eight, map B one (or two) of the seven remaining, etc.
Not that it's not variable enough (it seems fine), but it just struck me as an obvious way to increase variability, and I wonder why it wasn't used. Are there features of each map that make them "optimized" for their special actions?
Originally the abilities were printed on the boards, as they are now. For a while though I tried a version with abilities dealt out randomly.
The big reason not to for me was that some abilities might care about where they were, or might want more stuff on the board. For example, Harbor wants to be by water, because, you know, it's a Harbor. If Capitol had been in an expansion rather than a promo, the big yellow hexagon showing the area that scores for it could have been printed on the board itself.
The possible additional variability meanwhile did not seem to me to be so important. Varying the scoring methods has a significant effect on the game. Varying the abilities is less significant but still meaningful. Varying the terrain map is nice, but mostly the effect is, it prevents you from learning the board. Varying which maps go with which abilities, I did not see that adding much. You already vary the map and abilities. Sure an Oasis is different if it's by desert or isn't, but it just doesn't amount to much that you weren't already getting.
Having a variety of abilities on each board, rather than two copies of a single ability plus a castle, is something you can do whether you print them on the board or pick them randomly. There the issue is, it makes the game slower.