I dunno if it's something that's been explored or not; the possiblity of redesigning the Factions that govern the Ming Dynasty, which are quite restrictive in terms of gameplay - while of course that's the fun of playing as them, certainly things could be improved in places.
First of all, letís look at how Ming China begins, and then move on to how things could be improved:
1 Centralisation (over Decentralisation)
4 Aristocratic (over Plutocracy)
4 Serfdom (over Free Subjects)
1 Narrowminded (over Innovative)
4 Mercantilism (over Free Trade)
2 Offensive (over Defensive)
3 Land (over Naval)
0 Quality (over Quantity)
-Hire Explorers and Conquistadors.
Reduces Land Forcelimits by 60%
GAIN SUPPORT THROUGH:
-Favouring Naval over Land
-Favouring Free Trade over Mercantilism
-Emperor High Diplomacy
Reduce Land and Naval Forcelimits by 60%
GAIN SUPPORT THROUGH:
-Favouring Quantity over Quality
-Favouring Narrowminded over Innovative
-Emperor High Military
Reduces Naval Forcelimits by 60%, Increases Magistrates by 0.25%
GAIN SUPPORT THROUGH:
-Favouring Aristocracy over Plutocracy
-Favouring Serfdom over Free Subjects
-Emperor High Administration
-Faction system only fairly represents Ming China under weak Emperors who withdrew from affairs of state.
-Restriction of abilities to each faction severely weakens government against neighbours.
-Restriction of building control to bureaucrats defies logic; Temple faction would want more temples, and a Eunuch-backed colony lacks a purpose without buildings.
-Serfdom setting is too high; Ming China was designed to favour free subjects over serfs.
-Narrowminded setting is too low; Ming China rejected the use of cannon as long as it could.
-Offensive setting is too high; Ming China began little campaigns over time, and instead repaired the Great Wall.
-Ban on Naval Travel not accurately represented.
-Trade was never completely banned under the Ming; a small
-Temple faction did not historically exist; Ming China largely tolerated other faiths.
-Faction has no reason to favour quantity over quality.
-Bureaucrat power would not be improved by an Emperor with high Administration skills; they would be weakened instead.
-Bureaucrat faction should be affected by promotion of Free Trade; Confucian Officials were against all forms of Trade.
First of all, the Factions are redesigned;
In this version, the Temple Faction is replaced by Taoist Officials; in this case also fictional, but here to represent Innovative ideas versus those of the conservative Confucian Bureaucrats (renamed to Confucian Officials); the backing of which will allow for an alternate history where China embraces Westernisation and Expansion. The three factions have all been assigned specific religions, to allow for faction power bonuses to be obtained depending on what religion the Emperor chooses to endorse.
Historically, Ming China fell under the rule of factions when the Emperors decided to withdraw from state affairs, meaning faction power needs to be weaker when an Emperor with high stats is in power and stronger when the Emperor has low stats. Since the player is controlling all the successive Emperors, a way needs to be ascertained to either limit his power at certain times, or to goad him into giving up his power. For example, this could be done by;
1. Revamping the faction system to add a fourth circle in the centre of the faction triangle; representing the Emperorís willpower. As long as the Emperor is the dominant power, his decisions will go unchallenged - the higher his stats, the less likely the other factions will become more powerful. However, if he loses the dominant position, he becomes governed by the whims of the ruling faction.
2. Revamping the Event system to add more events and more complicated choices that makes the game harder for an Emperor with lower stats. A decision is also added that allows the Emperor to hand over power to the factions; removing the majority of these events (as if the factions were dealing with them) but also limiting the choices he can make. Another decision would exist to undo the effects of the previous one, but it would take time to be available, and there would be side-effects.
Regardless of which option is chosen, it would also make sense to revamp the exclusivity that each faction has over some specific choice. After all, if the Emperor so desired it, it would have been done; those against it would have just spent as much time as they could to persuade the Emperor otherwise. With this in mind, it would make sense to change the factions so that instead of actively preventing everything other than their preferred area of focus, a faction in power gives bonuses of some sort to their area of choice, and severe penalties to the area they are against (perhaps preventing one choice, simply to make things interesting). For example, Confucian officials were vehemently against the idea of trade in principle, so a dominant Confucian court should give penalties towards Trade Tech and the cost of sending Merchants should rise significantly. Eunuchs should affect Stability Costs, since a Eunuch with enough influence could (and often did) cause problems, but give bonuses to colonists, since they were often sent to lead these expeditions.
In addition to this, the benefits and problems should be balanced, so that it is unwise to stick with the same faction for a prolonged period of time; for instance, one faction might provide greater income, but also raise the revolt risk. Another might allow for tech improvements, but weaken army and naval discipline. This way, the Ming Dynasty becomes more about choosing between factions than being stuck with one; think of it as having the choice between multiple forms of government at once. A wise emperor will thus know how to use his rival factions against one another.
Special work may need to be done to create the conditions that led to the downfall of the Ming Dynasty. Not only were the Emperors weak, but the first of their Emperors had designed their tax system to be overseen by them, and their withdrawal from society led to corruption in officials, who would pocket taxes, which led to them being raised. This became worse over time as a result of inflation caused by trade. In addition to this, populations soared with new farming techniques, and unemployment rose.
Any more ideas? There's much more to be considered, but I need more time to mull things over.