Although I personally dislike the AAZ concept and although I can understand why it might provoke a visceral negative reaction in devoted fans of the game (I had pretty much the same reaction myself when I first heard about the game), I think that its place in the developmental history of A&A shouldn’t be overblown at this stage. Depending on what happens to A&A over the next decade or so, we’ll eventually be able to look back on AAZ and make an informed assessment of its significance (or lack thereof). At the moment, there’s no way of telling whether AAZ will ultimately prove to be a misguided one-off statistical blip (which is my hope) or the first manifestation of the decline and fall of the A&A empire (to paraphrase Edward Gibbon).
To me, the main issue is whether the game is balanced. I think a designer actually should be “good” at the game. If you dont play the game at the highest level, how do you know whether the game you designed is properly balanced or not?
Throwing extra rules or zombies or whatever mashup because it “sounds fun” does not make for a good game. Not saying AAZ is or isnt this yet, because its hard to know after playing just a few rounds. Though years ago I did get to play a demo Buldge game with Larry and instantly disliked it, so there is that…