First off, let me say that I picked up FM expecting a fairly simple alternative to the larger competition from Profantasy-- which I've used before and liked, but would require me to buy a lot of expansion sets to be able to create everything I required as a GM-- and in this single package, I was pleasantly surprised by Fractal Mapper's power, customizability and ease of use.
Fractal Mapper is a very easy product to learn. Without even accessing the help or reading through, you can create a viable, realistic landmass in a single button click, and with a very simple readthrough of the tutorials you can make a variety of map types, including caverns, cities and dungeons. FM now utilizes JPG, BMP and PNG import and export, so you can bring in a scanned drawing as a background and draw over it to make a functional FM map. It has all the essential industry standards of mapping software for Windows, including the ability to use installed True Type fonts (rather than a selection of packaged postscripts or the like), a huge amount of layers to separate, freeze and hide-- useful for GM or other information you don't want displayed on an exported map, rotation and scaling of essentially anything you put on the map, and other fairly standard vector drawing tools. Mapping icons require pre-loading into a 15-slot area on the left-hand side for easiest access, which can be a little of a pain if you're doing an overland map where you know you'll be using a variety of different icons... but that's a small and not even really noticeable problem and doesn't largely interrupt your workflow.
FM has three areas I can see where it really shines. The first is its namesake. Creating fractal coastlines, roads, or land masses (especially useful for islands) is a simple process, and the fractal factor allows you to tell the program how much randomness you'd like in almost any object you place, even after you've placed it. The second is FM's scripting support. NBOS has included a scripting language that can allow you to customize FM's abilities to simplify what would ordinarily be tedious workloads on a large map. The best examples of such are in their expansion set for FM, which includes things like building and forest fills. Although I'm by no means a scripter, I can see the usefulness and power available in including a scripting language. I'd highly suggest picking up the Campaign Expansion for Fractal Mapper at the same time, however, since it gives FM some extra scripts and icons that I've found to be indispensible.
The third area is the Scenario Builder that is packaged up in the FM program. BY right clicking on any icon, text, or shape you place, you can include information on it. In the case of cities for overland maps, FM has a city custom tool that automatically (using the scripting language) includes basic random information that you can modify, including town rulers, city rumors, adventure hooks and the like. The help files also give suggestions on how to modify the scripts to include your own information quickly and easily. The end result is that once you've put all your information together, the Scenario Builder will compile all the information for your map in a simple, easy to read and illustrated HTML file, which can have all the information detailed, or just what you want to show your players. This is what really sold me on the product. It turned the drudgery of opening up Word and cross-checking back and forth to detail my dungeon into a simple case of packaging everything up with my map.
<b>LIKED</b>: The ease of use, first and foremost. FM didn't require a huge learning curve for me to be able to be creative, and while I still have to think some things out ("let's see, do I need to put this on the population layer or the cities layer if I'm going to want to see it with the player's map?") I can put the focus back where it belongs... on my campaign, not on the degree in science I'd need to create maps for my players. Most people with mapping experience will probably learn the basics of FM with one walkthrough of the included tutorial PDF.
The help system (from what I gathered, this was a problem in earlier builds of the program) is fairly complete this time around. Most often, I've found what help I've needed quickly and easily, without the need for checking around the web for 3rd party support.
The Scenario Builder and Scripting make Fractal Mapper a lot more useful and customizable than most mapping programs I've used. NBOS also packages up links to their home site, where you can upload and download maps other FM creators have made, and see how they've done things.
<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: The lack of expansion products is a pretty serious drawback, in my opinion. You CAN make your own symbols, save them and use them in future maps, and if you're technically inclined, you can almost certainly create your own scripts. But the one thing that makes FM lacking at the moment is the fact that there are very few expansion symbol sets in native Fractal Mapper format, nor are there any current packages of scripts besides what is available in the Campaign Expansion set. That particular one that NBOS software puts out fills a huge gap, but prospective buyers should know right off they may need to learn to create/import to have a huge selection of mapping icons.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Excellent<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Satisfied<br>