"The real question I'm trying to answer for myself is *should* I integrate that level of flexibility."
-i will suggest you do integrate to "this level" of flexibility...see below for details.
"On the positive side, flexible routing would mean that I could patch any sound source through any combination of effects/loopers in any order"
-currently i have the following items routed through the 'blade (any combination at any given time): lexicon pcm70 (mono in, stereo out), eventide dsp7k (stereo in/out), chandler tube driver (mono), a pair of edps, all fed by preamp + eq and feeding either side of my vht 2/90/2 poweramp.
"On the negative side, I currently spend too bloody much time as it is engineering and managing the gear in the rack, as opposed to actually making music with it."
-i know the feeling. if i spend 3 hours with my amp, i'll spend at least an hour programming and 2 hours playing. it does pay off in the end, in my opinion.
"Integrating a non-hardwired routing scheme would add yet another level of complexity to the setup, when the purpose of stripping-down to a smaller amount of gear was to simplify the setup and actually get some work done."
-yes and no. as i believe i mentioned, the switchblade is remarkably intuitive. once you have everything setup (which doesn't take too terribly long anyhow), getting around and programming is quick and painless. the actual complexity is masked by a well-designed product.
"But if you guys are finding value in, for instance, putting a line through one set of effects on one looping pass, then perhaps adding distortion for the second pass,
and maybe only sampling the echoes of a reverb for the next pass, it then becomes something that's got some real value behind it."
-finding infinite value...
"And John, do you ever feel as if you're bogged down in patching configurations to the point that you'd just as soon chuck the unit, wire everything up once then be done with it?"
-er...jim...but who's counting? honestly, when using multiple effects units, the time invested is well worth it. i can't imagine the stagnant and inflexible situation that i would be left with where it not for the 'blade. in a way, i have "wired everyting up once"...within 3 minutes, i can program a new (and relatively complex) signal path...with a few button-pushes on the front panel or a few click-and-drags on the ole' pc.