CrazyG has stated it more elegantly than I have in my last few posts. We are creating this feedback cycle that penalizes growth....but at the same time the happy system keeps telling the player "build more infrastructure, develop those cities!" So why do we tell the player "infrastructure is good!" but at the same time tell them "growth is bad!". Why is one version of developing my cities acceptable, but the other one is not? The fundamental answer is: Every strategy game is a balance of long and short term goals. Growth is a long term strategy, and also a fairly passive one. We don't want it to be so good that the players ignore short term strategies and do the same thing every game. And that is a valid concern, but I think the structure of the mod is mature enough at that point that we have long surpassed the issue. 1) AI's warring is nasty. If you grow all the time and don't get an army, you will get crushed. 2) Wonders are powerful and the AI is competitive. If you grow and don't get focus on short term hammers, no wonders for you. 3) Specialists are strong and are a natural growth counterplay. If you want to grow....fine. If you want to sacrifice growth to get earlier specialists / Great People....fine. 4) Buildings are strong and balanced. A food heavy city is going to grow quick....but realistically what are you doing with that population anyway? This isn't vanilla where most of your research game from pop....ultimately you still need infrastructure to make your pops do useful things. 5) Quests often push players in interesting short term directions (to date one of my favorite improvements in the mod). I commonly build buildings, or make trades, I wasn't intending to in order to secure them. Or sometimes get a bigger army just to pick up tributes. Short term goals FTW! 6) Growth has lots of later synergies that let players catch up. If you want to grow heavy before aqueducts fine, but the player that focused on hammers early and then combined with a Great Merchant WLTKD bomb with an aqueduct rush can catch back up very fast....and now has more infrastructure than the growth player. There is a lot of ways to skin the cat other than "get early food, grow, profit". 7) Border growth and worker availability put some soft caps on growth. I have to invest in more workers and spend gold on borders to keep up with a fast growing city. 8) And of course....happiness. Ignoring distress, population increases your yield needs. Unhappiness rises with population, and requires infrastructure to address it. So with that in mind, I believe some of the shackles on growth could be removed. I think the bigger question is, if we removed distress....would 3 buckets be balanced or would it make the system too unwieldy?