I think you are going less against the current than you say. You are of course right, a better player should win. But the questions are: How big a difference in skill level is required to win 100% of games? Which skills in the game matter the most? The first question is important because not all (or even a sizeable minority) of Civ games take place in a 1v1 mirrored map. There is a lot of randomness involved. You want there to be some uncertainty in the outcome. A tiny difference in advantage (from skill or luck) at the start of the game leads to a bigger difference in power at the end of the game. The important thing is how much this difference increases by. If it is too small, then early skill (or the map) doesn't matter enough. If it's too big, the game is decided way before the end, and we never get to see the late game. From your description, Civ4 hit the sweet spot in the case of closely matched players, probably in part because of the very mechanics you describe. But most people who play Civ don't want to find human players that are close enough to their skill level and play an entire game on quick speed in one sitting. They want to play epic/marathon, in their own time, vs an AI. This AI's 'skill' can be tuned via difficulty levels, but it can never be fine grained enough to match the player exactly. Furthermore, the randomness inherent to the game makes such exact matching of early advantage impossible in practice. So we need the threshold at which early game advantage translates to automatic win to be significantly higher. Not disappear altogether, but be higher. This is done by reducing snowballing. The second question also comes into this. With steep snowballing, early game skills matter the most because no level of skill later on in the game can ever catch up. This makes the late game not matter and kills ton of the interesting features that Civ has. Again, we don't want late game skills to overpower early game skills, just to balance it. If nothing else it kills replayability if your initial build order makes-or-breaks the game more than anything else.