This is basically how Humankind works. You have a little time to found cities of your own, but by the Classical period most free space is inhabited by minor civs you have to conquer or annex diplomatically. Also around this stage settling becomes absurdly expensive. Like a lot of HK, it sounds better on paper than it works in practice.
Yeah I feel like Old World is somewhat similar in that respect as well.
I actually think it would work better with Civ's "cities everywhere" style versus those games with their limited city sites. Especially combined with something like the loyalty system. Like free cities could join you diplomatically. Or be conquered. Or trading with them might eventually influence them into your network. And loyalty would start flipping them, etc...
It would have to be a game mode though (not how the entire game works), because where I want to place cities versus where the AI decides to place cities would make it an exercise in city planning frustration.