Agree with all the points above, and talking about villages as the basic settlement with the potential to grow into a city center. What do you think about remplace the use of builders with both settlers and direct city production queues.
The points are these:
- Settlers have 4 Pop points (like the 3 hammers of builders), these Pops are used to found both villages and neighborhoods (basicaly the part that need the placement on a tile).
- Villages are the equivalent of Improvements, these villages have 4 building slots, the first one is automatically filled with the proper one if the tile have a resource (for example a Mine if there is Iron) or if it lacks resources but is right next to a city it turn in a Neighborhood that can be improved with a Workshop (different crafts).
- Settlers can also spend their Pops points in "free" buildings on an already settled Village or Neighborhood. For villages the 4th one turn them into a city center (but its expensive). The game automatically try and ask you to found a city when you use a full (4pops) Settler on a tile without resource and/or rigth next a city district.
- Manual clearing of tile features like swamps is replaced by an extra turn and production cost to improve the tile.
- Also in this system the more production your city have the more queues you gain to use in buildings for districts, villages and others improvements (better "tall" gameplay and less anoying micromanagement).
- Similar to Specialists, every Pop have 3 Identity Parameters (Culture, Religion and Job) the last is related to each building from a village or district, for example Mines and Factories have Labourers Pops, Forts and Barracks Warriors Pops, etc.
- The player election of civics, government, enemies, etc. Have impact on your Pops, and they can even migrate because of it, making you gain or lose them.