Well maybe we are moving off topic here, but the thought I was trying to explain was some sort of, let's call it "influence" score that each player would have on a region. So you could earn influence over a certain region by different mechanisms:
- Passive military presence in the region/urban sites could earn you points each turn based on combat strength.
- Active military presence in terms of for instance done to barbarians could be added to our influence score.
- Nearby cities could grant you influence based on their culture level (this would be a bit similar to Civ6's loyalty pressure).
So what I had in mind was that if you reach a certain influence score, you can lay claim on a territory even if you have not settled it. However, this claim would be less permanent than actually settling the territory, so if another player also meets the threshold, they can also lay claim on the territory.
So instead of it's just "your scout got to the city site first, therefore you can reserve it for your own forever, no matter what my military presence is, unless I DoW you", it would be more like "your scout got to the city site first, therefore you got a head start in earning influence over it, but if the site is right next to my capital or if I march a big army up to the site, I may make a claim for it as mine without DoW'ing you".