On the easy levels, Civilization teaches you that it’s okay if you’re a pariah state if you’ve got the biggest military. This sort of tracks with realpolitik, but it’s only a partial match. See, this bugs me. Civilization hooks me with its complexity and infrastructure. I love building a complex system. But it fails me because it is, at its heart, a zero sum game. This is just fundamentally depressing, and it’s why I like going for culture or science victory. But, and this is kind of important, the computer players *know* that it’s a zero-sum game, so you still have to spend big bucks on your military. And if you start winning and your military isn’t buff enough, they’ll stomp you. So, you have to have the *capability* of a military win, and then you can win with whatever condition you want.
What if there were a way to get everyone to win, together? What if there were a win condition like, “All players have net happiness in all cities?” Also, what if there were diplomatic options beyond, “Let’s you and him fight,” and, “Gimme your lunch money!” Maybe something like, “Look, if you stop beating up your neighbors, I’ll send some caravans your way.” There’s already this notion of players not liking you if they think you’re a war monger, but that just doesn’t have any teeth — what do you get if they like you? Not much. And so what if they don’t like you? They’re not going to like you no matter what you do, so don’t waste your time trying to placate them.
It is observably true that it is possible to increase a person’s happiness without a corresponding decrease in happiness somewhere else. Happiness is not a zero-sum game. And you know what? That’s a far, far more interesting game.