Gauntlet, if what you say is true, why does the game have those options? Why does it actually keep a running checklist as to why a race likes or dislikes your race? When you check status, it actually has pluses next to factors like "gave us a gift," "Same ideology," "open boarders." Why do this if they don't matter? Why bother with that aspect when, in the next turn, the same race says, "you realize we're going to eventually enslave you?"
I think you misunderstood my frustration. I don't want to role play. I want to play a style other than Risk. I'm hopeful that I'm simply playing in an ignorant fashion to my goals. Tung and Ghislain pointed out some tangible ideas I will try. Maybe by using the game mechanics I've been neglecting I will find a little of the balance I'm seeking. LMAO, I sound like the narrator at the end of "The Last Samurai."
Those things do matter, just not as much as you would like. As Naselus would point out, your relationship system is on a very small scale, and many factors deemed important add +3 per turn, spamming even 4 embassies has a large effect, the occasional gift barely registers because it doesn't really last for very long.
At any rate, I think your right, I misunderstood. I thought you were confused as to why doing "benevloent" things didn't make you benevolent and affect relationships, but now it sounds like you just want to know how to win without a superior military, which others are advising you on well enough.
"The devs have said they were deliberately avoiding the good vs evil dichotomy."
I'm surprised that the devs seriously thought this (and if they did, I'd have to disagree with their execution). GC3 has a simplistic conception of morality. It is a hard triangle with essentially "Generous" "Greedy but not Murderous" and "Greedy AND Murderous" points. That middle option really isn't great.
Two of which (because pragmatism is not very well developed) are basically following a formula of morality better suited to Lord of the Rings, or Loony Toons. That is not to detract, these things hold great value, its fun, playful, and provides necessary formulas for conflict in GC3. But its definitely a good vs evil dichotomy with a enforced "gray area" that is poorly defined in comparison to the other two, and shoehorned in simply to provide a third point on their conflict triangle.
Civ Beyond Earth for example, while still a hard and somewhat contrived triangle, has much more nuanced ideas behind the three philosophies (authenticity VS harmony VS dominance).
It also works well in Civ because all of the players are human and share a common ancestry of thought and psychology. Morality to various aliens will undoubtedly take many forms. Some races may be very "benevolent", but so focused on long or short term results, that to the average human, their immediate actions are quite malevolent, or for that matter, maybe that proves them to be too utilitarian for human tastes? GC3 assumes that all sentient life agrees that there is a universal morality spectrum, they disagree about where its right to land on that spectrum, but nobody really questions the limits of the spectrum itself.
In ideal circumstances, I'd probably break down the ideology sections into five competing themes, and every decision would up/down a pair of these. Being extreme in any one could cause issues. You'd find that these five would likely work well if they corresponded to personality analysis tools like DISC or Myer's Briggs assessments and the like.
But hey! THAT might not actually be any fun. Now if you will excuse me, I have a death furnace ribbon cutting ceremony to attend.