The strategy is always much more important than tatics and micro management. If you always play without S/L, you'll understand how important to get a right position. With micro managerment and optimizing skills, you can easily make up that several turns. However, if you are blocked by AIs without strategic resources, the whole game will be tough. Even if you will not be blocked on this map, it is still statistically correct to settle 7 tiles away instead of at the corner. Only with bigger territory, you can have higher probability to get one of the strategic resources: copper/horse/iron/elephant. As to the standard Pangea with high sea level, it seems a very natual decision.