Here's a few things that I find effect difficulty beyond just the 'difficulty' option: 1. Map size - This is a biggie. I've usually found that as a map gets bigger, the game tends to get more difficult, and as it gets smaller, it tends to get easier. For example, on Prince difficulty, a duel map is really like a half-step down from Prince, and a huge map is a half-step up from Prince. Why? First off, unless I've adjusted the number of CSs and civs, the number of both increases on a larger map, adding to more civs that can become runaways and more CSs that may turn against me. Thus the chance of multiple runaways is higher, and there's so much room that one or the other may not be in immediate reach. Secondly, the map is so big that anyone I may need to get to may not be in immediate reach; if Siam is near a cultural victory, and they are on the other side of the world, the distance is a whole lot longer on Huge than on Duel. 2. Map type -By and large, map type is the easiest way to cook the settings (Aztecs on Amazon, England on anything with a lot of water). But when not cooking the settings, I've found that Continents tends to be the hardest map type, with Pangae a close second, and Islands and water-heavy maps being a distant third. Continents is brutal in that often enough, I may find in the mid-game that a runaway civ has been around for 50-100 turns without me even knowing about it. On Continents, there's a good chance somewhere I can't see that a war-monger is about to take over a wonder-spammer, or has already done so. Pangae is a close second because while there's the possibility I may find every civ via land-based scouts, there's still a chance I'll miss a few on larger maps, and beyond, there's almost always a good land route to get to me, which usually helps the AI (although since G&K, AI sea-borne invasions and navies are more common). Water heavy maps tend to be the easier of three by a good ways. For one, runaways are a little less common, since everyone will generally start on their own little patch of land. Moreover, AI naval units are not excessively good at tracking down my own naval units, and AI embarked units often stray out of the protection of their escorting ships. 3. The number of civs and CSs - This is something I rarely mess with. But back in Vanilla, for a few games I turned map size up and civ number and CS number both down. This has the effect of opening up land, as well as increasing barbarian appearence (more camps, fewer civs to kill off camps, etc. etc.), and also allows a better shot at finding a natural wonder that isn't inside a CS or in otherwise worthless terrain. Turning down the number of civs, in my experience, has usually made the game slightly easier. 4. Game speed - Marathon and Epic were awkward at first, but gradually I've come to see that they are slightly easier. They provide more time to play catch-up, and, most of all, more time to move your army. In theory, the slower the speed, the faster your units are moving relative to the speed of building anything. Because units continue to move at the same speed, yet almost all else is scaled to be slower, it's as though all units are actually moving faster than usual. This is fairly helpful, because on both Marathon and Standard, I might have an army that will take 50 turns to move across the whole map to attack a runaway. Well, on Standard game speed, that 50 turns is forever, and in that time the runaway might get beyond all hope of stopping. On Marathon, that 50 turns is not as long, relatively, because it's less likely that the runaway will have built tons of extra units or researched a bazillion techs in the mean time. 5. Start bias - With it off, the game tends to be a bit harder. Hiawatha without forest, William without marsh or flood-plains, and Montezuma without jungle are all lose-lose scenarios almost regardless what other terrain they start with. Conversely, jungle-heavy starts that are common with Siam, Korea, etc., go away, and sometimes this makes the game a little easier, since tiles can be improved much more quickly without needing to remove jungle. But in general, start bias off makes the game harder. 6. Civ choice - Again, other than with cooking settings, civ choice can still be a factor. Some civs likely are, in fact, better than others, even if there's no quantitative way to prove this. But the biggest way to make the game easier or harder is to choose between a civ you know and one you don't, or to set it to random. Random is hardest. A civ you don't know is a little easier, and a civ you know is considerably easier to find a way to win with. I posted all this because I sometimes used to see people say 'I can beat X difficulty every time' and I'd say to myself 'Well, I only beat X difficulty 50% of the time, and I'm a reasonably attentive player: what gives?' Part of 'what gives' other than sometimes just being an inferior player is that other settings, even when not cooked, can change the game a lot. The best example of this is: I can beat Emperor pretty much every time... on Duel map size. When I play on Huge, I might only win 70% of the time. And when I set it to random civ, I might only win 65% of the time, and so on and so forth. All just IMHO. I'm curious if anyone else has ever felt the same way, saying 'I can only beat X difficulty half the time, yet I don't think I'm that bad a player', and tried to think of other reasons someone says they can beat X difficulty 100% of the time. Of course, sometimes I am just a worse player. But there's tons of times on the forums where I've seen someone say 'I can beat X difficulty 100% of the time' and sort of felt like something other than my own skill (or lack-there-of) was affecting the results. TL;DR - Bear in mind that if all someone says is 'I can beat X difficulty 100% of the time' that there are many other factors that they didn't mention. They may still be a better player than you. Many people are a lot better than me. But if that was all they mentioned, it might be wise to remember that maybe it was on Duel, or was with random starting civ, or start bias off, or some other thing that made it easier than usual (or, just as possibly, harder than usual).