I guess it depends. In my latest game as England I was boxed in by France, America and an annoying inland sea to the point where we're in the Medieval Era and I've only managed to settle two cities including my capital. The only reason I've now got six cities is because I made it to a Heroic Age while America went into a Dark Age. (And also my Suzerain Brussels knocked the stripes off Washington while Teddy was trying to take London - almost succeeding, I might add - and I was able to send in a lone horseman to take Washington when it had just a sliver of health left. But the rest were all loyalty flips!).