The difficulty setting you use makes a big difference. I see that there is no "always war" button which had been available; perhaps someone could mod that. You can always select the civilizations that are in game if you want a more warlike game. Maps make a large difference as well as staring positions. If you really want a challenge just start a game in a lousy starting position no matter what the difficulty. My point is that you have a large amount of control over how you play the game; it takes a bit of proper set-up.