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I recently started playing Civ IV BtS, and didn't feel like getting my ass kicked right out of the gate. So, I selected a Custom Game and set four of the players to "Closed"... thinking that would leave me with three AI civilizations to contend with. But, as I played, I came to realize there were still 8 other civilizations opposing me. It was a huge map on Settler, so it was no big deal. I got through it. But, then I moved up to Chieftain on a Large map. Thinking maybe I did something wrong the last time, I closed out 4 or 5 of the AI players. Once again, as I explored my new world, I again encountered 8 other civilizations on a very crowded continent. I was OK with the additional challenge until every single one of them declared war on me. I don't mind a challenge, but don't have fun getting dog-piled on.

I tried looking through the XML files to see if there was something I could edit to limit the number of players, but I wasn't able to find anything.

Has anyone else had this issue? Or, can anyone tell me how to get around it?
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yoodlethenoodle: Has anyone else had this issue? Or, can anyone tell me how to get around it?
It happened to me once. At the Custom Game screen, always select AI players last. There are some settings (map size for sure, perhaps some more) that, when selected, will automatically set the number of AI players to a default value. If you had closed some AI players beforehand, it's possible you didn't notice it had changed.
I know I'm a few months late, but usually when you get ganged up by the AI it's for religious reasons. The AI really takes religion seriously and is very happy to form big alliances between civs with the same religion to pick on the "heathens". This means it's really risky on the higher difficulties to foster your own state religion, and far safer to simply adopt whatever religion is the dominant one. It's not uncommon for pangaea worlds to just become Buddhist vs Hindu (the two religions that pop up near the start of the game) and every other religion just gets trounced if anyone has the audacity to embrace them.