I've tried several times to start a civilization in the "awful" mode (few resources).
So far, I've managed to survive (and go to the mausoleum) only on "tundra" tiles, which are not that bad. Other are "desert" or "ice desert".
I've tried putting everybody on working (kids and elderly people), making them eating insects, but on desert tiles there is no way to survive long without water. Ice desert tiles are a bit better since the ice gives you water, but at the time I can finally reach the "scout" research (to find better tiles, only way to survive longer), I don't have the 100 food units required for the scout (people are eating spoiled food for a while).
My suggestion :
At the beginning of the game (or with a very early technology), there is another type of gatherer. I don't have a name yet (your ideas are welcome). This little man or woman would walk further away, to the nearby tiles (not discovered yet) to gather resources. Of course, he would be less efficient that "nearby" gatherers, since he has to walk a lot to find those resources (maybe half as efficient? Less?).
But that would be the only way to survive when your tile is really, really awful. It is quite exceptionnal to have four desert tiles around one desert tile, so that would help a lot.
When your civilization is going better, obviously those gatherers would be useless (with discovered tiles, regular gatherers would be way more efficient).
It could be a technology that has to be discovered, but in that case it shoud be a very early one (and need no more that a knapped tool), since it is something to help starting the game in difficult settings.