A lot of strategies are for certain map sizes or difficulty levels. Here are three basic starting strategies for playing the game on standard size maps on Regent, Monarch or Emperor difficulty. Each can be modified to fit your own playing style, and each is a decent plan. They are not strong enough for Deity on a standard map but may be adaptable for Deity on a large or huge map.
For almost all game starts I like to build the first two cities very close to the capital. This makes early defense easy, provides an early production boost, makes it easy to connect these core cities to share luxuries. The downside is that these suburbs can not grow to huge size latter in the game, but a dense build is almost as productive as pop rushing (hurrying production using the whip) without as many long term negatives.
Build four to six cities. Research Bronze Working and then Iron. Claim an iron icon. Build 10+ swordsmen. If no iron use archers. Attack the nearest enemy and claim all their land. Enjoy. After the first early war, the swordsmen can go crush another nearby enemy. If the next enemy is relatively far away, horsemen or knights may be better for the next war. Swordsmen conquest is a good strategy for cramped maps.
Build 8 to 15 cities (most of the available open land on a standard map). Research the Wheel to see horses, then add Horseback Riding, Iron Working and Mathematics. Claim a horse icon. Build 20+ horsemen. If no horses use swordsmen. Catapults help if the enemy has hoplites, legionnaires or pikemen. Pick one enemy. Bribe the others. Attack in force and crush the enemy. Enjoy. Sometimes there is very little land and I have to build cities very close to each other to get the unit support for a large army. This basic strategy has allowed me to survive some of the worst imaginable starting positions on Emperor difficulty, standard size map, random civ, default Barbs.
Open land build out
As I said, I like to build two cities very close to the capital as I explore a bit. If there are no enemy units in sight that means a lot of open land. In this case, research Monarchy and make an early switch to gain the additional production and food. Build cities nicely spaced and claim luxuries. This results in a position very similar to the two conquest strategies after the first war. At this point, a player has many options. A knight conquest war is good. Cultural victory is achievable on Regent, but tough on higher levels. Domination, Spaceship, UN, or Histograph victory are also options.
Send the first two warriors looking for an enemy city. Attack. You have about a 65% chance of victory. Some players reload if they lose this battle and wait a turn and try again. You can increase the odds of success with an archer and a warrior (militaristic civs), or three warriors. If the defender is a spearman the odds go way down, I estimate 25% with two warriors. If the defender is a hoplite, maybe 10%. For civilizations with a warrior unique unit, such as the Zulu Impi or Aztec Jaguar Warrior, this is an excellent starting strategy.
There is a nice flow into the next strategy. So a player could theoretically go from Warrior Gambit, to Swordsmen Conquest to Horsemen Conquest and then be in a similar position to that of a vast open land build out. Cheers.
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