Mike Clough's Strategy Guide
You can edit this if you want.
Building your Kingdom
Firstly, you will need some extra land, so explore until you have enough land to satisfy your needs, but no more than this, as this will make you 'land-fat'. (and more vulnerable to attacks)
The first thing you should build, will always be your workshops, as these make building your kingdom faster. They should also be built up turn by turn, so that you get the maximum benefit of their effects, every turn.
Next are your farms, and towns, which will supply your kingdom with population and geld. At this stage you should generally build only enough to cover the upkeep of the buildings and units, that you will be using during your research period. (This will also prevent you from appearing 'land-fat').
If you are planning on using recruitable units during your research period, you should build barracks now. Recruiting can also be done over your research period, and wont take any extra turns. However, most recruitable units have a geld upkeep, and you may need to build extra farms/towns to cover it (thus making you more land-fat!). So i would reccomend using 'summoned' units instead.
If you are planning on using 'summoned' units during your research period, you will need mana and for that you should build some nodes now.
Next are your guilds. These increase your researching ability, and will make your researching period ALOT quicker. These are a definate must. I usually build at least 1000, and the gains are still quite reasonable even up to around 2400 guilds! Build too little, and it will take months to research everything, build too much, and you will be land-fat, and be bombarded with constant attacks. Try and find a safe half-way point that works for you. (This can also vary depending on the colour of your mage)
You dont need to build any extra forts at this stage, but if you need that extra security, then build a few more. You usually can't build many a turn, unless you have a lot of workshops. Forts do have high upkeeps, so as long as you have say, 6-8 or more, that should be plenty.
Barriers are also not really needed at this stage: they have high upkeeps, that you cannot afford when concentrating on research. Full barrier strength (75% resistances), is achieved by building 2.5% of your land into barriers (some people will build 2.51% to be safe).
Note - you will always be attacked several times when you are researching. This can't really be stopped: you just have to set up to survive it.
No matter what colour your mage is, you should always research every spell you can. A high spell level is a playing factor in many spells, and will allow you to summon more units from summon spells, which is very important later on in the game.
Usualy, it is best to start researching the blue spells, until you have researched the spell Concentration. Casting this spell can increase you researching ability further, and also makes your spells more turn efficient. This should be cast as soon as you reasonably can (depends a bit on your color), and should be dispelled and recast whenever your spell level has improved by a significant amount. Concentration cast with a higher spell level will give larger research-time reduction.
Once all the spells have been researched, you can destroy most of your guilds, and instead build farms, towns, nodes, and anything else you want. Usualy, it is best to turn alot of wilderness from destroyed guilds into nodes, so you get plenty of mana to cast enchantments on your kingdom.
Now that you have researched all your spells, you have an aweful lot of options to compose your army: you are ready to create a complete and balanced army. You should plan exactly what mix of units you want, and in what order, as stacking plays a very major role in battle success (see e.g.Groentje Players Manual Ch6).
By this stage, you should have a nice income of geld, and mana, and try not to have a negative population income. Save your geld for items, or heroes. Heroes are very important to compete in the higher rankings.
The rest is up to you, different people have been number 1 using completely different strategies: there is no one single 'right' stategy. You need to figure out what works best for you. I've been playing for over 6 years, and I am still fine-tuning it.
Good-luck and happy maging!