This guide aims to explain the most important concepts of Terra Mystica. To understand it, you should be familiar with the game rules but don't need to be an experienced player.
At this point, the guide refers only to the base game not including the Fire&Ice expansion.
Using the concepts explained in this guide, you should be able to score consistently above 100 points in every game and ultimately reach a rating of 1100 or more on Juho's online platform.
You may notice that I'm using expressions like "always" and "never" liberally. As with most things, there are exceptions. You will learn to recognize those as you become more experienced - just use your own judgment.
In this guide, I will use the following abbreviations:
p - priest
w - worker
c - coin
pw - power
VP - victory points
D - dwelling
TP - trade post
TE - temple
SH - stronghold
SA - sanctuary
When talking about favor tiles, this guide will refer to them by the cult advances they give, e.g "Earth 1". For round bonus tiles, I will write out their benefit, e.g. "spade + 2c".
I may occasionally refer to specific areas on the map. I will try to explain those locations in general terms but also give coordinates for the exact hex (e.g. F4). You can see the coordinates on this map.
At the start of the game, try to get a rough idea of what you're going to pursue. A few questions to ask yourself:
As a rule of thumb, the first 3 rounds are for building your economy. Try to pick up a few points along the way, but don't worry about it too much. When passing, prioritize tiles that give you the resources you need.
Starting from round 4, aim to maximize your points. Build TPs in rounds with TP bonuses, dwellings with D bonuses and so on. Even delay building if you can afford it - it's not uncommon to enter a D round with several prepared hexes ready to build on. When passing, prioritize tiles that give you points for Ds, TPs, SH/SA and shipping levels. Ideally, you want to get 4 or more points per round from passing at the end of rounds 4, 5 and 6.
As you get more experienced, maximizing these VP is one of the key points to become a better player. This isn't something you need to focus on right away, but once you figure out how to optimize your strategy around it, you can gain another 20-40 VP per game.
Neighbors are good for you. You shouldn't have to upgrade a TP at full price more than maybe once every 5 games. Cheap TPs and lots of leech are worth getting a little congested, especially if you prioritize getting the hexes they're likely to take away from you.
When preparing your moves, plan for contingencies. Even if you think that halfling won't take the 7c power action or take that hex before you, have a backup plan in case he does.
When placing structures, plan for towns early. From the start, try to have an idea of where your towns will be, which hexes are absolutely essential and which can be substituted if needed.
For all structures other than temples, try to plan ahead to build them in the rounds that give the appropriate bonus points.
Dwellings: When you place your starting dwellings, place them so they can each become part of a town. If you're going for 3 towns, you'll need 11 or 12 structures in your towns, so don't place too many dwellings elsewhere or you will run out. With two towns you can afford placing a few out of the way in cheaply available spots, but make sure you get the hexes you need for towns and for connecting your network before another player takes them away.
Trade Posts: Timing your trade posts is key to getting a balanced economy. On paper, trade posts may look expensive for the income they earn. However, keep in mind that in most games, you'll be building 5 to 7 trade posts throughout the game. The question is not whether to upgrade to trade posts, but when to do it. It can be worthwhile to get a trade post and let it sit for a round, earning income, before upgrading it to a temple or SH if you don't need the upgrade right away. If you're getting the Water 1 favor, trade posts are actually quite reasonable structures in their own right, even more in a round with a TP bonus. Avoid upgrading to TPs without neighbors if at all possible, and try not to upgrade to TP in places that won't become part of a town.
Temples: One early temple is crucial for many factions, both for the priest income and for the favor tile. The priests are typically used for cult bonuses and the occasional shipping upgrade, while the favor tile (Earth/Water 1, see favor tile section) gives an important VP bonus. Late in the game, building a temple for Fire 2 can be a cheaper and better alternative to an expensive neighborless TP for town purposes. Try to put your early temple in the location that is most likely to need a sanctuary later on.
Stronghold: Strongly depends on the faction. Essential for some, decent for many, near-useless for others. Make sure you get this in a place that will be part of a town so you don't waste 3 structure levels. Some factions want this early (see faction details), but don't overinvest here for those that don't.
Sanctuary: Optional for most factions, but very handy if you need a town and have only 3 tiles. A sanctuary town is usually SA-TP-TP, SA-SH-D, or SA-TP-D with the Fire 2 favor. Chaos Magicians and Darklings usually build their SA fairly early, for other factions it's a question of needing it or not. If you just want another favor tile, a temple is often a cheaper option.
Power is a very important resource throughout the game. Generally speaking, try to spend your power on power actions - avoid direct conversion if possible. That said, if you find yourself just 1c or 2c short of whatever it is you need, go ahead and convert as necessary.
A note on burning power:
Burning power does not increase the rate at which you gain power. All it does is reduce your maximum capacity, in exchange for making some power available right now.
On the other hand, burning also doesn't cost you power. It merely costs capacity.
As a result, do burn power when you need it, but don't burn unnecessarily.
As a rule of thumb, try to have at least 7 power tokens in your bowls until the start of round 6. 7 tokens allows you to take the 2 spade power action while having one extra token to store excess power or use for emergency burning.
If you're sure you won't need the 2 spade action ever again, feel free to burn down to 5 tokens. When the game is ending, you can of course go below that as needed.
Factions that expect to earn a lot of power as income (commonly that's Swarmlings, Engineers, or anyone who takes the Air 2 favor) might want to keep a few more tokens around or you'll risk wasting part of your power income.
3pw -> bridge: Use only if needed, it's pretty expensive (4pw already gets you a spade; 3pw can be 3c and the cost difference for an expensive TP). If possible, try to place your towns without the need for bridges. If you do need a bridge, make sure you get it in time so the action won't be blocked by another player later.
3pw -> priest: Very useful throughout the game. Most commonly used on cult tracks but sometimes also useful for upgrades. Darklings and Fakirs especially love this action.
4pw -> 2 workers: Situational. Early on often spades are more important and later in the game workers tend to be plentiful. Very useful for factions that have upgraded their digging. Overall probably the second least common action after bridges.
4pw -> 7 coins: From round 3 onwards, the most important power action in the game. Think of it as converting 4pw to 4c but getting an additional 3c on top, for free! It can be worth passing early just to be start player and get this action in the following round. Do not underestimate the power of this action.
4pw -> 1 spade: Very useful in the early game. Later on, players tend to be short on coin but have lots of workers, making this action relatively less useful. Digging with workers and converting pw to coins is often more efficient late in the game, even without any upgrades.
6pw -> 2 spades: Very strong throughout the game. Can be hard to get in round 1 for factions starting with 5/7/0 power. Don't hesitate to burn 5 or 6 power in round 1 if you can get this action and place 2 extra dwellings. It's that good. Later in the game, consider if you can afford it - coins are often a bigger problem. It's still a strong action late, but 7c is often better.
Because power is so important, you want to get as much leech as possible. Up to and including round 4, take all leech you can get. Even if it's 6 power for 5 VP or something like that. It's that important.
In round 5, often you still want to take as much as possible. Definitely take 2 for 1 and usually 3 for 2 as well. Above that, perhaps consider if you have a good use for it.
In round 6, try to plan ahead and figure out how much you need. If you're not sure, as a rule of thumb, accept 2 for 1 but reject anything higher unless it allows you to take an action that earns back those points.
It can sometimes be useful to stay at close to capacity when you're expecting a big leech coming up. Say you're at 0/0/7 and are expecting a 5 for 4 from another player: If you convert 1pw to 1c, you'll get 2 for 1 off them. If you convert 2pw, you'll get 4 for 3 while if you convert more you'll get 5 for 4. Late in the game you can use this to micromanage your power income to an extent, saving a few points.
If you are at or near your power capacity at the end of your turn, it is often useful to convert 1pw to 1c just so you have room for leech if other players offer it. For example, if you find yourself at 0/0/7, spend 1pw for 1c and you'll be at 1/0/6. You now have capacity for up to two leech and got an extra coin out of it.
Likewise, before passing, make sure you have enough power capacity for all the power you're going to earn as income! If needed, simply convert excess power to coins before passing.
The only time you might want to reconsider these guidelines is when leeching from a cultist. In rounds 1-3 it's still a good idea to leech everything, but in rounds 4 and beyond, think about whether it's worth giving them a free cult advance.
Generally speaking, there are 4 types of favor tiles.
When moving up from beginner to intermediate level, an important step is to understand the value of VP tiles. Consider:
In a typical game with an average faction, you will end with about 13 structures altogether, meaning you build 11 dwellings (in addition to the 2 you start with). If you had Earth 1 from the very beginning, that tile alone would earn you 22 points. Expansive factions might even get as much as 26 points from that one tile!
Likewise, in a typical game, you'll build 6 or 7 TPs (some of which become temples or SH later). If you start with a TP and upgrade to a temple, taking Water 1, you'll get 15 or 18 points from that tile. As you can see it's not as good as Earth 1, but still that's a handsome amount!
The problem with income tiles is that they only make sense if you can use the extra income to earn at least roughly 20 points. Because Earth 1 is such a safe bet (you will always build dwellings), it is by far the most common pick in the early game.
Try to get used to playing without income tiles. They do have their uses, but once you're comfortable playing without them, it will be easier for you to understand when you can make an exception.
A typical favor tile progression could look like this:
Round 1 temple, take Earth 1. Do that before you start building dwellings.
Round 3 second temple, take Water 1. More rarely, build SA and take Water 1.
Round 4-6 sanctuary (ideally in a round with SA bonus), take Water 2, Air 1, or Fire 2 if needed.
A couple of notes on individual tiles:
Income tiles: As said, try to get used to not having them. Even if you do think you want one, never pick an income tile after round 2.
Air 1: Will score less than Water 1 in almost all situations. It's a nice pick in the late game to get an extra 3 or 4 points, but don't go out of your way for it.
Fire 2: Can save you a lot of resources if you're going for 3 towns. Can also help you to form towns earlier than you would otherwise, getting better town tiles. Probably not worth it if you're only getting 2 towns; you'll be able to afford 7 levels each easily. Definitely don't get this early.
Water 2: This is actually better or equal to Water 3 in almost all circumstances. A good pick throughout the game, but Earth/Water 1 are better still.
Fire/Water/Earth/Air 3: Only pick in rounds 5 or 6. Very handy to beat a competitor on a track where all 4 priest spots are already taken, or to reach 10 before a rival can. Don't ever get these early.
Cult tracks are not just endgame points. A skilled player will often earn several important cult bonuses throughout the game, even if they're not ultimately trying to win the tracks. If you have a priest sitting around and don't know what to use him for, send him to a cult to earn you a bonus.
These are the 5 different cult bonus tiles:
1 earth -> 1c: Very handy in mid to late game when coins are scarce. Can be an extra 4 or more coins with not too much effort.
2 fire/air -> 1w: Strong early on, sometimes a bit redundant in the late game.
4 water -> 1p: Handy, but watch out that you actually have enough priests left if this comes late. Spending a priest to get a priest back (and some cult and power in the process) is often a good idea.
4 earth/air -> spade: Very useful if you have a place where you need a spade, i.e. typically early and mid game. Make sure that you're not accidentally helping someone else if they get to play their turn before you.
4 fire -> 4pw: Very flexible, but not a very large amount. If you're investing in this, make sure you have enough power capacity as you may end up earning 10pw or more at once!
Cult tracks also can be very useful as a controllable source of power when you need it. Are you just 2pw short of a double dig and have a priest sitting around? Send him to a cult, get 2pw and then go digging!
Try to keep cult tracks in mind when picking favor tiles. Earth 1 first is usually best, but it can make sense to delay it a bit if you're getting a really good cult bonus e.g. from Water 2 or an income tile. But don't use this to justify your addiction to income tiles!
Early in the game, the first priest spot on relevant tracks is often very contested. It can allow you to go from 1 to 4 for a nice bonus or from 2 to 5 for a nice bonus and an extra 2pw on top. In general, if you want to be the first to place a priest in a cult and get the 3 steps, to be sure you'll need to do it one round before the bonus comes up, not in the same round.
Even if there is no bonus, going from 2 to 5 at the cost of a priest can be very handy - it earns you back 3pw, which is half the cost of the priest power action!
With the town tile mini-expansion, there are the following town tiles:
2 VP, 2 steps per cult (and 2 keys): A popular pick for early towns in round 2 or 3 because it'll earn you lots of cult bonuses. Less valuable later on because it's only 2 VP unless it lets you win multiple cult tracks.
4 VP, shipping advance: For easier comparison, you can think of this as giving you 1p+4c that can only be used for a shipping upgrade. If you need shipping, get the 6c, 8pw or (best) the 1p tile and then upgrade normally - in total you'll get more points that way. Only get this tile if you desperately need a shipping upgrade and can't afford it otherwise.
5 VP, 6c: Only if you really need the coins; 5 VP is just very little. Can be important if you have a worker-heavy economy - but next time, take a more balanced approach and get a better tile.
6 VP, 8pw: Situational. Good if it earns you the 7c or 2 spades power action, or if all the better tiles have been taken. Note that sometimes the 8 VP tile can earn you nearly as much power.
7 VP, 2w: Solid. Try to count how many workers you need - if it's just one, take 1p instead and convert him to a worker. A good pick for factions with upgraded digging.
8 VP, 1 step per cult: Situational. If you care about just one track, 1p may be just as good. Good if you do care about multiple tracks or if you're earning 4pw or more from going up on the cults. Also good if all the better tiles are taken and you don't need workers.
9 VP, 1p: This should be your default pick. 1p is always handy (worst case, convert to worker) and 9 VP is very good. In many cases, the 1p will earn you 2 VP or more, making this at least as good as the 11 VP.
11 VP: Don't pick this before round 5; you'll earn more by reinvesting the 1p or 2w. Solid late in the game, especially once the 1p towns have been taken.
Upgrade shipping as needed. In many games you'll need one or two levels eventually, but don't waste resources before you have to. An exception is if you're holding the shipping bonus tile (Spielbox mini-expansion) for 3 VP per shipping level; if you can afford it you may want to get an extra upgrade for the points. With the bonus tile, shipping can be very nice to spend extra resources in round 6.
Digging is usually an all-or-nothing decision. If you want it, do it early - get both upgrades by the end of round 3. Once you have upgraded digging, you will never again need the spade power actions - get 2w instead and use them to dig.
Only two factions should aim to upgrade digging in every game: Halflings and Alchemists.
Rarely, you may find yourself with excess resources at the end and nothing better to do; those 6 VP from upgrading can be decent. However, best try to avoid this situation in the first place - plan your round using the resources you have and try not to have too much left over.
Picking your faction is an important part of the game. Making the right choice depends on the round bonus tiles in the game, the cult bonuses, and the factions already picked by the other players.
In general, try to avoid picking:
When taking your pick, try to have a rough idea what you want to do in round 1, keeping in mind your turn order position and which bonus tiles you likely get to choose from.
When placing your initial dwellings, keep in mind the faction colors of the other players. Make sure that at least one of your starting dwellings has a neighbor. Ideally, you'll want 3 or 4 neighboring structures in total.
Avoid the edges of the map as it will make it harder to expand and get neighbors. Common starting positions are in the center (the big middle peninsula) and for some colors on the eastern continent.
If you want to be in contention for longest network, place your dwellings so you can eventually connect them. With some foresight this is usually possible - just don't put one in the east and one in the far west.
All starting dwellings should have enough space to get a separate town from each. However, if you're expecting significant amounts of leech, it can be worth placing one "dead" dwelling that can't expand just to earn a lot of power.
Obviously, these are different from one game to the next.
Try to watch out for:
Try to adjust your economy and even your faction pick accordingly. For example, in a low-coin game, engineers will shine (cheaper cost), while in a low-worker game they'll be in trouble (less workers income).
Likewise, Fakirs and Darklings benefit from the priest tile, and many factions like access to the spade tile in the early game.
Very generally speaking, the strongest early-game tiles are:
When you're last player in round 1 (i.e. first to pick), choose one of these. There are situations where a priest or a temporary shipping can be strong, but if you're not sure, the three tiles above are a safe bet.
For each faction, this guide will cover the following points:
Goals: What this faction should aim for.
Starting positions: Where to place the initial two dwellings.
Opening: Typical openings in round 1.
Town locations: Where to form towns. See the map.
Dangers: What to avoid.
Circumstances: Game conditions that are favorable or problematic for this faction. Also refer to the chapter on faction picking for general guidelines.
Goals: Get at least 20 points from cult tracks, e.g. 2 wins and 1 second place. Get two boats by mid-game to take all the red spots along the river (dig the yellows in between). Get at least 6 favor tiles, e.g. 2 temples and a sanctuary.
Starting positions: Wherever you can get neighbors. East (D7) is popular, but the central and western spots (D4, E3 and G2) also work.
Opening: Build a temple and 1-2 dwellings (with spade and/or shipping) OR build sanctuary. Pick Earth 1 and one of the income tiles (look for cult bonuses and scarce resources) for the temple, pick another two income tiles, Water 1 or Water 2 from the sanctuary.
Town locations: North of the eastern continent, with a bridge to the northeast or west (D7 to A12 or D6). Northern peninsula including the two red spots is also nice and no bridge needed (D6 to A9). South-central with bridge is also possible (G2, I6, I5). Central (D4 to G2) would be nice but in practice rarely works out.
Dangers: No or few neighbors, missing out on a crucial tile or bridge. This faction can be a bit tricky at first.
Circumstances: Good with early fire cult bonuses, especially 2 fire -> worker. Good when no other major cult factions (Cultists, Auren) are in the game.
Goals: Get 3 towns, use the stronghold ability to disrupt other players where possible. Ideally you never need to dig with workers, but might want to use the double dig power action once or twice. Try to compete on one cult track (often fire or air) and get at least second place in longest network.
Starting positions: At least one on the central peninsula (D4 or G2). The other can go in the west or the east (E3 or D7) depending on where to get neighbors.
Opening: Stronghold in round 1, then use the ability and build one or more dwellings. Get workers from a tile or power action if needed. The shipping tile can be strong when starting in places with red tiles across the river.
Town locations: Pretty much anywhere. Try find places with two red spaces per town so you don't need too many digs.
Dangers: Don't upgrade digs (you won't need it much). Don't burn below 6 (better 7) tokens so you can make use of the double dig. Remember you can't use single spades from cult bonuses, so either get up to 8 or don't bother.
Circumstances: Preferably no Nomads in the game. Pretty flexible in general.
Goals: Go for 2 towns and longest network. If you have the town tile mini-expansion, take a carpet flight range upgrade from the first town, otherwise build your SH in the midgame. Late in the game, try to accumulate lots of priests and build dwellings everywhere.
Starting positions: The two western spots in the center (D3, F3) are easiest for towns. The eastern tip of the central peninsula (E8) and the western tip of the eastern continent (G4) can work as well.
Opening: Build a temple followed by a dwelling (requires a spade). If possible, build a second dwelling either by using the double dig action or by spending a priest.
Town locations: Center (F3 to E8), west (D3 to E2) or north (B2 to A7) are often easiest. The central spot is cheap (just 3 digs for 4 tiles) but may be very contested.
Dangers: Don't build the SH if you have the town tile mini-expansion. Avoid excessive carpet flights in the early game; they're expensive at that point and don't help with forming towns.
Circumstances: Spade bonus tile and priest bonus tile both in the game. Ideally you'll be last player in round 1 so you can be guaranteed to get the spade tile. Much harder when red or brown is in the game. Fakirs can be hard to play well, especially in games with few available spades and other players taking the spade power actions. Not recommended for your first few games.
Goals: 3 towns and longest network.
Starting positions: Central peninsula (F3, E8), west (D3) and western tip of the eastern continent (G4) are all strong. More rarely, the north center (A5 or B4) can also work as long as the other two dwellings are placed more centrally.
Opening: Stronghold and a dwelling or two (if you can afford it). Burn power for worker if needed.
Town locations: Central peninsula, center-west, north-central, east. Very flexible thanks to the special ability.
Dangers: Don't upgrade your digging. Try not to use your SH ability on red and brown spaces; you can convert those using a regular spade. Use the ability for tiles that are otherwise hard to get. Remember to build a few TPs so you won't be short on coin.
Circumstances: Works under pretty much all circumstances. Very robust and versatile faction.
Goals: Upgrade digging, 3 towns and longest or second-longest network.
Starting positions: Almost always one dwelling on the eastern continent with a neighbor (F5, F7, H7). The other dwelling is often central (E6) or occasionally northwest of center (B2). Two dwellings in the east is an option, but try to turn them into separate towns.
Opening: Temple with Earth 1, then dig one of the black spots in the east and build 2 dwellings.
Town locations: One town is almost always east, using two brown, one black and one yellow tile. Two towns east is also viable. Additional options are south-center (I7 to H5), center, northwest (around B2) and northeast (A7 to B5) of center, and west (E1 to D3). Lots of options since digging is usually not a problem.
Dangers: Don't build your stronghold. In some games your eastern settlement can get cut off from the center permanently, killing your longest network ambitions - don't let that happen.
Circumstances: Digging bonus (spade -> 2 VP) in round 4 is great. Upgrade your digs and save up as many workers as possible, then dig away. Don't bother with dwellings, build those in the following round. Halflings work very nicely with Dwarves or Engineers in the east.
Goals: 2 towns, 20 points or more from cult tracks. In the early and mid game, use your free cult advances to maximize bonuses from cults and spend priests to supplement as needed.
Starting positions: Usually one on the eastern continent, the other central. Both in the east can work as well as long as you can turn them into separate towns. Get as many neighbors as possible.
Opening: Temple, dig a black spot and build 2 dwellings.
Town locations: Same as Halflings. Keep an eye on where you get the most neighbors, even if it may take an extra spade.
Dangers: Never build in isolation. Don't overinvest in your network if other players will be bigger than you anyway.
Circumstances: Best when no other major cult factions (Chaos Magicians, Auren) are in the game. Works very nicely with Dwarves or Engineers in the east.
Goals: 3 towns and longest network. Upgrade digging early and gain 2pw for every spade when digging. Convert VP into coins liberally when needed, e.g. to pay for dig upgrades.
Starting positions: Often one on the eastern continent (E10, G5), one in the center (E5) or on the northern tip of the west (C1).
Opening: Stronghold followed by 2 spades and 2 dwellings.
Town locations: Usually one in the east, then south-center, center, or north. Very flexible thanks to the cheapest digs in the game (1w after upgrades and paying back 2pw).
Dangers: The endgame coin to VP conversion is pretty useless. Don't forget you can convert VP into coins though. Spending up to 20 VP for coin over the course of a game is fine as long as you get something meaningful in return.
Circumstances: Digging bonus (spade -> 2 VP) in round 4 is great. No Halflings in the game helps. Very powerful in a low-coin game (6c and 4c+cult tiles missing) as they're affected much less than other factions. Works very nicely with Dwarves or Engineers in the east.
Goals: 2 towns, win one cult track and get plenty of points from digging.
Starting positions: Both dwellings in the east is common. Build them up into separate towns and join them up later, no boats required.
Opening: Temple. Spend the priest on digging or send to cult for a nice bonus if applicable. The priest bonus tile is your friend. Sanctuary in round 2 or 3 is often a good idea since it earns 2 priests.
Town locations: East clustered around both black spots (D8-E10-E11-F7 and F5-G5-H7-I10) most commonly, later connect them by taking the missing blue spot (G6) in between. Alternatively, get just one town in the east (e.g. connecting the two black spots) and one in the south (around H5). Depending on what factions are in the game, it may be hard to get neighbors in the south.
Dangers: Try not to upgrade boats at all or not more than once. Use your priests for digging and cults instead. Don't overinvest into network, you probably won't get longest anyway. If you build two eastern towns, watch out for anyone trying to take away the connecting spot (G6), most likely a green faction.
Circumstances: Digging bonus (spade -> 2 VP) in round 4 is great. Accumulate 5 or 6 priests and use them all for digging to earn massive points. Priest tile preferably should be in the game. Works very nicely with Dwarves or Engineers in the east. Once you get your priest economy going, Darklings can be a very powerful and versatile faction.
Goals: 3 towns and longest network or second-longest and win one cult.
Starting positions: Center-west in the spot that links the two rivers (E4) is very important to connect easily. West or center (D2, D5) both go well with that.
Opening: Temple and dig the green spot on the southern coast of the west (F2) to build 2 dwellings. If you can (e.g. starting with 1w+3pw), do a double dig and build 3 dwellings.
Town locations: West, using a water town to connect the starting spot with the originally green spot, bridge south from there (F2 to I2 plus E4). Northwest using the two blue spots and water town to save a bridge (D2 to A4 and A3 or D1). Center-north with sanctuary (C3, D5, and B3 or A8). Northeast without need for watertown (C4 to A11).
Dangers: Don't build your stronghold early, even if there is a bonus. If you need shipping, upgrade conventionally. If you don't start on E4 (the tile connecting the northern and southern rivers), get it early - it can be crucial for longest network. You can often get by with 3 boats, only upgrade higher if you need it or can get good points of the shipping-VP bonus tile.
Circumstances: Shipping-VP tile in the game. Multiple blue cult bonuses. Best without green in the game.
Goals: 2 towns and win 2 cults, or 3 towns and 1 cult.
Starting positions: All 3 spots on the west-central continent are viable (D2, E4, D5). The western one (D2) is very strong if next to a yellow or red neighbor.
Opening: Build stronghold, then either double dig for 2 dwellings (and free TP) or build temple. If you have a neighbor in the west, go for a town there in round 2 (SH, TP/TE, 2x D) and take 2 on each cult track.
Town locations: West between the black spots (E1 to C1), northwest green to black (A3 to B3), southwest black to blue (I2 to I4), central (around D5), northeast (C4 to A11).
Dangers: Even though you don't care much for cheap TP upgrades, don't neglect neighbors for leech. Don't pick income favors as they offer relatively less than for other factions. Make sure you have enough dwellings built to get enough workers income - you'll need at least 1 dwelling per round so you won't lose worker income when doing your free upgrade. Make sure you get crucial power actions, even pass early if necessary to ensure them. Power is key.
Circumstances: Low-power game (3pw bonus tiles missing), other factions that don't rely much on power actions - especially NOT Engineers. Workers and spades from cult bonuses.
Goals: 2 towns, 20 points or more from cult tracks.
Starting positions: Both spots on the central peninsula (C3, F4) are popular. The edge of the eastern continent (E9) is an option. Pick those that have neighbors.
Opening: Stronghold or 5 dwellings (requires 1 boat, 1 spade - best with 3pw + ship tile). Temple and 2 dwellings (with boat) is an alternative.
Town locations: Center linking the two green spots, center-north and center-south with a bridge each, northwest (C4 to A11), east linking the green spots there (E9 to I11).
Dangers: If you do a dwelling start, don't delay your stronghold and first temple too long. Decide whether or not to go for a longest network bonus - green terrain is good, but don't overinvest at the expense of cults.
Circumstances: Best when no other major cult factions (Chaos Magicians, Cultists) are in the game. Auren can be difficult to play well until you get the hang of cult bonuses since they have no other benefits going for them.
Goals: 3 towns.
Starting positions: Both spots on the central peninsula (C3, F4) are popular. The edge of the eastern continent (E9) is an option. Pick those that have neighbors.
Opening: With a dwelling bonus, 5 dwellings (requires 1 boat, 1 spade - best with 3pw + ship tile). General purpose opening is temple and 2 dwellings (also with boat). Stronghold first is usually only worth it with an SH bonus in round 1. If you don't plan to build the SH in the first few rounds, consider getting 1 level of shipping to reach lots of green spots.
Town locations: Center linking the two green spots, center-north and center-south with a bridge each, northwest (C4 to A11), east linking the green spots there (E9 to I11).
Dangers: Don't just build the stronghold. It's decent, but not great. If there's an SH bonus, build it, otherwise it can be fine to leave it for late or even not build it at all.
Circumstances: Good in a low-worker game since you'll have so many dwellings anyway. A little more challenging in a low-coin game, but still a very solid faction all around. Benefits from multiple air cult bonuses.
Goals: 3 towns, 12 points or more from cult tracks.
Starting positions: Central (E7) and middle of the eastern continent (F6) are most common unless neither of the two has a neighbor. Don't start south of the eastern continent; the two grey spots across the river are nice for later but not ideal early on.
Opening: Temple with Earth 2 (1w+1pw income). Ideally get 2 digs with that and build 2 dwellings and a TP. Second temple (Earth 1) is also an option. Don't end the round with 3 dwellings since the 3rd dwelling won't give any income. Try to get 2 temples out by round 2 for the 5pw income.
Town locations: North of the eastern continent, connecting the grey spots (C5 to F6). Get the red peninsula (D6) with a bridge if needed. Central, usually with a bridge to the grey across the river (C2 to E7). Southeast including the two grey spots with a bridge, perhaps including the yellow at the tip for easier connection with the other two towns.
Dangers: Don't build your stronghold before round 4. Don't build more than 1 bridge before the stronghold. Don't upgrade digging, use power actions instead. Avoid digging with workers if at all possible. Watch out for the dwelling breakpoints: There's no need to have 3 or 6 dwellings - if you do, upgrade one to a TP instead.
Circumstances: Very strong in low-coin games since you need far less coins but earn the same amount as others. Not so good with other power-dependent factions (mostly Swarmlings) as they cause competition for power actions.
Goals: 3 towns and one cult win, or 2 towns, one cult win, and 20+ points from tunneling.
Starting positions: Central (E7) and middle of the eastern continent (F6) are most common unless neither of the two has a neighbor.
Opening: Temple, dig or double dig and dwelling. Starting from round 2, make sure you have at least 1 TP built at the end of each round since the first TP earns 3 coins. Consider getting a second temple for Water 1 in round 2 or 3.
Town locations: North of the eastern continent, connecting the grey spots (C5 to F6). Central (around E7), with or without a bridge. South of the eastern continent, connecting the two greys there (H6 to H8). Connect most commonly through the south (2 tunnels, 1 dig) or the northern peninsula (2 digs, 1 tunnel).
Dangers: Avoid tunneling before round 4 unless necessary to expand. It's too expensive. Likewise, don't build your stronghold before round 4. You'll have a lot of priests if you don't upgrade digging; make sure you don't spend too many permanently or you'll run out in the end. If you do upgrade digging, remember that late game you can spend 2 workers for 4 VP any time (just tunnel somewhere and dig), so make sure you get lots of workers.
Circumstances: No green in the game. Early bonuses on Earth. Without cult-heavy factions you can win 2 or even 3 cult tracks due to having lots of priests.