Through a combination of watching several youtube clips and playing through GameRanger, I came up with a decent starting build order. Of course, this won't guarantee a win but acts as a good starting point to work on your execution times. I also found that it doesn't differ greatly from what most experienced players use (although they are a lot faster).
Immediately build the following, in order:
- 2 Town Centres
- 25-30 Barracks (painted across your half of the map)
- 1 Barracks next to initial Town Centre (this is used for upgrading units)
- 1 Temple
- 1 Storage Pit
- 1 Granary*
- 1 Government Centre*
- 1 Market*
- 1 Town Centre (this will be the 4th in your base)
- 20 Houses (estimated, paint around edge of map near your initial position)
As Town Centres and Barracks are completed, you want to start pumping out villagers and swordsmen.
You will want to research the following as soon as the appropriate buildings are constructed (usually in this order):
- Long Sword (Barracks)
- Fanaticism (Temple)
- Metallurgy (Storage Pit)
- Guard Tower (Granary)*
- Legion (Barracks, after Fanaticism)
- Craftsmanship (Market)*
- Ballistics (Government Centre)*
- Ballista Tower (Granary)*
No other research is required.
Whilst researching, keep pumping out villagers and swordsmen. As buildings near completion and you have more idle villagers start working on more Barracks (aiming to paint your half of the map as much as possible) and start placing more Town Centres near stone and empty land (surround these with 5+ Farms).
If you are playing "no towers" rules then you won't need any of the items I marked with an asterisks above. Otherwise, at this point you want to start building strategic towers.
Replace lost Houses and Barracks.
Aim to keep training villagers, putting everyone on building until most Barracks are finished and/or getting low on stone/food. You want to aim for something like 60-80 villagers I believe (can be a lot lower if using "no towers" rules, possibly 50 max). It is way too hard to worry about an exact number but you can check your villager high score mid game.
Once the starting build order is complete, and you are starting to build towers and farms you will be wanting more stone and food. Having approx 10 farmers should be more than sufficient to begin with (try to cluster farms in different areas of your side of the map, so that if one cluster falls you have another up and running). You want to have something like 20 stone miners at this point too. The rest of the villagers will continue to build Barracks and Towers, Town Centres and replace lost buildings (if still required).
I would say it is better to have lots of villagers at your disposal, even if the majority at any one time are idle, than having not enough villagers to get Towers and Barracks up.