For me, the largest part of starting out happens before I even load the map – I spend some time (admittedly, a lot less thanks to the new customization options!) creating an interesting, reasonably balanced party of adventurers with some kind of inherent narrative/reason for setting out. I’m also not afraid to re-roll the map a few hundred times until I find one with a good variety of terrain features.
Like many of the others here, I like to settle between the mountains and a lake. However, I often try to settle in the foothills, above the plains and usually in a valley. This helps a lot with early-game defence, since it limits where enemies can attack from. I focus on a small village rather than a rapidly expanding settlement, so space isn’t an issue for me when I play this way.
Immediately after settling, I promote my carpenter and have them set up their workbench, using the starting logs to produce crates as a way to level them up. This means I can more quickly unlock advanced classes, but it also helps me avoid large stockpile zones; helping to create a neat campsite look.
My first task is usually to gather the nearby berry bushes and other such plants, and arrange them for easy harvesting. I try to avoid clear-cutting the forests, but I will clear out an area for the village in the first couple of days. After that, I chop down the trees which have grown into each other, and “thin out” the forest to make it look more inviting. I’ll also clear trees from around the base of any bunny statues nearby, since I like the look of having them in a small clearing. Later, once my farms are set up and I’m not relying on my transplanted wild plants, I’ll move them around the bunny statues to create lush meadows.
While the workers gather the early necessities, my carpenter has generally reached level 2 or 3 by the third day. At level 2 I have them make 10-ish beds (enough for everyone and some spares for later) and lay them out around the fire pit, reinforcing the look of a campsite. As soon as I can, I make a farmer’s hoe and get some fields dug, although I don’t worry overmuch about planting them immediately – I have berries to help out for a while, and I prefer to plant my fields when the farmer has some down-time so that the whole field gets planted at once. There’s nothing more aggravating to me than when the farmer gets interrupted halfway through planting or harvesting, so you end up with half a field of seedlings while the other half is ready to harvest.
Once the farms are sown, the next priority is somewhere for the hearthlings to live. I have a “tent” blueprint which fits a bed and not much else, although I should probably update it to take into account the cramped room mechanics… anyway, I start building these one after the other, expanding the camp right out to the edge of the forest or lake. At that point, my town worth is high enough for migrants to start arriving, so I start creating the more advanced classes and setting up my guards.
Once I receive a visit from the Royal Herald, I switch over from the “camp” phase to the “village” phase. I build up permanent houses (usually rustic log houses on the outskirts to begin with, e.g. a farmer’s house with a barn or a carpenter’s workshop), start creating roads between key areas like the farms and the village center, and I start designing a tavern/inn which will house the cook.
With the village set up, I let the game start to dictate my narrative a lot more – allowing the incoming migrants and enemies to decide what my next priorities will be. It’s usually a good 4+ in-game months to get to this point, so I’d say I’ve moved out of the early game by now and I’m progressing slowly through the mid-game. The efforts taken at the start of the game allow me to take the next steps at a leisurely pace, knowing I have a foundation for whatever I need next – whether it’s an army, a large population, a massive construction project or pushing for Tier 2, I have all the things I need in order to build up to those kind of goals.