For me no matter what size map, other factions seem so close. So I get food/gold if at start, but my main focus is explore and produce pioneers first to settle outposts by resources. Of course add champions and gain experience through battles with creatures in the way.
Civ and war tech is a must first. I need archers, and be along to getting houses (I play kingdom mainly. Empire seems better tech wise and such but I hate the black ground, give me green grass! plus the birds chirping is better than the empire sounds)
Then grow and gain archers. Then it is on! I usually do not research adventure or diplomacy until later on in the game except for the resource adventure ones once I have settled as many outpost/cities as I can until meeting other kingdoms and empires.
Establish your boundaries, build up econ and army, then ready to crush everyone is usually how I have been playing.
I probably should use caravans, but I never do. I do not want to have to protect them, and I don't even know the benefits really. Never used them.
Thanks, I guess I'll start using them.