So, I've been playing more, especially against "challenging" AI (I haven't bumped it up to the highest yet, but I get the impression I'll need to). So far, it looks like the AI waits way too long to expand to its second city.
Trade routes between cities give 10% (15 if both ways, 20 with the Merchantcross Bazaar wonder, and 30 with both ways and the wonder) extra gildar. This is sort of aggravating, though, because the only sources of gildar that I've come across are the Merchant building, gold mines, and Twilight Apiaries. So each caravan will give you .3 gildar a turn, unless there's also a gold mine, which makes it .6, or you have two gold mines, and so it's .9. But I've still found that peppering the land with cities as close as you can put them to each other (and with 7 spaces required, that's some distance away) is best because the location quality doesn't matter all that much. The number of grain determines how big the city can grow, the number of materials determines how fast things will build, but 2 materials is enough to build things decently quickly and 3 grain will get you up to a fairly good size, and location quality seems to range between 2/2 and 5/3 (with some 3/4s also).
As well, an outpost gives you access to a square 5 tiles wide (centered on the outpost), but the resources are all hooked to the nearest city. So you can have a distant gold mine that actually feeds your city with a ton of caravan connections.
There will be what I'm calling randomly generated neutral countries- a zone associated with an element (fire, cold, and stone (desert) are the ones I've come across so far) with a bunch of monsters and a boss monster hanging there. I've only attacked one boss monster so far, and he didn't appear in the battle (and was dead after the battle), so I'm suspecting those are bugged? They add a nice touch to the game, connecting the games together through landmarks / common quests.
They also only show up on the medium or larger maps, so I recommend going with those.
Shard density makes a huge difference on how useful magic is. Initiative essentially is your number of turns per round- it starts off at 10, but you can get up to ~20 and the person in question will go twice as often as everyone else. (This can be super awesome when, say, it's your channeler with Might and Discipline and an axe that gives them the Maul ability.) The Haste spell gives 2 initiative plus 2 per air shard, which means that a super cheap spell rapidly goes from good to brokenly awesome.
What I don't really like about that, though, is air shards are randomly scattered across the map. If you don't start off near them, well, sucks to be you. It also strongly favors the sprawling empire over the focused empire- if my territory has 5 air shards in it and you haven't expanded beyond your starting city, which only had one, Haste will allow me to just wreck your army.
So it feels like Infinite City Strategy is going to be a major problem with this game. The only real limits on growth are the map size and the wandering monsters that you need to clear out to settle in a region, but I haven't seen any downside to growing, and pioneers are dirt cheap. (Okay, there is one downside to growing- your prestige population income is spread out among all of your cities. But city level barely matters compared to total empire population, and so your capital growing slightly slower is not a big loss, and having buildings like inns or pubs in every city means your empire as a whole will grow much faster with many cities.)
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