Here are a few things I've worked out from a whole lot of failure and a little bit of success.
1. Pick Tireless Optimists
The two best traits for your starting colonists are 'optimist' and 'tireless'. If you're lucky enough to get a colonist with both then props to you, but most likely you'll get bored of clicking through options before then. I'll take any younger looking colonist who has either of these traits and isn't allergic to apples or tomatoes (as this will be your staple diet for the first year).
It should go without saying that you should avoid colonists with traits that will negatively affect their mood or productively such as Pessimist or Insomniac. Xenophobes or 'Hates (X Season)' will get mood debuffs and be a pain in the ass, just like in real life.
Skills have far less of an impact than traits as you can quickly build these up in game play, so make traits your focus in the colonist selection stage. Make sure you read the little info text if you don't know what effect the trait has.
2. Use The Advanced Settings
It's worth checking that you're happy with these. For example:
You can give your colonists greater longevity by choosing the 'slow aging' option (if this doesn't feel too cheaty for your taste).
For biomes I prefer the settings to be 'mostly grassland' so that I have more room to spread my buildings and farmlands out. All the resources are renewable once you can afford mines, so I opt for space.
3. Check You Like The Map
Once your plucky colonists are chatting on the beach, pause the game and take a good look around the map.
You want to see:
- Lots of apple trees (settle right by a cluster and you'll have a much easier life)
- Plenty of livestock. There isn't always a herd of each kind (cow, sheep, pig) so check that they're all there somewhere. You can always buy them from traders, but they're expensive, and they're all extremely useful to have on your farm).
- A good amount of space (away from goblins) to sprawl your colony into as it grows
If these requirements aren't met, go ahead back to the main menu and start the colonist selection all over again. Bit of a chore but worth it once you're in the game.
4. Be A Good Neighbour (At First)
You are weak and vulnerable in the early game. Don't pick any battles if you can help it.
Once you've got your bonfire up, check the diplomacy tab (if that's its name, the little handshake icon next to the combat mode sword icon). This will show you your relationship status with the goblin tribes on the map. You'll most likely be neutral with most of them but 1-3 will be hostile. Make sure you know who and where they are. Don't let your gatherers wander senselessly close to their camps!
The goblins make frequent demands for tribute. If your relationship bar with them is over or near the midway neutral point, you can get away with saying no without provoking an attack.
Check what they're asking for - sometimes it's not much and you can afford to pay it, increasing your relationship points with them. If it seems too steep but you're friendly enough with them to take a little hit, then go ahead and say no. BUT if they're already hostile towards you and you say no, then be aware that they will definitely attack.
In the early game they might have clubs and you are unarmed and without armour. You can still win the encounter, but it will take precious hours away from preparing for winter, which is crucial in years 1 and 2. You've got a lot of farming and researching to do. You don't really have time for war! Take your time and remember that revenge is best served cold. You'll have a lot more fun defeating them when you can send your trained warriors over to their camp and destroy their huts (which spawns them).
You can also offer gifts to build up your relationship with goblin villages, but you don't have to. If you say 'yes' to their demands it will give you a positive boost and eventually they won't be so mad at you. Most importantly it means they won't attack, leaving you to get on with the more important stuff.
I lost a lot of colonies to early game attempts at domination over the island. Trust me, it's a losing strategy, but take your time and you'll be Königin of all the land.
5. War Is Profitable
Once you are a few years in, you should have a little military training camp going on. Improve your colonists' battle skills with a training dummy and make sure they're armed and armoured with the workbenches.
Now you're ready to do battle!
You could set out to destroy everyone else on the island, OR you could set up a little goblin-armour business and sell their tiki costumes to the trader. When your colonists skills are improved, they can wear this armour themselves, but I personally prefer the pirate aesthetic.
The pirates are also a fun way to mine hats for gold. Just bear in mind that once you've made them your enemy, they'll attack fairly hard and quite often. Make sure you're prepared. If you are, it's a great source of income. As far as I've discovered you never eradicate the pirates, they get new captains and keep coming back. This seems to happen approximately twice a year but you'll get fair warning and a chance to avoid it as they'll make a demand at first which you can choose to accept in order to avoid the fight.
Another thing I'd suggest you avoid in the early game is the 'inspiration for masterpiece' event.
It consumes a lot of your hard-earned resources and then you could get stuck with needing to drink a beer to complete it. Beer can be bought from traders but your colonist won't be able to access it until they've got a beer barrel, which requires iron ore, which your unskilled miners can't mine. Time will run out on this event before you can satisfy it, and your resources will be lost.
You don't always need a beer, sometimes they just need to relax or have a chat to develop their ideas, but it happens often enough to be not worth the risk IMO.
Once you have a brewery and carpenter's bench, accept all the inspirations if you can. The objects are definitely worth their resource costs if you can complete them. It's amazing how much a little art around the place can brighten everyone's day.
7. Have Children...Before It's Too Late
I finally got a beautiful colony going. Ten expert survivalists and suddenly they're all going grey. Within a year or two, they're all gone! And now I'm at war with the whole island and I've got nobody but Oma and Opa at home to defend us.
An ageing population is the sign of a well-cared for society, but it also represents doom for your colony. Soon they'll all be digging each other's graves, and it will take time for replacements to arrive. When they do, they'll be unskilled and unable to handle the expansive farms and workshops you've set up. It will be easy to keep their needs well satisfied but starvation is a real threat and attacks from all those enemies you've made will hit much harder when your noobs can't wear armour and barely hold a wooden sword.
To avoid this, indulge your colonists romantic needs! During the winter months when they can't farm, get them interacting more. Make sure they're in good moods - they'll have positive interactions when they're well-fed and generally having a good time. A hangry colonist tells terribly upsetting jokes, apparently.
Once two colonists are great friends they can kiss, this makes them lovers. Keep up the positive interactions until the bar fills out to 'love of his/her life' and then fill this bar. If all their needs are satisfied, they will have an instant child. There is no pregnancy or babyhood stage, the child appears and you can name them.
They are able to interact with other colonists and objects but they can't work when they're children, which lasts about 100 days. They will feed and look after themselves, but a scholar trained to teach will be able to give them some schooling (standing up wherever, no school building required). They can also read from the children's bookshelf to 'learn life skills'. All of this education leads to an adult colonist equipped with some useful skills (of your choice) when they come of age.
Another influence you have over your child's life is their traits. By giving them positive experiences of early life, they can develop an exhaustive list of all the positive personality traits, and vice-versa. This makes them much more valuable to your colony than random migrants.
Children are also really useful at making friends with everyone in the colony because they have time to talk and not a whole lot else to do. Now lonely Max finally has someone to impress with his terrible jokes. Once they grow up, they're already great friends with a bunch of people. I had two kids grow up together and then become lovers as soon as they grew up and have a child almost immediately. Which is pretty weird, but wonderfully efficient HR! I now have four generations in my colony, which makes me more attached to them somehow.
I hope that more objects for children are added in time, it would be fun to have a classroom and toys and more things for their entertainment.
8. Make Friends with the Traders
Take the time to chat and share some laughs when they visit. Send your Diplomat when they're in a good mood for better results. You can also send them gifts via the diplomacy tab, but hey, talk is free!
Once you're on friendly terms, traders will give you a 15% discount. You can also call them when you're in a bind and ask them to come over the same day, which is perfect in a late winter emergency or if you need some item to keep the pirates at bay.
9. Prioritise Pigs
Taming animals takes a long time and buying them is expensive. Once you have them, you need to care for them, feed them and keep them tame. Keeping livestock is not easy in this game.
Cows are the worst. They eat tonnes and rewild themselves too often. I have a colony of twelve and I've decided not to keep more than three cows. What's more, you can't use their milk until you have a kitchen.
Pigs are easier to keep and breed and give you lots of meat, which you can cook as soon as you have a campfire. Prioritise pigs in your early game. You still might want to wait a year or two before you add them to your farm, though. Those apples and tomatoes will disappear fast once you have animals.
Sheep, unsurprisingly, supply you with wool, which you can weave into cloth. You don't need huge quantities of cloth until you have a tailor's bench, and even then, the specialist clothes are more of a luxury than a necessity. Good to get eventually but nothing urgent. So keep a few sheep once you're happy with how your pigs are going.
10. Some Things You Might Have Missed
- There's a cog on the bottom left. Push it, it's useful.
- Click the bonfire to see how long until the next migrant comes
- If your colonists keep having negative interactions, check their mood bar. If it's red, they're not in very charismatic moods.
- Fallen enemies will revive unless you make sure they're dead. Be sure to strip them first: their gear is valuable and can be sold to the traders.