Getting a Good Start
Getting a good start in Colonization is extremely important. Here are some tips:
1) Pick the Netherlands, not the English. The Merchantman is a big advantage. Also, the Dutch can sell a lot more cargo without the price falling so quickly. A lot of people like the English but they usually start near the Arawaks who are always hostile. Also, if you use the cheat menu and select anger and friction levels, you'll see the English are the most hated by all the Indian tribes and are most likely to be attacked.
2) Choose the far Northern or Southern starting position. Although you don't really have control of this, it is best to start in the most northern or southern start positions. This way, you have only one nearby European potential enemy. Also, the terrain in these areas tends to be less forested and usually has more special resources which results in more cash and faster early population growth.
3) Pick an ideal location for your first colony. It is usually worth investing a few turns into finding a really good starting position rather than just taking a poorer one to get settled quickly. A good position is ONE ship movement turn (important!) from a sea lane square (the Merchantman yields another Dutch advantage), with at least one special resource in the colony radii and not too close to Indian encampments. A few turns invested exploring with your first two colonists can yield valuable information which will help in selecting Founding Fathers. Consider starting your colony in a Game square. This way you will generate 4 food and can add a second colonist immediately or start breeding horses.
4) Learn from the Indians. Found your first colony with the soldier while sending the other colonist to an Indian encampment for training (if Dutch or English). When the newly trained specialist returns (or another immigrant arrives), send out the former soldier to another Indian settlement. These two expert colonists will basically double your early output and growth rate. Ironically, the experts the Spanish and French start with (Soldier and Pioneer) tend to slightly handicap early growth.
5) Explore early. Buy horses as soon as you can and send out Criminals as Scouts to explore. This will generate little piles of cash that will help your growth. It is best to wait until you have DeSoto to enter the 'goody huts' if he is an early choice for Founding Father.
6) Breed Horses. If you have a colony generating extra food, put some horses here first for two turns (to generate two horses for breeding) then take the horses and send out a scout. You can repeat this several times to explore a wide area quickly and "Horse Colonies" will appear in the wakes of these scouts.
7) Use Criminals as Missionaries. You can counter Indian anger/aggression by using early Petty Criminals as Missionaries. This is a two-way deal. This will make the Indians peaceful and often generate Indian Converts later but there is a loss of Liberty Bells and Crosses by using population this way and will hurt early growth. Note that it is really only necessary for the English to do this to keep the peace. The Dutch and (surprisingly) the Spanish usually find the Indians peaceful enough.
However, the Dutch and Spanish can get a lot of Converts this way. The French, already at peace with all the tribes, don't really need to make missions and they don't seem to generate many converts for some reason.
8) Pick Founding Fathers appropriate for your situation. One of the biggest decisions you have to make is the choice of a first Founding Father. If you don't explore the land but found your initial colonies immediately you may choose the wrong Founding Father. A good default first choice is Desoto for exploring or Hudson for 2X fur trapping. But, you may find the land you start on is constricted and trapped by Indian encampments. In this situation you are going to be badly off if you didn't choose Minuit as your first FF. My choices for first FF in order are basically as follows: 1) DeSoto 2) Hudson 3) Minuit (if needed) 4) Cortez 5) deBrebeuf 6) deCoronado 7) LaSalle and 8) (if English) Penn/Pocahontas.
9) Advance your economy by stages. Don't start building too quickly. It's best to simply build a number of "gathering" colonies first (for furs, ore, or other raw materials). If your colony generates good raw materials in the colony center you can set your first colonist to do manufacturing depending on the market prices. Remember to always check the market prices before settling on your labor assignments. You can avoid the need for obtaining lumberjacks early by using a pioneer to cut down forests. The Hardy Pioneer works MUCH faster (up to 3X) than a regular colonist serving as a pioneer.
Once you run out of good coastal locations for colonies you can build some inland ones. Don't make the mistake of using these colonies to gather stuff that can't be put on ships. These inland colonies should do other things: you can assign labor to the town hall, for instance, to generate liberty bells to speed the acquisition of Founding Fathers. They can also build wagon trains, gather ore, or even start setting up future manufacturing sites. Later on, designate some colonies (generally the ones which are good food producers) to gradually build up your manufacturing potential by adding carpenters, lumberjacks, statesmen, weavers, etc.
10) Don't neglect Statesmen and Preachers. Although these experts seem, at first, to produce little, as you gain experience with the game you'll appreciate how valuable they are. The higher the level of difficulty the more vital the Statesmen become at keeping your colonies and economy efficient.
11) Attack early. If playing the AI at Viceroy level you will need to make a fairly decisive attack on your nearby European rivals within the first 40 or so turns of the game. After that the AI begins "cheating" by giving your rivals lots of guns and horses which they don't actually pay for by sales of goods. The longer you wait to attack the harder the game gets.
12) Build as many colonies as possible and make sure to deal in as many commodities as you can so that you can adjust to the changing market. Also, don't forget that even if you start a colony in forested terrain you can always clear the forest AND PLOW the colony center square. In fact, these two steps are the first and best steps to take when beginning to change and develop a small gathering-type colony into a large maufacturing-type colony.
Thanks to Viceroyjoe for submitting this Colonization guide.