Is there an optimal opening production order? Specifically, I am looking for the first 3 things to produce in a standard game.
I have seen neither a definitive guide nor a consensus about what should be the very first things to build.
I imagine that there is an optimal strategy because there are few choices of what to build, and little information available to influence the decision.
There are a lot of factors here, but I do find in most games there is sort of an ideal build order for the first few moves of the game.
Your Settler should generally plop down on the tile you spawned on. If you've got other units you could move, you might let them move first and consider moving one tile or maybe one move's worth around before you settle, but I'm of the impression that you should really settle quickly. Usually you start on a good tile. But I digress...
Your starting military unit should make expanding circles (or arcs, depending on the geography) around your first city. The idea here is to find the sites for your next cities.
In your capital, build a Scout. The only reason you might not want a Scout is if you are pretty sure you're not going to get any ruins with it early - you're on a tiny island, for instance.
Second, build a military unit. You're going to need a unit to defend your borders. You might not want to do this if your initial unit explored quickly and is back home, but if they're taking their sweet time and there are barbarians about, you're going to need another fighter.
Third, build a Worker. The Worker should hang out within a turn of either the unit you created or the city itself. Focus on connecting your "special" tiles, starting with luxury resources.
From here it kind of depends on what the situation is. I like to start building a Settler fairly early if I found a good site for another city, but I will also put a few turns of production on something else (or make another military unit, etc) if I'm close to getting another population in the capital.
The Settler should go with the Worker and at least one military unit to found a second city as soon as possible.
After the Settler I'll tend to produce another Worker (to replace the capital's worker) and perhaps another military unit depending on the level of hostility around.
The Monument in the capital can wait a bit, the Palace generates culture so it's not 100% critical in the capital. If the map is very large and there are a lot of ruins to gather, another Scout may be worth it. Your tech and social focus also starts to come into play from here on out, and that will determine what units and buildings you're going to focus on in the next 50 turns or so.
The general reasoning is that early military units are more or less useless - you're unlikely to get to the point where having 2 versus 3 Warriors is the difference between winning and losing. You're also unlikely to be in a situation where +1 culture is going to make a big impact in the long term.
However, having a Worker, protected, at your capital, and an early second city with a second Worker are both very, very big deals. You can get a pretty good head start this way.
My early game decisions are usually based on a few conditions: victory goal, nearby resources, map type, and my civilization.
Scout: I generally build a scout early on maps with large landmasses where the competition for the early ruins are higher. I would also tend to build scouts on islands maps if I was playing as Polynesia.
Worker: These can be vital to build early if your city is in an area with low food values or low production. I consider it very important to get my capitol growing so I can work more tiles (thus producing more gold/production). Their importance is also dependent on the type of luxury resources and my early game goals. If I have marble nearby then I generally orient towards wonders, which means I really need to improve the marble and start building food/production tile improvements.
Settler: Depending on if I'm going for a tall or wide empire I may build a settler. If there is an ideal location nearby, I require a new city to stop an AI's expansion into a prized area or I need access to the coast I rank settlers higher. I generally prefer to build a worker before any settlers because while building settlers your city will not grow which can be highly detrimental for early gold/production values.
Monument: Depending on the social policy monuments might be worth the early investment.
Shrine: If I have a pressing reason to grab an early pantheon belief I may rush early shrines. For example, if my city is built on a tundra or has numerous coastal resources it can be wise to rush the corresponding pantheon beliefs.
Military Units: If I find myself adjacent to aggressive civilizations or I'm playing on higher difficulties I will prioritize keeping military units near my city. This also helps protect any early workers from barbarians.
Fishing Boats: I very rarely rush these since they are not reusable and are relatively expensive. However, getting extra food early enables you to work more tiles which can be very important.
Trade Units: This is specific to Brave New World, but I generally only build these when I know they will be safe from barbarians. It can be a huge detriment to lose them in the early game.
The early technologies you get also can change your starting priorities. If you have nearby resources that require mining then it can push back the time frame you can possibly build shrines or monuments.
Obviously, there are wonders and social policies to keep in mind. If I plan to grab the pyramids early I would focus less on getting workers. If I plan to get the free monument from Tradition I will most likely avoid building a monument.
Personally, my build order is:
Scout - you want to get exploring ASAP to work out your terrain and find those ruins.
Monument - you want to get that culture going so you can start ticking through the social policies. Without this they go extremely slowly.
And then either:
Stealing a worker from a city state at the start of the game is a good idea if you're not going Liberty and can do it, but you can't do it until the City State actually builds a worker, and you need to do it before that City State is under the protection of another Civ. So it needs good timing. Don't steal workers from a City State once it's under protection or you'll get some negative diplomatic influence with all Civs.
A few people have mentioned getting their free Monument from the Legalism social policy. Remember that this gives you a free culture building, not a free Monument. If you already have a Monument in your Capital when you pick this up you get a free Amphitheater instead (once you've discovered them), which is much more useful.
For a typical generic start at Prince level or multiplayer, I go monument first and here is why:
With this rationale, my build list for the capital is:
- Worker (free with liberty)
- Settler (free with liberty)
Boom three cities and a growing empire. At this point, if I want a religion I would go Shrine and Stonehenge.
Similar to others
Scout/Warrior - This depends on the size of the map and the civ I am playing, if I am playing Aztecs I get culture for killing barbarians so get on that right way. Also on a small or standard map I take the warrior over the offensiveness scout.
Monument - Help produce culture and expand your borders to reach other workable tiles
Worker - To work the tiles get additional resources
BUY Shrine/Warrior/Archer --At this point in the game from meeting city states and raiding barbarians I usually have between 200-250. Depending on if I met a hostile civ (Germany/Darius/Mongols) then I buy a war unit. Otherwise the shrine to work toward the pantheon.
5a. Settler -- If my city has at least pop 3 and I am still working on Writing. Then I expand
5b. Great Library -- You Need This. Sometimes I even modify my production to slightly starve my people if I think I am in a fierce competition for this. With this I either unlock Philosophy to get access to the Oracle and a new era. Or Iron Working to reveal Iron on the map. Which makes doing this before the settler slightly better.
And every time I get about 200-250, I buy a war unit.
Now Policies are usually the same.