For smaller players that go through the motions each day of doing some research, troop training and building without having a clear plan, this guide gives some suggestions as to how to best grow (from stronghold level 14 to level 20).
As you might have noticed THE key factor in this game limiting your growth is resources, not the timers.
Early on in the game you could train troops, upgrade buildings and start research every time a timer was finished, but, depending on your activity, once you reach Castle levels 13-15 this is likely no longer the case, you need to get resources first before you can start your next building and research, maybe even troop training.
With respect to resources there are two key factors, one is the maximize your resource income, the other is to make sure your resource are not taken away by enemies before you can use them.
What I will not really look into in this guide is the usage of resource for other activities than your own upgrades, like Donating to Alliance Tech or Allies. This is something up to you and your alliance.
Gathering resources is an important way to get more resources, especially considering you do not need to be online for your troops to gather for you. Checking in every couple of hours to send your troops out again is good enough. In the next section I give some tips on boosting your resource gathering rates.
Killing Beasts and joining Red Guard Camp rallies are good ways to get resources as well, you typically get a large amount of one of the small resource items (1000 Food or Wood, 200 Iron or 50 Silver). These items cannot be taken away from you, so great to build up large amounts of resources.
Pay attention to seasonal events. There are often one or more active, and these tend to be a great way to get resource items as well.
Production via resource buildings is also a good way. It is not going that fast, but because it is going on 24/7 it still ads up. Unfortunately like many I am not having a positive Food balance, and once you start having a significant army it is practically impossible to keep a positive Food Balance. I suggest to build plenty of Food Farms anyway, so that you don't lose too much and you still get large amounts when you do the Instant Yield talent. The further you go in the game the more you need the iron and silver resources. Early on it is ok to have many lumberyards, but at a later stage you need to replace more and more with iron and yet later silver, and you likely end up with only 2 or 3 lumberyards.
There are various ways to boost resource gathering: Research, Talent Points, Lord Equipment, Airship Skills, using the Alliance Resource Building, and using Gathering Boost items.
In the Economy Research tree there are a many projects that increase the gathering rate for individual resources. My advise is to research new projects/levels as soon as they are available.
Your Lord Talent points also can increase the gathering rate of resources significantly. I tend to focus my talent points fully on Economy, and within Economy where possible favor gathering boosts over production boosts. An additional benefit from focusing on the Economy Talent Tree is that you get access to the Instant Yield and Development Talents as well. Instant Yield I use as soon as I can, the Development Talent I keep for the larger building and research projects. Much later on you get an Instant Gatherer talent as well in the Economy tree.
Make sure to craft some equipment to increase your gathering speeds and let your Lord wear it.
There are quite a few Airship Skills to improve resource gathering. This only has effect on the marches that include your Airship, but is still worth it. There are Airship Skills for each individual resource and one that boosts the gathering speed of all resources. If you use your Airship only for gathering one or two different type of resources you can use this knowledge and focus only on upgrading the corresponding Airship skill(s).
In the Alliance Resource Building you have a higher gathering rate than on regular resource tiles. Your alliance can only have one Resource Building at a time, but it is good to make use of this as well.
Compared to all other boosts above, the Gathering Boost items give a huge boost and they have the benefit that it is applicable to all resources and all your marches. It is however only valid for a limited time and it costs Alliance Credits or gold. I think it is still worth it to use so now and then. At 25,000 Alliance Credits for an 8 hour boost they are not so expensive. Also keep an eye out for these items in the Market Stall, you can sometimes get them for paying only a fairly small amount of resources.
An important factor in gathering is not only the speed, but also the amount of marches you can deploy, depending on how many March Slots you have unlocked. You have one March Slot at the start of the game, and can fairly easily unlock two more via research in the Combat tree (March Slots I at Academy 6 and March Slots II at Academy 12, make sure to research these if you have not). However the other two march slots are not so easy, one is at VIP 8 and the other in the Combat research tree, March Slots III, only available once your Academy reaches level 20.
In my opinion only once you reach VIP 8, which will come eventually when you just keep playing or you can go to faster by for example buying VIP items with your alliance credits, you should consider the pros and cons of paying the gold amount to keep VIP active. All the other VIP benefits are just not really worth it. A 30 day VIP item costs 4000 gold. Spending this 133 gold per day for an extra March Slot will for sure give you more in return than purchasing resources from the gold store (e.g. pay 160 gold for 50k Food), but it is still up to you to decide whether it is worth it. On a side note, if you unlock the 1 day deposit in the bank by purchasing a pack, you can get 105 gold per day from the Bank by each day depositing 1500 gold. This could pay for a large part of the required gold to keep VIP active, the rest you should easily get from completing Events.
One choice is whether to upgrade all buildings or just focus on the Castle. As part of this guide I suggest to get the Castle to level 20 fast, as this will allow you to unlock the extra March Slot. Having this extra march slot earlier will allow you to grow faster afterwards.
It is important to keep your resources safe as much as possible. You put a lot of effort to collect resources and it would be very disappointing if just before you give the assignment to upgrade to the next Castle level some large player teleports in and steals all your resources (not to mention if he hospitalizes all your troop in the process). For this reason you should make sure to never have many unsafe resources when you are not online or not shielded.
Some considerations, what I typically do is for the smaller upgrades and researches I do not use any resource items. I keep these for the huge research projects (like March Slot III), and Castle and Wall upgrades. This makes sure that when I do need to have a lot of resources for the large ones, I always have plenty of items.
There are various ways in which you get resources where you have some choice when to collect them, e.g. mails with Donation prizes, including the prizes from your Daily Rewards, and very important the prizes from completing Quests. Only collect these when you are going to use the resources directly (or when they are about to expire). Especially the prizes from completing quests can amount to a large amount for your Castle upgrade requirements.
For the Used Arms items, you also can consider collecting these, to spend them when you are in need of resources instead of using them as you get them in your inventory. This way you get more out of them as well (the more you use on the same day the higher the payout). In the Market Stall there are sometimes Used Arms items available for a very cheap amount of resources, you should always get these when you see them.
Another good way to keep resources safe until you need them is by storing some daily in the Alliance Warehouse. Depending on situations you might consider which resource to store. It could be that you want Iron and Silver, because these are relatively harder to collect in the safe resource items. If you have high upkeep, you might also consider storing some Food in the Alliance Warehoure.
Some alliances work together on Pushing members to the next Castle level. Typically each day a person and time is announced, and everybody works hard to fill the requirements for that person to upgrade his Castle. When you have a very loyal group of people who all put in roughly the same effort (and money), this might be a fine method, but there are some potential drawbacks: it is difficult to do this in a way that everyone feels fair (you tend to either get a situation that people who have a hard time growing need to use their resources to help others grow, or you have people who spend way more time help people who are hardly on), and it can lead to a lot of dissatisfaction when someone who has been pushed a lot decides to leave the alliance (and anyone who has played this type of game for a while, know there are plenty of people switching alliances).
In general focus all your activities on increasing resource income and decreasing resource cost first as much as possible.
For resource gathering the location of your alliance hive is also important. Depending on the area on the map you are on, you will have higher or lower level resource tiles around you. This influences the amount of resources in a resource tile. You want to be around at least level 5 resource tiles to be able to send your troops out to gather for a while while you go offlinee, and ideally of course near level 7.
You should have enough troops to completely deplete as many resource tiles as you have march slots, but this should normally not be an issue.
Although in my experience resources are way more an issue than the construction and research timers, it is still good to make things go as fast as possible as well. The Economy Talent tree helps quite a bit, with the Construction and Research projects, but also with the Talent Development, which for a short time reduces the new building and research timers with 20%
I hope this guide has offered some help, both with the day to day upgrades, but also with what to focus on (e.g. unlock the additional March Slots via Academy level 20 and VIP 8). If you have questions or you want to share tips for others, please leave your remarks in the comment section.