1. Card Tier
Tier 1 cards usually give you 10+ points or a good combo: Carpenter, Locksmith, Grocer, Freemason.
I will talk about Carpenter later.
Locksmith is the king of the game. Usually, it gives 16+ points. You are not likely to lose if you get both Locksmiths.
Grocer and Freemason give you 9 points at least. For example, although your opponent has Harvester, I will still take Grocer. Math is simple. You take it, and you get 9-4=5 points. Otherwise, your opponent takes it, and they win 9+2=11 points. If you get 2 Grocers or 2 Freemasons, each symbol gives you 6 points. That will make symbols more valuable. For example, a Fisher gives you 3+3*2=9 points.
Tier 1.5 cards are more situational: Wood carver, Log rafter, Horse trader, Ore muler, Priest, Peddler. These are only good when you have the symbols needed. If well played, they can give you 15+ points. For example, wood carver gives you 9+9+4+2=24 points when you have 2 cartwrights + cooper + shipwright. Most players on BGA underestimate Peddler. Take it if you have no other choice.
Tier 2 cards can give you potentially 8-10 points. And these cards usually determine who wins the game if luck is on neither side: Shipwright, Brewer, Beekeeper, Fisher, Bedbuilder, Cooper, Glass blower.
Shipwright and Brewer are good builders which help the middle-game transition.
Beekeeper and Bedbuilder matter a lot. A player with Carpenter gains at least (4+2)*2=12 points by playing Beekeeper before the first market. That’s why I usually steal them even though I don’t have Carpenter. Even after the first market, I try not to let the opponent take them. Assume your component has Carpenter and you don’t. They get easy 6 points if you don’t pick. But if you pick, you have a chance to 1) play with Tinner 2) wait for another Carpenter 3) Waste the card to the end 4) Play to gain some low score if you have Locksmith, Priest, or Horse trader.
Cooper and Glass blower are not that good, but sometimes give you good points.
Tier 3 cards: I think all others belong to tier 3. Don’t overrate chain cards like Fromager, Wine trader, and Jeweler. Imagine spending 4 cards and getting 20 points. Only if you play a whole chain before the first market.
2. Food and builder
Try to rush 5 foods 5 builders in 2-3 rounds. The game usually ends in 5-6 rounds. So, getting and playing more cards can be a huge advantage. 5 foods 4 builders are better than 4 foods 5 builders. Because you will have no cards to build. Try to take the cards if you see your opponent is low on them. In one strong player game, my opponent has only 3 builders until the end.
There are 24 stack cards. Assume each player plays 5 basic villagers. That will make the total cards to be 24+5*2=34. If both players have 5 foods in round 3, then the game will end in a total of 5 rounds: round 1 (2+2), round 2 (3+3), and round 3,4,5 (5+5). Count how many cards are left in the stack. If it’s the last round, builders and foods are usually useless.
Round 1: Whoever draws the card first in the first round gets a huge advantage. This is where the game is badly designed because of Carpenter. 1) Beekeeper and Bedbuilder are too good 2) You have a Poulterer that is worth 10 points before the first market waiting for you, and you can easily blind draw another Brewer or Swineherd to gain food 3) Thatcher is too much worse than Carpenter, but very likely your oppenent has to take it. So, if you are the first to play, take Carpenter no matter what you have in hand. The goal of the first round is to get 2 builders. Try a blind draw can surprise you sometimes. No hurry to play food because the founder will flip.
Padlock is where the game shines. Remember, you lose 4 points, not 2 points when you pay your opponent. And blacksmith is not that good in 2p game. Agent works well sometimes. Once I have 2 Agents and 12 coins on my Carpenter.
Think about it, should you play Glass blower when your opponent has blacksmith?
5. Drop coins
Don’t drop coin unless you are very sure that others won’t take it, even though you draw first in the next round. Sometimes better cards get revealed. And you lose 2 points if your opponent takes your card.
6. Blind draw
Try some luck if you are short for builders (Brewer) and food (Grape, Harvester, Hunter). If there is no good card on the road, try some brown cards. If you are focusing on a suit, say wood, you can always blind draw. Sometimes, a Locksmith blind draw can kill the game.
7. Special villagers
Use Apprentice if your component is gathering symbols. Also, Apprentice can be used as a founder.
People don’t use Tinner well. Each card you play with Tinner can save you 4 points. So, imagine you play Tinner with 4 -5 cards together. That’s a lot of points. My strategy is to try to steal opponent’s card from the road and play in the same round with Tinner.
8. Which suit to play?
Usually, if you focus on one suit, you can gain around 100 points, other than brown suit. My strategy is to keep an eye on your opponent while playing more brown cards. Wood is the only suit I once gained 150+ points by playing alone, and that’s when I saw a lot of woods in the stacks.
9. Other tips
Delay the first market if you have a high score chain to play. 2 players usually draw 10 cards first 2 rounds, so do some blind draws from later stacks or return cards to the first 2 stacks when playing basic villager.
Returning cards to cover the cards others may blind draw. Another case is you can return a useless card to the stack so that it won’t reveal good card to your opponent next round.
Don't waste your card at the end of the game. Take some basic villagers if you have the symbol cards.
And in the middle of the game, always keep at least 1 card in hand before each drafting phase.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the game. I guess this is more like a slightly unbalanced family game. In 2p game, I would say the first player can win at least 6.5/10 games. I tried some 3+players games, but it’s not very competitive, but still fun. Good luck!