Nor the old and lost. I read the thread title and opened the thread with interest, hoping for some great insight. Fortunately, there were some helpful replies. As has been stated, I like to focus on quality over quantity early on. Choose good City locations that can be easily connected to your Trade Network (using Roads or Sailing). Even if an AI or two is aggressively settling the land near to you, it can work in your favour if you can connect your Trade Network to theirs (build a Road to one of their Cities, for example, even by building Roads on squares within an AI's Cultural Borders) and get Open Borders with them via Writing. I have found that it is more important to worry about keeping your tech rate at a good pace than it is to grab so much land that your tech pace falls by the wayside. Therefore, I, too, am of the opinion that there is no magical number of Cities--the number will vary from game to game and situation to situation. It's a balancing act that varies from map to map, but if there is one consistent kernel to pay attention to from game to game it is to get as many of your Cities connected to your Trade Network as soon as possible, even more so if you can get your Trade Network connected to that of an AI's Trade Network with whom you can Open Borders.