Contrary to the Ad campaign undertaken by Evony's creators Top Games, Evony is not a puzzle game. The game is in fact a Real Time Strategy game focused around teamwork and coordination to outwit your enemies.
Your first main goal to start is to upgrade your as much as possible to unlock higher tier troops. Despite the desire to build troops as soon as you start playing, you should ignore the lower tier troops and instead focus on pushing your keep level to 25 before building any mass amount of troop. Building a small force to farm resource tiles with is acceptable but don't plan on building more than you need until Tier 10.
Once you hit tier 10 you have two routes to go down; or or a combination of both.
The first real goal you should have at the beginning of a new server is to acquire as high of tier of as possible. The higher tiers will all be claimed by experienced players and those who spend money (coiners) within the first two weeks. If you can you want to grab blue or better subordinate cities of the you desire.
If you cannot afford to spend money on the game you need to have lots of patience and the ability to be on for hours a day to ever really be competitive. After a year or so on a server the non-coiners will start to catch up with those who coin so there is really no reason to spend money unless you want to fast track your progress.
The game features which effect all manners of gameplay from how fast you are able to accumulate resources to how powerful your troops are.
The game also has which you will use to lead your troops to battle as well as speeding up resource gathering and build times in your Subordinate Cities.
Joining an alliance is essential to your survival and progress as you will be able to piggyback off of larger players who can run rallies on boss monsters to get you free speedups and resources. Alliances are also the best places to learn things about the game and to meet new people. Never be shy to talk in Alliance Chat as these people are your friends and it is best to develop a bond with them over time.
You will need to use Truce Agreements (bubbles) ALL OF THE TIME. You will not survive without one as your resources will constantly be stolen by other players and any subordinate cities of value you have will be stolen almost instantly. It is possible to maintain a bubble at all times without spending money.