This guide as a whole is intended for people who have little or no experience with the game. If you've played a bit and think you're doing everything right but still have failing settlements, the "Distribution" and "Miscellaneous advice" sections might be good places to check.
The PC strategy game Banished from one-man-show Shining Rock Software was released last week. I'd been looking forward to the game for quite some time, as it scratches a particular city-building itch that I've had for years. Part of why I've anticipated it so much is that to group it in with traditional "city-builder" games is actually a bit of a misnomer: it's decidedly a village- and town-builder. The goal isn't to expand into a bustling metropolis through long ages: it's simply to get your small group of settlers to survive through each winter.
The game's causality and timing are also more realistic than your typical city-builder. For instance, plopping down a house doesn't cause a new family to materialize from nowhere, and instead gives one of your young couples a place where they'd be comfortable to raise some kids, encouraging natural population growth. And planting that orchard today will give you a nice yield of fruit, sure... three or four years from now when the trees have grown. To some this may sound tedious, but for others of us it's a godsend.
It's not a game I'd necessarily recommend to everyone, but if what I've described sounds appealing to you, I'm here to offer a few tips for getting started in Banished. I'll note that these tips are based on my experience with the game so far and advice I've seen on the forums and wiki (and you should definitely play the in-game tutorials to learn about the interface, building placement, etc.). There may well be other approaches to the game, but they're likely more challenging and could discourage new players from the game. I'd recommend starting according to the following suggestions, and then after you've gotten a feel for the game, if you want to see if you can get away with breaking these rules, by all means do so (I know I will be). My suggestions also assume that you're on a valleys map with a fair climate and disasters turned on.
My primary piece of over-arching advice for this game is this: You're better off drawing your assumptions from the real world instead of other strategy games. Specifically, make sure you keep in mind that Banished takes place in the pre-industrial world (most people seem to think it's medieval-era while it strikes me as clearly colonial-era, but at this scale they're not terribly different). The game's not perfectly realistic but it skews farther that way than many others, and so by remembering the setting you'll have a much better chance of guessing the proper course of action. We'll see how this applies in several particular cases below.
Your settlers have three main needs: food, warmth, and shelter. Most of what you do in the game is going to be related—directly or indirectly—to keeping up with those needs as your population grows. We'll start with the basics of those needs and then move on to other important concepts.