You need to scout areas before attacking them, or you get your tail kicked. Here's a beginner's guide to scouting:
If you follow the quests, you will quickly get 10 scouts.
You will also build an Inn (to recruit heros,) and a Feasting Hall (to house your heros.) Then you can recruit heros.
You will appoint a mayor (they might call him a castellan or something like that, but it's the same dang thing.)
You will need to click on your academy and research Informatics. The higher you level of Informatics, the better you do.
To send troops on scouting missions, upgrade your Feasting Hall to level 2. This lets you keep a second hero.
Click on the Feasting Hall. The hero with the higher politics rating should be appointed your mayor. Any moron can lead a scouting mission, but the politics of your mayor really count in your production. (I'm assuming you are early on, in the 7-day protection period and want to start scouting. Later on, other stats may matter for your mayor.)
Click on "Map" to go to map view. You can pan around by clicking and grabbing a spot on the map, then dragging it...kinda like Adobe Acrobat. Hold the mouse over a spot without a city. (You can not scout cities until your are out of the 7-day protection.) I think all these spots are called Valleys. You will see a number of things, including a level.
The level has something to do with the quality of the troops. (level 10 archers kick the fire out of level 4 archers.)
The level also has to do with wether your scouts will return ANY data.
* If the level of the valley is higher than the level of Informatics you developed, you will get NO information.
* If the level of the valley is equal than the level of Informatics you developed, you will get limited information. You will get a description in terms of zounds, lots, hordes, etc. A plagiarized list of what these terms mean is at the bottom of this post.
* If the level of the valley is lower than the level of Informatics you developed, you will get exact numbers.
So, with Level 5 Informatics,
* I was unable to get any intelligence on a level 9 swamp.
* I was able to learn that a level 5 plain had zounds of warriors. Looking up zounds, that translates to between 1000 and 2499.
* I was able to get information that a level 4 forrest contained 97 warriors and 52 swordsmen.
When you are in map view, click on a valley and click "scout." Add in your 10 scouts. Add in your non-mayor hero. Depending on the range, food may or may not be suggested as an addition. I don't see immediate harm in neglecting 1 or 2 foods, but I include them anyway.
Your scouts leave and march to scout. When they get there, they instantly transmit back their findings. Click on "Reports" then click on "Army" and take a look.
When the scouts get back, you get another report, this time it says your scouts got back.
Rumor has it the number of scouts is irrelevant, but I have not tested this.
After you have scouted a valley, you can click on your Rally Spot, then click on "Exercise." This lets you test hypothetical battles to see if you would win, rather than sending your troops on a suicide mission. (All loosing battles are fought to the last man.) If you see that you will win, you can attack. Go back to map view and click on the valley again. Select "attack." (The quest system calls this "conquer" but it's all the same.) Throw your hero, food, and troops at the valley's defenders. A long, long time later, you will have your very own valley! Your production of some resource will go up.
Now for the plagiarized table:
Few: 1 - 24
Pack: 25 - 49
Lots: 50 - 99
Horde: 100 - 249
Throng: 250 - 499
Swarm: 500 - 999
Legion: 2500 - 4999
Bulk: 5000 - 9999