It seems like you can take any number of different paths leading in the general direction of victory. Build short routes and grab points for being the first to complete a region. Build long routes and grab points for being the first to build long routes. Concentrate on finishing one big region for a hefty points boost. Spread your houses all over the board to be the first to have a presence in every region. Play out as many houses as possible to be in the best position when the game ends early. Play conservatively to maximise the value of the houses you do play.
It just feels like any of these opposing and contradictory strategies could win the game, depending on the right cards being available on your turn, of course! But I can't believe that T&T is that random - I must just not have "gotten" it yet. Therefore, what are the best ways to sit down at a table with other relative newbies and do well at Thurn & Taxis? Mega bonus points for describing how/if this changes if you're playing with the quite different rules in the sequel ("The Power and the Glory" I believe?)