It features several viable paths to victory, and a small but important degree of randomness in the ordering of the various decks representing the Civil and Military possibilities of each age. You have to juggle food production (needed to grow and maintain your populace), resource production (needed to build buildings, units and wonders), science, happiness (as you increase your population, you need to keep them more and more happy) and military strength, while seeking to maximise your culture. The civilisation with the highest culture at the end of the game is the winner.
The major strikes against it (that ChrisHowlett has seen) are a) the rules make it hard to recover from a position of weakness (moral - don't get into a position of weakness); and b) it takes roughly 1hr per player once you know what you're doing. Probably an additional hour per new player, or so. The rules are [available online]; however, they're not wonderfully written (they assume you'll play both simplifications of the game before playing the full game, so they're meant to be read in a book-like order. Finding a specific rule in them is tricky). [Various][other][online][files] may help clarify some points. ChrisHowlett is also willing to answer any questions here to the best of his ability.
Read through them. Looks fun. The 'no ganging up' optional rule sounds a good idea. --Pallando
Right, infodump. The aim of the game is to get the most Culture, represented by the Harp symbol. To do this, you will be building up your civilisation from Antiquity to modern times (represented by a number of Ages: A, I, II, III and, nominally, IV). Depending on exactly how things shake out, par scores are probably around 170 culture. 90 is by no means terrible; and 220 is doable on a good day.
Your board: The board under your name shows your civilisation's state. You start knowing the Age A farming, mining, laboratory, temple and infantry techs; plus the government "Despotism". You will be able to advance these as the game progresses. Looking at the cards in turn:
Agriculture represents the knowledge to build a farm. You have started with two farms (equivalently, two workers on farming), represented by the two yellow tokens on the card. Building a new farm would cost 2 rock (bottom left). Each farm produces 1 food per worker each turn (the 1 grain sack at the bottom).
Similarly, you have 2 bronze mines, each producing 1 rock per turn; cost for a new one is 2 rock.
You also have one Philosophy lab, which adds 1 science per turn; new ones cost 3.
You have no Religion temples, which grant 1 culture per turn and one happy-face, and cost 3. Philosophy and Religion, plus all other Grey cards, are "urban buildings". (Any concepts I don't cover will come up later.)
You also have 1 Warrior - an Infantry unit costing 2 rock to build, and adding 1 to your military strength.
You also have one unemployed worker, which I nearly forgot because your worker pool is over on the right in your summary, as the orange square with the parent-and-child symbol. Bah.
Your Despotism card shows you have 4 Civil Actions and 2 Military Actions per turn, and you can build at most 2 of any given class (labs, temples...) of Urban Building.
The player summary box mostly shows a collection of information, much of it derived from your board: it pulls together all your culture generating effects to show your total net culture gain per turn; it shows your total science points available right now, and the science points you gain per turn; your total happy faces; your total military strength; your total food and rock available to spend; the number of unoccupied workers you have available; and the number of unhappy faces implied by your population and yellow bank.
Military Actions (red dots) are used to build (and disband) military units, adopt tactics, and launch attacks on other players; they also grant you military cards. Civil Actions (white dots) are used for everything else; notably gaining new civil cards, increasing population, building buildings, discovering techs, playing events and electing leaders.
The blue bank: The bank of blue tokens represents your production capacity. At the end of each turn, for each yellow worker on a farm or mine, you will move one blue token from your bank onto that farm/mine card. Each blue token then represents the number of resources (food / rock) shown on the card it sits on. So a blue token on a Bronze mine is 1 rock; when you discover Iron, blue tokens on that card are worth 2 rock.
You spend resources by moving the tokens off the cards and back to the bank (or between cards; you can spend 1 rock by moving a token from Bronze to the bank, or by moving a token from Iron to Bronze). It is divided into sections which represent Corruption; at the end of your turn, once your farms and mines have produced, if the right-most section is empty you must pay back 2 rock as corruption. If you empty the second section as well, it's 4 rock.
The yellow bank, food, and workers: At the bottom is your yellow bank, representing "living space", kinda. During your turn, you can increase your population by paying a food cost which... isn't shown. Huh. The cost to get a new worker increases as you uncover spots from right to left: if you have any yellow dots in the rightmost section headed "1 :)" it'll cost you 2 food. Once those two yellow dots are gone, to get a new worker from the section headed "2 :)" will cost 3 food; a worker from the section headed "4 :) | 3 :)" will cost 5 food; and a worker from the leftmost section headed "6 :) | 5 :)" will cost 7 food.
As you increase your workforce, however, they start to eat food and become discontent. After your farms produce at the end of your turn, you must pay back the amount of food shown to the left of your empty sections (so, nothing to start with; then 1 food once you have 2 workers; 2 food after a further 4 workers) Additionally, you need enough Happy Faces for the empty columns; none to start with, then 1 for 2 workers; 2 after another 4; then increasing every two worker. An unemployed worker in your pool can substitute for a happy face, but is still considered "discontent". If you have insufficient happy faces plus unemployed workers to cover the number of empty slots in your bank, you are in Civil Disorder, and produce _nothing_ that turn. Avoid this.
Nearly done. At the top of the screen is the Civil Card Row. It is divided into 3 sections, according to how many CA it takes to pick up a card from each section. At the end of each player's turn (except this round), the card marked with a X is discarded, the row shuffles down to fill any gaps, and new cards are dealt into the right-hand end. The cards will be, variously:
Tech cards (all of which have a science cost printed on them). These may upgrade your existing stuff, be new Urban Building or Military Unit types, a new Government, or Special (which are blue). Discovering a Government or Special tech replaces any existing tech of that type (there are 4 classes of Special tech). Discovering an upgraded Farm, Mine, UB or Unit tech does _not_ replace the existing tech; both the old and new are available to be built.
Yellow cards are Actions; you cannot play them on the turn you pick them up, but on a later turn spend 1 CA to play them from your hand.
Green cards are leaders. Spend 1 CA to elect a leader, gaining their benefits. You can only have 1 leader in play at once, and you can only pick up one leader from each Age.
Purple cards are Wonders. They do not go to your hand, but straight into play where you start building them. For 1 CA and the left-most rock cost, you build one section of the wonder (cover the rock cost with a blue token - which does make corruption more likely!). When all stages are built, take the tokens off and you get the Wonder's benefits.
You cannot have more then 1 unbuilt wonder at once; and it costs an additional 1CA to take a wonder for each existing completed wonder you have.
We're about ready for the first turn. There are things I haven't mentioned, but there _shouldn't_ be any gaps in what I've already said. Shout if there are. On your first turn, things work a bit differently. The player in first place gets 1 CA to pick cards from the row. The row will not shuffle down and be redealt (but the player will produce food, rock and science as normal). Then second player picks 2 CA of cards, third player 3 CA worth, then fourth player 4 CA worth. _Then_ the row shuffles down, and is redealt from the Age A deck. Any undealt Age A cards are then discarded, and we start into Age I.
For your second turn
Round 2, you Almost Certainly want to build a third Bronze, increase population, and do something with your other two CA (likely involving the card row). You will draw military cards at the end of this turn, which I'll explain next turn. In round 3 you'll almost certainly want to build a second Philosophy lab. If you picked up an Ideal Building Site in round 1, you could build the Philosophy lab in round 2, as long as you make sure to build a third Bronze in round 3.
Third turn onwards
You now have a hand of Military Cards - you draw one per unused Military Action (max 3) after each turn. Most are of use in a phase at the start of your turn - the Political Phase.
Blue ones are Pacts: you can, as you PA, propose a pact to another player; they can, but are not required to, accept. Each player may have exactly one active pact that they proposed (and any number of active pacts that they accepted). You _may not_ ask whether someone will accept a pact; using the PA to offer is the only way.
Green cards are Events. Playing one (as your PA) gives you culture equal to the card's age, and the card is added to the Future Events pile. Then the top of the Current Events is revealed and happens. Only once all the Current Events have happened is the Future Events pile shuffled and becomes Current. The shuffling is by Age, so earlier Events will occur before later ones.
Brown cards are Aggressions: for the given number of MA (red dots) you launch an attack on another player. Your attack power is equal to your military strength; you may also sacrifice military units (yellow dot back to bank) to increase your strength by the unit's strength. Then the defender defends with their military strength, plus any sacrifices, plus any Defense/Colonisation? cards they choose to play.
Purple-and-teal cards are Defense/Colonisation?. They act as mentioned in Aggressions, and also affect Territories, which are one type of Event card which we'll cover when they happen.
Finally, red cards are Tactics. You may adopt a Tactic in the main part of your turn for 1 MA. For each complete Army as depicted on the card, you gain the depicted strength. So, for instance, Medieval Army shows a Horse and a Sword, and has the number 2. So for each build Cavalry-Infantry pair, your strength is +2.
When sacrificing in Aggressions (and Colonising, and also later Wars), if you sacrifice a complete Army, the Army bonus applies again.
Territories Sometimes when an Event is revealed, it may be a territory. We now compete to colonise it with military force. In turn, starting with the player who triggered the event, we bid an amount of force we are prepared to spend to colonise the territory. Once you pass, you can't rejoin the auction. Once a bid stands, that player must sacrifice force at least equal to their bid, in the form of military units. Your force is augmented by any Colonisation bonuses you may have (such as Colossus or Cartography), and by any Defence/Colonisation? cards you choose to discard; but note that you must always sacrifice at least one unit. The colony then grants you a one-time benefit (in the middle), and an ongoing benefit (at the bottom)