This is a good game for beginners, as it starts with only a few rules, but gradually more rules come into play as the game advances.
You start out with one person on a geographical-board (it's based in Asia/Europe), who breeds (I've always wondered how he does that, but never mind) and becomes two people. People can move once per turn. When you get six people together, they can build a city (provided that square on the board allows cities). When you get cities, you get trading cards. The idea is to collect sets of trading cards by trading cards with other players. With your sets of cards you can buy civilisation advances. These allow your civilisation to do wonderful things, such as beat up on your neighbors, sail halfway around the board, etc.
The winner is the person who gets to the end with the most points. Each civilisation advance is worth a certain number of points, so generally the most civilised nation wins.
Along the way, you get wonderful things called 'calamities' thrown in to make the game interesting. These do things like kill half your population, destroy half your cities, or even hand half of your nation to another player! So all is not plain sailing.
The game tends to have a limited amount of combat -- mostly it's a win-win game, since the way to win is to trade your way to success, and to do this, you need trading partners. One of the reasons why I'm so fond of this game is that it breaks the mould of having to destroy the other players to win (Risk, Diplomacy, Monopoly).
Note that the board game bears only a passing resemblance to the computer game, although their is actually a computerised version of the board game. The computer game of Civilisation (which I also recommend) is from an entirely different heritage: Avalon Hill make the board game, and Sid Meir makes the computer game.
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