Atari, Inc, 2004, 1 player against the AI or multiple players via a network, no age range specified but I'd guess 12 and up. I originally picked up this game in hopes that it would be a computerized version of the classic board game. When it became obvious that it wasn't, I shelved it. Well, after finally getting burned out on Axis & Allies, I decided to give it another try. This was my first foray into serious modern computer strategy gaming and admittedly it took a while to get going. Fortunately, it looked promising enough from the get-go to stick with it. I don't know how most people go about learning to play epic games like this, but I decided to just plow ahead and play until I got so completely lost and confused (yet still intrigued) that I finally felt compelled to sit down and start reading the gigantic instruction manual. Of course, that got boring after a while, so once I'd basically cleared up a lot of my initial confusion I dove right back in and played a game to completion (getting totally waxed, mind you). Then I sat down with the manual for a second time, read it all the way through (more or less) and finally started playing some games where I had at least a decent idea of what the hell I was doing.
I don't know much about previous versions of the Civilization PC game (they either won't load at all on my XP computer or won't run with a darn), but as far as the board game goes, Civ III shares the basic flavor of the game without having many specifics in common. The basic gist of the game is that you are the leader of a nascent civilization (Greece, Germany, America, Inca, et al - there are dozens to choose from). At the start the sum total of your "empire" consists of one settler and one worker sitting on a space someplace in the world. Your first action is to start a city (which is what settlers do) and start developing it (which is what workers do). From these simple beginnings, your options as a leader mushroom into a dizzying array. Your basic goal is to expand your civilization across the face of the planet. You have to juggle your population (it grows, it produces, it expands, it needs to be fed, it needs to be defended, etc), monitor and develop your resources, and advance your civilization along the "technology tree" (IE, throw resources at your scientists to develop things like writing, metallury, engineering, map making, astronomy, and on and on). Everything needs constant attention and monitoring to make sure you are progressing at an optimum pace, and just when you think you have things under control, you make contact with one or more of the other (AI controlled) civilizations that have their own goals and agendas (which may or may not conflict with your own). Then you get into diplomacy and trade and war and espionage and all that fun stuff.
It's a massively entertaining, engrossing and addictive excercise in plate-spinning, and I've really only just begun to scrape the surface of everything that's here. There are dozens of different scenarios you can play, different empires with different goals to try out, and different ways to ultimately win. Frankly, I'm really starting to hate this game. Not because it's bad, far from it. Trouble is, this thing is so damned addictive and long that whenever I sit down for an evening's play I suddenly find the morning sun peaking over the horizon. My god, I haven't been this obsessed with a computer game in years (not since Doom I at least). So yeah, it's a wonderful game, but proceed at your own risk!