Each player is a tribe, and can only build on a particular sort of land - desert, swamp, mountain etc. Rather than being even vaguely geographically plausible, the board scatters the types of land across a fairly small set of hexes, and separates it into about four larger areas by rivers. So one of the basic operations is to terraform a hex of one sort of land into the sort you want. For most tribes, it's easier to change rough into desert than, for example, desert into swamp.
You can build on land that's adjacent to land you've already built on (each tribe starts with one to three settlements), and ideally you'd like to have groups of four+ hexes, because - with valuable enough buildings - these can become towns, and there are bonuses for towns. Obviously, you'd also like to stop other players getting that and, as a bonus, whenever someone builds next to you, you get more power... at the cost of one less victory point than the number of power points.
You start with settlements, and can upgrade those into trading posts (these are cheaper if you're next to someone) and those generate money and power. They can also be upgraded into a stronghold (gets you a tribe-specific bonus, and some of these are very useful) or into temples and one of those can then become a sanctuary (both of those get you priests and favours from the gods).
It's gods plural, because there are four cults vying for attention. You can increase your standing by using priests (the sooner you do this, the better) and doing well here gets you power and possibly other bonuses, including victory points at the end of the game.
I've mentioned power: each player has three 'bowls' on their board. A power point moves one of twelve tokens from one bowl to another. You have to move them out of the lowest bowl before you can move any into the highest bowl, and you can only spend tokens that are in the highest bowl - these move into the lowest bowl. But there is lots to spend them on, including the ability to lose some tokens permanently in exchange for moving some from bowl two to bowl three. You'll be able to spend them sooner, but you'll always have fewer...
.. and the game is full of this sort of trade-off. There are people (you get those via having settlements, for example) and they're needed for terraforming, building stuff, being able to cross rivers, increasing your ability to terraform etc etc. Or you can spend money doing that, but then you won't be able to do use the money for other things etc etc.
In each of the six turns, you go round doing any of eight actions until everyone has done the 'pass' action (the first to do this gets to go first next turn). There are no dice, and the only chance elements are in how the game is set up. With a choice of twelve tribes and each having different advantages and disadvantages, with each game having different bonuses each turn for things like doing well with a specific cult or for building specific buildings, there's also loads of replay value.
Having now played it, I think the game is simpler than the massive rulebook suggests, but everything about it is nicely balanced and there are lots of decisions to make. When my main complaint about a game is that the pieces for the trading posts look too much like churches compared to the actual pieces for the temples, there's not much wrong with it and the learning curve is a lot less steep than last time's Suburbia.
I came last, having given away too many victory points in exchange for having more power points. I was told this was bad idea, but...
I am highly unlikely to buy this - the length and the rule book would put too many people off - but I would play it again in a shot.
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