The scope of Microsoft's Age of Empires runs the gamut from meager tribes to control of vast empires by beginning in the Stone Age, when mankind takes its first steps toward becoming the dominant species on the face of the Earth, until global warming ends the Ice Age, and hunters and gatherers slowly give way to the beginnings of the great civilizations.

There are four major ways to achieve victory in the random map or deathmatch modes of Age of Empires, and all are contingent on being the first player in the game to reach specific milestones. Control of all artifacts or ruins for 2,000 years earns victory, as does building the first Wonder of the World to stand for 2,000 years. Another means to victory lies in conquest of the other players -- total destruction of enemy villagers, military units, war ships, and buildings. A final option allows for setting a time limit, with the team or player with the highest score at game's end declared the winner.

In single-player action, campaigns made up of linked scenarios allow you to select one of 12 civilizations to lead to glory by outscoring all other civilizations (players) in the game. For single and multiplayer participants, more than 40 preset stand-alone scenarios are available, as well as the option to generate random scenarios. Up to eight players can go head-to-head or join cooperative matches via a LAN or the Internet.

This turn-based strategy game, Age of Empires, lets you build your civilization and mold it as you see fit through the use of military might, expansion, diplomacy, economic dominance or technological advance. Civilizations include Assyrian, Babylonian, Ancient Choson, Egyptian, Greek, Hittite, Minoan, Persian, Phoenician, Shang, Sumerian and Yamato, each with unique qualities, attributes, weaponry, and special characteristics.

Age of Empires employs a large variety of game customization options including map size and type, victory conditions, starting age (Stone, Tool, Bronze or Iron), difficulty level, quantity of resources (wood, food, stone, gold), whether to enable cheating or not, fixed starting positions, and terrain visibility. The game supports a point-and-click interface with hotkey commands available in most situations.

Gameplay features empire building from the ground up: gathering resources, creating villagers, military units and boats, constructing buildings and repair facilities, trading, researching technology, advancing through the four specific ages and upgrading units and structures. The mastery of combat and diplomacy, healing, and conversion of enemy units plays a part in the success or failure of your fledgling civilization.

A scenario builder is included in the game to allow for customization of maps, terrain, players, units, diplomacy, global and individual victory conditions, options, messages, and cinematics. The game's manual provides historical perspectives on each of the 12 civilizations and covers information such as location, capital, rise to power, economy, religion, culture, government, architecture, military, decline and fall, and legacy. A glossy foldout contains quick reference to the tech tree, hotkeys, unit and civilization attributes, and the scoring system. ~ Michael L. House, All Game Guide