I have long loved the idea of big games in small boxes. I think the first game of this sort that I ever played is #Innovation. I love #Innovation but it is a older game, it is sorta ugly, and it isn't talked about much. However, I find it a lot of fun, and, considering it is usually available for less than $15 I think everybody should have it in their collection.
I am not intending to teach you the game. @nightsaroundatable recently did a how to play video and I recomend you watch that if you want to learn to play the game. That can be found at https://www.boardgameatlas.com/forum/g79d0hVvQm/nights-around-a-table--how-to-play-innovation. I will just note that he is playing with the deluxe version of the game. I have the plain jane version. I don't know which is uglier. I don't like the art on the deluxe version, but The lack of art on the regular version is equally mortifying. I do think the iconagraphy is clearer on the base game, and the box size is considerably better suited for the game.
Theme +- There is a theme. you are guiding a civilisation from prehistory to the information age. But, You rarely feel like you are a benign, or malevolant being actually guiding a civilisation. So, in that sense, the themeing is nonexistant at best. But, on the other hand, the cards do beautifully illustrate what happens when an internet savy society goes up against a society that is proudly sporting archery as the pinacle of modern achievement. So so often the more modern society wins, but sometimes, they also show weakneses that can be exploited by more primative societies. If you allow the game to speak to you you will find stories, so, in that sense I think the themeing is good.
Rules presentation - The included rules book is abysmal. I suppose that for some it would be functional. But, I find it mostly garbage. Find good youtube teaching videos and watch them.
Component quality + You have a bunch of cards, that is it. The cards are decent quality, I won't call them great quality, but they are better than serviceable. They will not be shuffled and handled much like they would be in #Race for the Galaxy or #Dominion: Second Edition so you don't need top of the line cards. I think that them choosing not to go, unnecessarily, to the top of the line linen finished card stock has helped keep the price of the game low. So, I think they chose the perfect quality for the amount of use the cards get, while keeping the price low.
Player interaction +- There is a lot of player interaction, even a lot of negative player interaction. I really love it, but some people will hate it. This game will feel unfair at times, and the experienced player will stomp all over the inexperienced player. If you really hate negative player interaction this might be a good one to stay away from.
Game Balance + Every card in the game feels broken. But, every card in the game can be exploited as well. People, after one or two plays, complain that the game is swingy and chaotic. But, when played with the right player count, that is two, it is a delight. But, you have to get to know the game. You have to figure out how to run your tabluea and ruin that of you neighbors. You have to get into the mental state that doesn't hold your cards or your tabluea to dearly, because they will be snatched from you. You have to figure out how to build a engine while your components are being stolen. You have to be able to see and steal the parts you want for your engine from your neighbor. All that being said, there are a few game ending cards, but 9 times out of 10 those cards will come to the one who has built the best engine.
Player scaling - The box says 2-4, but in reality it is only a two player game. I do find that that it is too swingy, too chaotic, too random, and, most of all, much too long at 3 and 4. Just don't even try it at those player counts. I do think that those that complain about the balance of this game are right at the higher player counts. At two players it comes in at that 45-60 minute slot, and that is where it wants to be.
Replayibility + This is a game full of amazing combos and strategy, you never know what combos you will be able to make, maybe you can win with a strong combo of AI and archery this game and the next game you might win with a devestating nuclear bomb. Every game you will play differently, You can never sit down with a strategy that will last you through to the end.
Art - There hasn't been a beautiful version of this game that I have seen. I think that the deluxe version is ugly. And the plain Jane version is also ugly. I do give a slight nod to the plain version because I think the iconagraphy is clearer but, I think that both versions are a embarrasment to the publisher.
Some other notes.
Tactics vs. Strategy. This game is almost exclusively tactictal in nature. I love it, but some people won't.
Rules complexity. The rules complexity is really pretty low. The rulebook is unnecessarily confusing, but if you watch a good video or something like that, you will see that the rules complexity is actually pretty low. I would rate it a 1.5 or a 2 on the bgg complexity rating if I were rating soley based on rules complexity.
Emergent complexity. There is a nice amount of emergent complexity. I would maybe rate the emergent complexity as a 3 on the bgg scale. I find it about perfect for the gameplay length and for the head to head nature of the game. It does give a nice amount of meat for a pretty short package.
All told, I love this game. It is one of my top ten of all time. I find it amazing that you can find a game that feels like this in package that is this small, and under $15. I think that everybody should at least consider having it in their collection. And, I think it amply rewards the amount of time needed to learn the game well.