This is one of the best games I have ever played in my life, and at the same time one of the worst. How? Bugs. I am recommending this game now because it has, miraculously, been granted a new patch (which you have to set the game to beta to get through Steam, fyi) which I am hearing good things about.
The old bugs, which may still exist -- I'm not sure yet -- were as follows:
#1 - Multiplayer NEVER worked. Even if you connected through Hamachi (the only way to get multiplayer to even connect) the game would desync after 20 ish minutes and your saves would be corrupted so you couldn't even reload and continue. This game is so amazing for multiplayer and this is just a big kick in the gaming nuts.
#2 - There are a lot of smaller game breaking bugs...too numerous to mention. I can give some examples. One time, nobody ever seemed to progress in the political field. Sometimes your characters get jammed and won't move. Sometimes you save the game and it gets corrupted and you lose everything. Just weird things that should work just...don't...and it's hard to predict and once it happens you can't just 'reload' to get around it. That being said, I have played through games that were 8+ hours long before getting screwed by one of these bugs (provided you are playing in single player).
But this game is fantastic if these bugs are fixed.
For one, this game is a mish mash of a bunch of different games. In this game you control your 'family' starting with one guy. It's very RPGish in the sense that each of your family members can level up and apply points to various skills. You can make them better at combat, better at working, better at politicking, etc.
You can get married, have babies, and then once they grow up you can control them and expand your dynasty. The buildings you own get transfered down the generations so your hard work with your first guy isn't lost when he dies of old age (or disease, or murder, or getting thrown in jail forever).
There are different sized maps but generally a map consits of one to three cities of various size. Each city has their own town hall with their own political arena. You can get elected and then move up towards mayor -- each office you can be elected into has different special powers that can be used to improve your family, or hurt others that are in your way. For example, you can banish someone from a city, or throw them in jail, or cause them to lose one of their buildings, etc.
There is a court house and 'law' as well. If you witness someone comitting a crime you gain the ability to testify in court with evidence against them. If you don't like them, you can charge them with a crime and then try to beat them in court. While you can sway the courts with your political favours, the more evidence against you makes this harder so blatently breaking the law or fighting people in town is going to brand you an outlaw and probably killed by the guards or thrown in jail if you comply.
There are four major classes and as you marry and have kids you can train them into different classes so that EVENTUALLY you can access every type of building in the game -- but basically, your character(s) each get to be trained in one of the four classes. One is a kind of farmer, one is a scholar that can get hospitals and such, one is a blacksmith type character that can make weapons and tools, and one is a thief that can create thieves guilds and other buildings that set up traps to rob people transporting goods.
The game also has a free market and prices rise and fall depending on how much of what is being sold. In fact, if one item is sold a lot in one of the cities and not in the other, you can make money by transporting from one city to the other -- provided you have enough muscle to protect your cargo from any thieves setting up on the roads.
Your houses can train guards which you can use as personal muscle, even to overpower actual city guards, or to plot assasination attempts on powerful members of opposing dynasties.
The controls can be a little confusing -- there's a lot of menus you have to learn to use to be able to quickly identify who is who in the city -- but it can all be done.
When you do build up your financial empire, you typically want to build one of every building and supply your buildings with your own productions. You'll get a mine, and refine the ore for your blacksmith who will make the weapons to sell or use, etc.
Some routes are a lot easier to start with than others. I recall that being a farmer won't make you rich, but it's pretty easy to make money with cows. Blacksmiths are very useful but they're hard to make enough money from early on.
And I was never good with thieves, but they can be very powerful later on by preventing other players from trading and leaving all the profit to your dynasty only.
The game is very deep and for that reason you can get lost playing this game for days. In all honesty, if this game had fixed all of its bugs I would have ranked it one of the best games I've ever played.
I am hopeful that this patch has fixed a lot of the bugs and if that's so, I'll probably leave this recommendation as positive. Otherwise, I'll probably remove it or make it negative. Stay tuned!
This is a fantastic sandbox game and really unique.