I've been meaning to review this for so long. We bought it a few years ago, and it's possibly my favourite board game. It's part of what is known as the Holy Trinity of 'gateway' games in the board gaming world - gateway games are thought of as ones that convert people to these modern types of board game. The other games are Ticket to Ride (also awesome, will review) and The Settlers of Catan (also awesome, again, will review).
Inside the box are 5 sets of meeples (green, yellow, red, blue and black), a scoring board and a load of tiles. The version we have comes with 'The Rivers' expansion, which we pretty much always play - it's just an extra set of tiles which make up a river, you start with these and build the game out from there (you'll see in the pics below).
Here's an example of what the tiles look like. The ones that have a shield in the top left coner are worth double points. You can see they all match up too - all the roads end or start in the middle of a side. You must make sure that when you lay tiles down, roads/paths match up, as do towns etc.
This is how a game might start - as you lay a tile (you take turns to lay 1 tile) you'll have the choice of laying down a meeple - you can only lay a meeple on the tile you have just placed. You could place them on the grass (laying down) to be a farmer, or on a road to be a robber, or in a city/town to own that. But beware, these can be hijacked by other players!
To score, each length of continuous road your meeple is on is worth 1 point, a complete city is worth 2 points for every tile unless there is a shield on it, in that case that tile is worth 4, a monastary (that's what the green meeple is on) is worth up to 9 points (one point for every tile touching it in a square) and lastly, farmers - this is where it gets complicated. If you're the only farmer in that field, you get 3 points for every completed city/town in your field. If you have one meeple in a field and someone else has 2 in the same one, you get nothing, they get the points. And if you both have the same amount of meeples in a field, you both get the same points.
It's a pretty strategic game, but it's still down to the luck of the tiles you draw.
Here's a game of ours in progress. You can see the river tiles running down through the middle of the game and our meeples places stratecially on the board. You'll see there's also a complete city/town without a meeple, that's because once a town/city is complete, you score it up and get your meeple back.
This really is a great game, we must have played it over 100 times since we've had it, which is saying a lot as we must have well over 20/30 board games.