Phorex creates and populates a map of hundreds, if not thousands, of tiles. Each tile represents a place, and each tile is the home of one or more peoples. These peoples follow various values, possess various levels of prestige among their neighbors, and have access to different natural resources.
The game can actually play itself just fine, animating all these different populations of people to work, squabble, build, and share among each other. Through sheer chance, some regions will find a peaceful and prosperous sort of equilibrium. Other regions will descend into nightmarish scenarios of privation and cycles of revenge. And since people tend to move around, those regions will end up interacting and affecting each other. You can see this happen by simply hitting the "Next Season" button over and over.
If you wish to interfere, however, you can offer your guidance to a group of people, trying to keep them safe, perhaps even prosperous. At your best, you might build a stable sanctuary from the chaos of the wider world.
Each season, you may give Guidance to each population which is loyal to your vision of the future. You can split these populations into more manageable groups or merge them back together into industrial or military juggernauts. You can give them jobs, direct their worship, have them conduct experiments, and move them around the map.
If you don't tell a population what to do this season, they'll do something on their own initiative, according to their own values, just like every other population on the map.
(Dev Note: the following is yet to be implemented.)
Once you meet your neighbors, you can create trade links with them, cultivating these connections into a robust economic network. You might also create a body of religious practices that promulgate your values across the land. Eventually, you may be able to recruit like-minded populations to your vision. If you are incredibly savvy (and relatively lucky), you may even found a movement, and ethos, a way of living that will someday be called civilization.