The Tribal Stage plays out a bit like a simple RTS. Each villager has a name, so you may get quite upset if they tragically die in battle.
At the end of the Creature stage, your race will finalise its appearance and develop the ability to think for itself. After a brief cut scene parodying Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, you'll form a tribe and enter Spore's next chapter, which somewhat resembles Command and Conquer. By gathering food, your primary natural resource, you'll be able to hatch new tribe members and build structures in your village. Buildings allow your people to pick up weapons or musical instruments, which are then used to win over or kill off other tribes. As with the Creature Stage, you'll soon find that it's far easier to take an aggressive, warlike path. This isn't necessarily a problem, since your behaviour has a formative effect on the way your race develops throughout Spore. If you end up taking the bellicose route in your first game, perhaps you'll take a more gentle approach on your second - by which point you'll have the experience (and the inclination) to handle the increased challenge of being non-violent.
After murdering or subduing all the other villagers on your continent, you'll proceed to the Civilisation Stage - no prizes for guessing which game is aped here. By this point your species has become the dominant animal on your planet, so your main opponents are now other nations of your own race. Resource collection is still the primary order of the day, as you and the rest of the world battle to control valuable spice deposits. To expand your empire you must capture other cities, either by targeting them with propaganda or through direct military action. It's at this point that one of Spore's more subtle points come to the foreground. Up until now you may have been killing off other creatures without a care, but now the people you're destroying are the same as you. It feels strangely painful, given the love and care you've put into the evolution of your little chaps; if you specialise in aggressive tactics, you'll eventually gain access to an option that destroys all opposition through a barrage of high-power missiles. You'll complete the stage instantly, but you may also feel pretty guilty about what you've done. It's a real achievement on Maxis' part to provoke this kind of reaction. It makes you think, and it'll encourage you to consider a different option in the future.
Finally, once you've conquered the world, you'll open up Spore's endgame, the Space Stage. From this point you assume control of a single custom-designed spacecraft which you'll use to explore the galaxy, meeting other races and going on all sorts of adventures - from trading rare spices and artefacts to getting involved in intergalactic combat. The first time you leave the atmosphere of your home planet, the place which has contained your entire game thus far, you'll be blown away. By rolling the scroll wheel on your mouse, you'll ascend through the stars until you can see your entire solar system; if you keep going you'll be presented with an entire map of the galaxy. At this point you'll realise the near-infinite array of places to go and explore: you can visit any planet in any star system and you can fly right down to ground level, to check out the plants and creatures as they go about their lives - at a stage of existence you've already experienced. It's a truly breathtaking moment.
We'll return to this final section of the game in a moment, as it's here that some of Spore's biggest pros and cons arise. First we have to pay tribute to something we've not yet mentioned: the sheer, unbridled creativity of the game and its online community. As we've already covered, this is a game in which you build and evolve your own lifeform, but this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of customisation. At the Civilisation Stage you'll also design all your own buildings and vehicles, and even your own national anthem. If you can't be bothered with any of this, you can select a pre-existing model from Maxis' own library or from the masses of user-generated content online - but the chances are that you'll be more interested in putting your own creations up on the net for others to download. Any model in the game can be labelled, tagged and offered out to other Spore players; once acquired, these creations will appear in your own games - flavouring your worlds with the fruits of a million imaginations. Even at this moment, when there are comparatively few copies of the game in circulation, we were able to find all sorts of excellent stuff - from a race of Thomas the Tank Engines, to perfectly recreated Pokemon. Once this game reaches the masses, there'll be no limit to what you might find.
Clearly this is extremely exciting stuff, and in many ways this is the key attraction to the entire game. Once you reach the Space Stage, the idea is that you'll go roaring around the cosmos, meeting and investigating the offspring of the entire Spore userbase. It's a slight shame, then, that the final section of the game is the most problematic, as we'll now explain.
The first hurdle is the camera. Up until this point, the comparative simplicity of each game stage has meant that you didn't need to change the angle too often. You could do, of course - using a combination of mouse buttons and wheel to pan, zoom and rotate - but you didn't inherently need to. Now your mouse is largely tied up with piloting your spaceship across planets - planets whose curved shape naturally limits what you can see at any given time. You can still use the mouse to control the camera, but it's likely you'll inadvertently move your craft at the same time. This isn't a massive problem until you need to follow something at speed, like an enemy ship. At this point, it becomes very irritating - a limitation that will force you to take more damage than needed.