I don't play many strategy games nowadays, real-time, turn-based, or otherwise. After long days at the office I'm typically unwilling to commit myself to any activity that demands more than near-comatose, reflexive twitching. I consider it one of my greatest failings as a gamer.
I'm currently playing Ikariam, a browser-based empire building game that looks and plays a bit like Civilization lite, to assuage my guilt. Ikariam puts you in control of a single town on a tiny island and tasks you with familiar resource gathering, construction, and research activities that eventually enable you to trade, pillage, colonize, and the like with other island-dwellers that inhabit the same world. Ikariam runs round-the-clock in real-time, slowly drip-feeding you resources and new options. Managing your miniature empire doesn't take more than 5 or 10 minutes every few hours, so it's an ideal short-term, web-based cure for office ennui.
Unsurprisingly, the free-to-play Ikariam offers "plus" options that give paying players clear advantages in terms of trading and resource gathering. I haven't felt the need to plunk down cash money to accelerate the pace of my own civilization, and whether I'll start complaining about the player imbalances such systems create remains to be seen. I'm very early in the game, so I've yet to engage in serious trading or send bands of henchmen to pillage my neighbors' settlements. Regardless, I'm still hooked by Ikariam's charming presentation and simple, stripped-down mechanics. My only complaint so far is that I can't automate all of my workers' activities from a single screen. Given the game's simplicity, though, it's a minor gripe.
Click "Read More" to check out some screenshots. If you feel like jumping in, keep in mind that there are two English versions: one via the UK at ikariam.org, and the US version, at ikariam.com. They're both running the exact same build, although the UK version has more open servers.
My town, Moscalia, is on the Iota World server at ikarium.org, on the isle of Chehios (coordinates 88:57).