Anno: Build an Empire is an isometric real-time strategy game based on the Anno PC series. Even though it is a free-to-play title with in-app purchases and a basic and premium currency, the general design and gameplay is fairly similar to the main games. The player starts by colonizing a new island in an undetermined setting with technology from around the 15th and 16th century. The focus is on building and expanding a city, by constructing buildings, taking care of the inhabitants and gathering resources. Later on it is also possible to colonize different islands, build ships and set up trade routers, wield diplomacy and trade goods with other players.
The players has to manage finances by balancing income generated by inhabitants consuming goods contrasted with the upkeep of many buildings. Resources are gathered through woodcutters, fishermen and so on. The player can design a custom city with free placement of buildings and it is also possible to design the road system. Many buildings can be upgraded multiple times and this is especially needed to gain ascension rights, used to access new civilization levels. There is a focus on ships with different types for discovery, trade and transportation. Islands can also be constructed, but require a vassal. Next to the basic currency of coins earned in-game, many game elements are accessible directly through rubies, the premium currency.