The first phase of the game is country selection. All players take turns selecting their initial countries - depending on the settings, it can be 1 to 99 countries. You have 30 seconds to choose and buy a country, otherwise the turn passes to another player.
To buy a country, click on one that is still available (and affordable) and press the 'acquire' button. The cost (or 'net worth') of a country depends on its income and the number of available troops.
The first country you select becomes your 'home country' - in some victory conditions, it's important to defend yours and try to occupy your opponent's home country to win. Home countries are marked with player color flags in their capitals.
If you're happy with your selection and wish to start the game, click the 'ready' button. If you reached the maximum initial countries, your status will be set to 'ready' automatically. When all players are ready, the game starts.
In the country selection menu you can also change your Strategy (you won't be able to change it during the game). Your selected Strategy will influence the balance of your game - giving you some advantage in a particular area, while taking away something in return. For example, Relentless Attack will boost your Tank units, while weakening your Infantry.