I focused early on happy faces and civil actions, picking up Hammurabi early. This limited my Military card choices, but gave me the chance to do a lot of stuff, including getting the Hanging Gardens built early. My Age I leader was Michaelangelo, and I went to town on happy faces, having something like six culture points per turn from his leadership alone. My other wonder was the Transcontinental Railroad later in the game, which allowed me to do some things late.
Alex focused on the military option in the midgame, and was scoring some nice points with Genghis Khan, but when the Event I'd planted that gave us all an extra scoring round of culture points came up right after I'd gotten Michaelangelo in play with around five bonus happy face points, I took a big lead and never looked back.
Alex did make a very nice run right at the end, and he closed a fifteen point gap before scoring the four Age III events, but not quite enough. I ended up beating him by four points. Interestingly, I had to make a decision right at game end whether to spend three action points to end the game before Alex got another turn, meaning that I'd end up taking fewer culture points in the end that I wanted to - I had a ton of resources so could have bumped up a couple of different mines and placed more temples, but since I'd only score those points on one turn I figured I'd just end the damned thing by forcing the end of the game (JD was last in order, so the final Age II card was placed on his turn, and had I left one it would have gone back around for one more round).
JD picked up the game very well, and my strategy of teaching the game in reverse sequence of play order is a good one - explain the currencies, then the actions (noting cards and definitions as needed), then the military cards, then going forward. While he had some questions, I did repeatedly note certain elements (such as what happened to cards when you changed ages, etc) and he did quite well for a first game. Of course, the game is extremely elegant and well-designed for it's complexity level, so it's much easier to learn when that's the case than when things are counter-intuitive. Most impressive was that he always remembered to do his production phase, which often gets overlooked by first-time players (like, for example, me).
A big hit with JD, and I continue to be impressed. I am not finding the downtime with three players to be a problem, at least if beer is involved. I also think that the Advanced Game through Age II is perfectly acceptable when time is short, as we finished in about 2.5 hours (not including 'splaining) and a Full Game would have taken us at least another hour or so.
This game is quickly becoming my favorite heavy euro. Although why they included so many yellow tokens and so few whites is beyond me... Highly recommended.