There are two ways to join a game, either in a new game starting up or by taking over an existing kingdom in a game that's already running. If you're new to the game then a good idea is to take the second option first and get a feel for the game before trying a new startup. The first few turns and your first diplomatic encounters are really important and you want to try those out when it doesn't matter so much.
To start a new game from scratch we need to collect a full set of sixteen players, what happens first of all is that you go onto a waiting list. When we've got enough players, then we start the game. You go straight into action - there are no easy startup turns in Dark Age. Kingdoms can and do launch attacks against their nearest neighbours in the first turn.
When you join by taking over a kingdom in a game that's already running we call this a "standby position". You can always do this immediately, provided there's a position available. Otherwise you can wait until someone drops out (that's why it's called a standby position).
In Dark Age it's relatively difficult to find a good standby position, because players who are dropping out usually stop talking to their neighbours and often miss turns before they finally disappear. In Dark Age that's a good way to get yourself attacked. "Live" players don't like having "dropout" players for neighbours (you can't trust them, they don't make deals and they don't keep deals you made previously). If a chance for a good standby position comes up, grab it.
There's an option for online players to play for free. People playing online for free are called freemailers ("free emailers") even though you don't actually email your orders: you input them into our database using a form on the website provided. Follow the link to How to Play for Free for details if you're interested.
Otherwise, to join the game you'll need to pay for a startup. There's a version of the Startup Form on our Online Form and sign up by credit card.