I would have to disagree with you there. It does a pis-poor job of telling someone HOW to play the game. It's a lot of fluff and not a lot of meat and potatoes.
I'm not sure what "meat and potatoes" you're looking for, but I got a lot out of reading the manual.
I sense an awful lot of elitism/fanboy-ism here... look, not everyone has played TBS. I have, and as several others have stated, they have as well - the point is to offer constructive criticism from the point-of-view of someone experiencing the game for the first time. Unfortunately I initiated the download when I woke up this morning and forwarded the manual to myself (argh... work interferes with gaming). I've read through the entire manual. Guess what? It appears to be mostly useless.
For example, as one person noted, it took them 40-50 turns to figure out how to build a farm. Looking in the manual, flip to page 22 - "Improvements for Settlements." In about 6 sentences, it tells me what improvements do, some basics about terrain, and that they will be displayed or not displayed, depending on which requirements have been met. Does this at any point explain HOW to go about constructing an improvement? Nope - no info. Does it even give me ideas of what improvements are available? No. Yet if I go through pages 25-28, I get an absolutely inanely detailed listing of every option configurable in the game. I'm sure glad a description of the "Use Fullscreen" option was included! Now I know how to maximize the game, but still no freakin' clue about a farm...
Similarly, I've heard a lot about the in-game encyclopedia (no idea, it begins with an H, and I'll embarass myself trying to spell it). Guess what's missing from the manual? A reference to this in-game encyclopedia. From watching various videos previously, my guess is I can access it from a button in the top right of the UI. Is this shown in the manual? As I said, no. At least not where I expect it to be (as I've gone through relevant sections again to verify, such as pages 13-15 and even checking the hotkey list at the end).
This is one EXAMPLE of what people are talking about. It's absolutely critical this information be brought up here, on the boards. Why? First, it gives others having the same problems a chance to find the answers to these apparently common issues. Second, it brings it to the attention of Frogboy and the devs - they can see the most common complaints and work to fix them first, whether it be better documentation, tutorials, improved videos, etc. Third, the improvements / answers builds a stronger community, which is usually important to a game - at least one that is going to be fairly dependent on mods to have additional longevity.
Instead of blindly supporting the game and ignoring it's flaws / issues, offer constructive criticism and help to those who need it. Not everyone had the opportunity to participate in the beta, and it appears they would have been better off adding some 'fresh blood' in the beta stages to improve the polish and user-friendliness of the game for launch.
Now, with that said, I still eagerly look forward to getting home so I can play this tonight. I'm sure I'll struggle with some things, but think the concepts in the game are great (and I'm an avid supporter of Stardock / Impulse in general). But to HELP with the game, I intend to document problems, submit information to the devs / forums, and try to compile some good information or a quick start guide for new players. Why? I want to see this game succeed, and it wont happen if the problems are ignored by the blinded faithful.