I've been playing the game a few days now. It does have decent depth.
The combat system has too much variance for my taste. [I like to be able to play "clean". Falling back on saved games is for wimps and using up lives feels like failure]
The weapon damage model is all or nothing. You hit or you miss. You can use various options to improve your hit chance or reduce you opponent's, but there is no certainty.
When shooting with guns [at least until the damage multipliers start kicking in] this is tolerable. There are enough gun shots over the course of a battle that things tend to balance out. With enough modifiers, some pretty nasty shots eventually start leaking in.
The more obvious place the variance shows up is in missile combat. One missile hit can often decide a battle. With default equipment each ECM shot gives you 40% probability of destroying the missile. You have time for two shots a turn over three turns (six shots). With default missile technology, that's about 5% chance of an unavoidable hit per enemy missile launch. If you're fighting a one-level-higher ship an incoming missile hit is pretty much an insta-kill. In the later game, one sees missiles with built in ECCM. The odds are not revealed. But if it reduces the ECM kill chance to 30%, that's a 10% chance of an unavoidable hit.
Boarding party combat is also wildly variable. The interface provides no way to prevent an attacker from over-committing and being left with insufficient crew to man the ship. The "Commando Attack" option which is supposed to prevent this, doesn't.
Turn order gets in the way of missile combat. If you miss on 5 ECM shots in a row, a 50% or a 75% shield boost would take the brunt out of an otherwise fatal missile hit. If it were used by the enemy, such a strategy would work. Missile hits come first after the enemy acts. When used by the player, such a strategy is risky. Missile hits come last after the player acts. Enemy gunfire comes first and can cancel shield boosts.
The EMP (ElectroMagnetic Pulse) combat ability is hideously unbalanced. In the hands of a human player, it provides the ability to spend all your action points this turn for a chance (about 50/50) of costing the opponent all his action points next turn. Talk about useless! [In fairness, it also opens up the possibility for a high-damage follow-up if you also have _that_ combat ability]
One could argue that EMP deployed in conjunction with a friendly missile and the absence of an enemy missile would be very useful. [I haven't tried that]. Anyway, I figure that a friendly missle that survives into turn 3 has already done its job by tying up enemy AP with ECM shots.
In the hands of the enemy, EMP only costs 3 AP and hits annoyingly often.
There is an ability to negate enemy EMP. And an ability to negate the negation. I haven't gotten far enough to judge whether either is worthwhile.
The lack of documentation is quite irksome.
Does Taunt provide protection against EMP by reducing the hit chance? Or just against enemy gunfire?
Does Discipline provide a bonus?
Just how much good do those allied fighters do (maybe I need to extend message delay).
What are the per-turn chances of fleeing (my guess is 16-25%)
Do bonuses and penalties to hit probability stack? Or only the presence/absence of the respective bonuses?
Is the bonus stacking multiplicative or additive?
i.e. if we're both busily evading (evasion causes a penalty to both outbound and inbound fire) and have a taunt up, is that for instance a 20% + 20% + 20% = 60% to-hit penalty resulting in shots that can never hit?
Or is it a 80% * 80% * 80% = 50% hit chance on shots that would otherwise have otherwise hit.
That 20% is just a guess. We aren't told how much Discipline or Taunt does. There's an implication that "Evil Taunt" does more, but it's only in the prose around the skill description.
I think I've figured out the Star Date notation. Year number dot day number. Day numbers double as turn numbers. News reports are dated by their expiration date. Default = 3 years in the future. Most invasions are slated for a 3 year siege, but most fail before then.
The difficulty of the game increases as time passes. Or as player skill increases. Or as the player's ship is improved. I don't know which. If it's time-based, that would be fine. If it's based on a measure of player power, I don't care for that kind of dynamic balancing of gameplay. In my opinion, difficulty should be predicated on what you do, not how powerful you are when you do it.
Maybe I don't understand the trading system adequately. It seems that it doesn't matter much what you do. Short hops with low profit margin or long hauls with high profit margin. Six of one, half-dozen of the other. Perhaps that's the point -- lots of micro-management to squeeze out every last ounce of profit per day. Now, if time actually matters, that might even be useful.
I have realized that the "flee" option is quite effective for a start-up trader. Shield regen plus shield boost can keep up with incoming gunfire, leaving you all the time in the world to flee. Or win.
But as near as I can figure there's no time limit in play unless you allow some other faction to win.