So, upon receiving the brand new Flagship decks, my friends Brian and Eric and I decided we'd immediately try out the production-quality cards. They're a bit lighter than Magic cards, but not by much, so they'll hold quite a while even without protectors.
We played a standard 20-point fleet game, in a 3-person free for all. I took Freeman's Followers, Brian played as the Standing Nations, and Eric as the mighty Dynasty.
The first thing we noticed is that the different decks have different traits.
The Dynasty's ships are large and have powerful attacks, but little in the means of defense (none of them had a defense of more than 2). Even the faster escorts packed a sizable punch. Eric chose to field multiple smaller ships rather than fewer big ships, which is useful if you're into making every shot count. The Dynasty also has the power of Nova Missiles on every capital ship, which greatly boosts their damage if one has the Command Points to spend.
Brian's Standing Nations are quite unique in that the smaller ship cards are actually a representation of an entire squadron. This means their defensive values are quite high yet have hull and damage ratings comparable to other ships. The "fighter-esque" nature of the Nations also grants them the ability to conduct Direct strikes at greater range by spending Command Points - very lethal indeed. Their Achilles heel lies in that any attempt to Board one of their craft automatically results in destruction of the card unless the defender player agrees to attach the boarding party to his flagship. Even without having seen the new Kirikin cards, I sense that this weakness makes them pretty vulnerable against the "bugs".
My Followers have an interesting back story - they represent a growing insurgency movement lead by Matthew Freeman, whose wife Samantha was killed by the Dynasty in some unjustified manner. So he seeks to avenge her using a mysterious alien technology that allows its craft to be controlled using an ultra-fast AI linkage with the pilot. The ships themselves seem to be well rounded, not showing any superiority in any category, but at the same time expressing very few special abilities. These abilities, it turns out, are available as action cards that have various Command costs - the equivalent of "hey, what's this button do?" The Followers' strengths lie in the ability to have a higher hand size, the elimination of Focus costs, and the crew members resourcefulness - instead of granting bonuses outright, they increase the bonus of certain card types when they are played. For example, Douglas seems to have a knack for learning how to shoot alien weapons - he doesn't grant benefits except when the alien weapon Maneuvers are performed.
In any case, the game started with people putting crew on ships when possible and trading a shot here and there. Once it got going it was obvious Eric's sturdy ships were going to be tough to beat. Despite the lack of defense ratings, his Counter-Measure cards performed various combat evasion tactics (for a Command Cost which was discounted due to his choice of Commander) that kept his ships out of harm's way.
Then on his turn he'd use the Command Points he saved to have all his ships in the back row fire Nova Missiles at Brian and my front row ships (typically fast scouts and escorts) and literally fried them to pieces. Brian was able to dodge more effectively than I could (they're squadrons), but eventually Brian's attacks angered Eric to where he spent most of his time wearing Brian out.
My experience was that of holding very important cards that would only prove useful once Eric's capital ships were forced into the front row (they favored fast ships strafing slower ones). I did manage to find a crewmember capable of repairing my frontline (1 point per turn however), and a special function that would grant a one-time repair equal to my ship defenses (around 6 or 7 points).
It didn't happen as Eric managed to have multiple ships concentrate their fire (augmented once again with Nova Missiles) on that ship, blowing it into debris. Once my Flagship was forced into the front, Eric was able to plink it to pieces while I was still working on taking out his front escorts to try and win by total tonnage (points of ships destroyed). Even if you're the one to destroy a flagship (the game ending condition), if others have blown up more than you have, you still lose.
A really fun experience now that the cards are of good quality and the game balance is set. Each deck has obvious strengths and weaknesses that must be exploited, but only if the cards come up right - the exact amount of luck that is needed for a game like this. In the next game I'll be sure to play the Kirikin and swarm/board the heck out of everyone - especially the Dynasty. Chomp chomp chomp.