As I mentioned on Wednesday, Starmada Nova just recently came out. I have picked it up, perused it, and started working on a ship construction spreadsheet for it (because hey, those are handy), but I haven't managed to get in a game of it yet. As a result, this review is necessarily incomplete, and will be supplemented by playtest reports in the future.
The game is definitely stripped-down from the Admiralty Edition. There's a significant emphasis on the use of markers on the board, which is somewhat problematic for us, actually, since we can't very well print on cardstock with the campus printers. Guess we'll have to tape more things to pennies.
The new firepower system is mathematically more sound than the old accuracy system, I believe - any given plus or minus one modifier to firing multiplies the effectiveness of the fire by a factor of sqrt(2), whereas previously your percent gain varied depending on where you started. This way is tricky to figure by hand, but easily done by programs beforehand. This also fixes the old Repeating problem. The defenses in shipbuilding also operate on multiples of square roots of 2; this is elegant, and makes pricing easy, but again we run into logarithms in shipbuilding. Of the new defenses, I'm rather enamored with Armor, since it's supremely reliable - you're guaranteed to negate exactly n points of damage if you buy n points of armor. ECM and Shields are less predictable (and can be circumvented by Fire Control and Piercing, respectively), and their effectiveness declines as you take damage.
Fighters got nerfed pretty hard; there are only six fighter traits, and they don't change the values that much. Fighter flights can also only take 2 hits. On the plus side, they're half the SU they were in AE. There are also guidelines for deploying them within a certain distance of their carrier, which is actually pretty nice. Independent fighters are not supported. Fighter movement is still after ship movement, but fighter firing is interleaved, which means you get a chance to fire point defense (or not), and may have to choose.
Strikers are gone. Seekers are still around under the guise of drones, which have been modified similarly to fighters. You can also build custom seeking weapons, but... they didn't operate quite how I expected. You launch them at a target in range, and they're placed on the board. Next turn, they impact. In the interim, they can be fired at - the ship they're aimed fires at them at short range, while other friendly ships use the targeted ship as the location of the weapons for purposes of arc and range. This means that dedicated point-defense ships in the center of a group are actually workable now, which is cool. The only thing that gets me here is the timing weirdness - if you fire a Seeking weapon at a target at close range and a target at long range, they both get hit at the same time (next turn). I suppose this is preferable to the "striker launch of doom that you can't dodge" that happened in AE, though, and functionally models projectiles which accelerate rapidly. Ammo weapons are still around, but they're one-shot rather than n-shot, and can't be combined with slow-firing (awww...). They might actually be balanced this time... remains to be seen.
A number of the new special equipments seem to have been included specifically for the SFU supplements, notably shuttles, probes, and tractor beams. Not a huge fan of any of these... The changes to marines are quite good, though; as I mentioned previously, deadweight defensive marines are a thing of the past. Flares are also a nice tactical addition; they let you create hexes of difficult shooting. They're going to be very handy for closing the range, I think.
Cloaking, unfortunately, has been nerfed really, really hard. It now basically models Traveller's black globe generators, sans flicker. While cloaked, your location is known. You can't shoot, and can't be shot at, but can still take hits from mines and asteroids. This is very disappointing to me... I may have to start homebrewing rules for decoy cloaking in Nova (I know I've seen such a proposal for AE on the boards, but I can't find it for the like of me...), because the current cloaking system generates no hidden information at all :(. Since there's no longer hidden plotted-order information either, this is especially sad, since hidden information adds depth. On the plus side, it's definitely easier to manage, and should still serve beautifully as a range-closer.
And I think we might need it. On the one hand, long range weapons are really expensive. On the other hand, the regulation board size is 24 by 18 hexes, and range 30 weapons are now considered core-valid rather than optional. Remains to be seen, and/or houseruled away. This is particularly concerning with the addition of the Long-Range Sensors equipment, which adds a fourth 'extreme' range band at an additional penalty to hit. Scary stuff.
Escorts may also help close the range, though. Line-of-sight blocking ships are in, and it should be pretty neat. The scout ability works specifically as a counter to escorts; it lets you ignore their LOS blocking under certain circumstances. Irksome, because it means that if the enemy fields no escorts, the points you spent on scouts are wasted (the deadweight marines problem again). Still, some interesting possibilities to explore there.
Minefields are smaller than in AE, and can't be deployed at range. They're going to be tricky to use. Overthrusters got a major upgrade, though - they're now a direct clone of the Grumm pivot ability from Hammer and Claw (that's a torso twist to you BattleTech fans). I expect it to see some use to serious effect.
Most of the optional rules aren't anything new, though the Long Shots rule is pretty neat, equipment can now be damaged in Core, and hexless play looks promising. Emergency Thrust now inflicts a guaranteed one point of engine damage, which will likely displease Matt, but it also generates more thrust on average (x1.4 rather than x1.33 expected under AE). Directed Damage is gone, but that's only sensible for this damage system. Plotted Movement is still around as an option, and there are also a bunch of alternate movement systems. Cinematic / basic, naval, and etheric return from AE, while Eldar-style Solar movement and true vector movement (which looks scary) are also included.
Not much in the way of changes to terrain... Asteroid fields look more dangerous, inflicting an average of 1 hull hit per hex moved through. Nebulae are gone, but Dust Clouds are still around. The six scenarios don't appear to have changes significantly, and I've already talked about ship construction (contains logarithms, but looks about right). Tech level is still a thing, but is set at like "X race builds their ships at TL1, end of story" rather than varying by type of thing. The end of the book contains rules for converting Admiralty designs (which were previewed), and a conversion of the fleets from the Imperial Starmada Sourcebook. I think that's a nice touch - while the ISS fleets are hardly the most balanced, and don't do the best job of showing off the new shinies like flares and long-range sensors, having a reasonable selection of ships included in the Core is definitely a good thing for new players compared to AE, where you'd have to either 1) find the MJ12 forums for the Bourbaki Basin and the spreadsheets, 2) grok the shipbuilding rules, or 3) drop more money for one of the fleet books before you could play a serious game. So, while the converted ISS fleets are a hefty chunk of the pagecount, I think that on the whole their inclusion is for the better.
So, overall, looks like a good game. Defenses are varied and strong enough that things should be interesting, and perhaps a little less of the quick-draw type battles we saw sometimes in Nova. Fighters and drones are weak enough that I'm not sure they'll see a lot of play... Gun fleets are likely to dominate our metagame, at least at the beginning, though the small craft are also significantly less expensive than they were in AE. Maybe we'll actually see escort carriers and missile frigates...
As I mentioned up above, I've started working on a spreadsheet for Nova, but it's not production-ready. It is, however, ready enough that I can probably start doing Battlefleet Gothic conversions. And let me tell you, this system looks like it's built for such conversions. Should be a good time, though there also isn't a Drake Notation equivalent established yet, and I'm not about to deal with statblocks that I can't put in text files, no matter how pretty the images may be. So I'll have to cook something up for that before I can start posting...
Edit: Spreadsheet's up