I've now played three games of this new release from Gale Force 9, the first at GenCon, and the rest at my local store with friends.
Firstly, what is this game? It's a 3 player(currently) 4x game. The four exes are Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate. Most of them are big games accommodating more players. This one will eventually expand with new factions, allowing for larger galaxies. In fact, your table size will limit how much this game can sprawl out. Smaller space will make for a faster game, and my recommendation is a lower limit of 3x3(ft.).
One of the things I'm liking very well about this is the rules simplicity. Overall, the rules set things up simply. Turns are fully done in player order, determined at the start of the round. Build phase consists of building ships and control/production features, and progressing research on projects. During the command phase, one has a limited(but improvable) number of actions. Going in and out of warp(sections) with either fleets or ships, building a starbase, starting new research projects, starting a space battle, and the political and conquering methods of taking over worlds take place here.
So what works differently? Well, planets other than homeworlds can swing freely until they have two connections. Hence the ability to vary the space it takes up. Also, each faction has its own weakness, advantage, and its own technology deck. All of these are constructed to increase the flavor of the Star Trek Universe within the game. Player board are also unique, and are designed after consoles of those races.
As far as game length, right now we're still sitting around 4 hours, but there's always been a completely new player, the learning curve for two of us is disappearing, so hopefully the next one gets faster. Downtime feels pretty minimal, and perhaps we need to speed up reset between rounds, or try one of the variants to speed it up a little. Otherwise, right now this is fighting Scythe for top game of 2016 in my mind.
When you play Social Justice, the world loses.