The other FAQ page deals more with game mechanics. This page deals with playing and winning. I hope you find it helpful. Needless to say, everybody has their own ideas on what's important and what's not. How to win and how to lose fast.
I've been playing wargames for about 29 years when I got my first copies of games like Battleship, Stratego, and Risk. A few years later, I started buying games from Avalon Hill, S.P.I., G.D.W., and other 'adult' game companies. History is a passion for me. Despite the changes in modern weaponry, several principles still apply today. I shall describe them to you as part of my FAQ answers.
What are the best Racial Advantages? This is a tough question. There are several that I believe have the most significant long term effects. These are: Natural Merchants, Propulsion Experts, and Ship Craftsmen. We can add a couple others easily, but I'll focus on these three.
It has been said that all human (and probably non-human) activity is economics. Military power is derived from Political power, which is itself derived from Economic power. Natural Merchants allows you to obtain the production output from planets without building Spaceport facilities. As Bogart's character, Fred C. Dobbs, said in "Treasure of Seirra Madre", "I need dough and plenty of it!". Not only do we need a lot, but we need it fast. Choosing this advantage trims a lot of time in getting 'dough' to do things. It also frees up one facility for your starting planets, so you begin the game with a bit of an edge.
Propulsion Experts get a movement bonus for their ships. This really helps in two ways. All ship classes are limited in the number of engines they can have. The bonus helps you move a bit faster. Considering a typical ship has at least 15 game turns before needing resupply, the bonus really adds up fast. It's like being able to move one more star system. The other advantage is you can reduce the number of engines needed and us that space for other components.
The Ship Craftsmen advantage is another great long-term benefit. Your planets can normally build or repair 4 components per turn. With this advantage, this rate is doubled. This really comes in handy early on in the initial turns. You can reduce the time in building ships in half. If you happen to start next to another race, or even have one in the same systems, you can strike first. Better to catch the other guy unprepared than the other way around.
What are the best ships to build in the beginning? Depending on the initial set-up, think small to mid-range ships. I like destroyer and light cruiser ship sizes. Destroyers are just right for making single purpose ships. Limit them to one main weapon ( beam weapon, mine sweeper, or mine storage bin) and a Point Defense Cannon (PDC). Light cruisers can have a seeker or torpedo weapon, plus a beam weapon and a PDC. Escort and frigate sizes are good for scout ships. You need these checking out the neighborhood. All of these ships can be built quickly.
A crucial principle of naval warfare is to find your enemy first, and then attack quickly with as much force as possible. Waiting for the completion of large ships like cruisers or bigger, can cost dearly. I've seen in some registered games, players starting off building battleships. This is unwise. A light cruiser or two, properly armed, and make easy work of them while the battlewagons are their shipyards. You need to get out and probeyour surrounding systems as quickly as possible
What's the best weapons to develop? Initially, you should get these three types developed: Seekers, Beam, and PDCs. Seekers are terrific weapons. Missile versions are nice as they maintain their damage factor regardless of range. Plasma seekers do not, but they are faster. I like to arm larger ships, cruisers+, with one of each. Depending on how many initial Tech Levels you start with, I'd go for at least a level three for each. Likewise for beam and PDCs.
Arming ships is at best a compromise. This might be a good place to consider fleet philosophy. To defeat an opponent, you must do two things simultaneously. Destroy the opponent's ships, and destroy their war-fighting ability (economic base). I like to build taskforces which are comprised of a few ships equipped for mine sweeping, a few with just beam weapons, and as many as possible with seekers. A mobile yardship or two is nice also. They come in handy for repairing battle damage or building colony ships in far-off places.
Once you fight your way into a system, go after the largest planets first. I often skirt fighting warships to blast away planets. The Computer players often send out their ships individually. You can go back and mop them up later. If you find a planet with a yard base and plenty of ships being built, go get them immediately. Better to fight half-built ships and whole built ones. After scoring some big hits, you could split your group up and attack remaining planets or hunt down the surviving ships.
Finally, there are many advantages to have a group of many small ships as opposed to having just a few large ships. Especially if each is equipped with a PDC. This helps reduce the effect of an opponent's seekers and fighters. If your opponent has weapons like Engine Seekers, you'll lose awful fast with only a few ships. Better to spread out your damage, giving the badguys more targets to worry about.