Picking the game up is easy. The rules are pretty straight forward so actually just learning how to play the game takes 15 to 30 minutes tops. Now mastering it a bit more obviously takes a bit longer. The rules are quite simple and streamlined. There's just enough complexity to have some depth to the game but it's not bogged down with an over abundance of record keeping. Fluff wise it centres on Humanity's exploration of the stars and the Alien races they encounters. Eventually the farthest human colonies feel oppressed and bogged down being ruled and taxed by the Earth Government and fight a war for revolution eventually earning their autonomy. In the current storyline this new Human nation called the Dindrenzi Federation goaded on by a corrupt Conglomerate of Corporations launches becomes paranoid of the Terran Alliance (who in the first war for their independence nuked the Dindrenzi capital) and launches a pre-emptive strike against them with the goal of retaking the seat of Humanity. In the ensuing war both sides form alliances with various other human groups and alien races in order to defeat the other. One one side is the Alliance of Kurak headed by the Terran Alliance, Aquan Prime and Sorylian Collective, on the other side is the Zenian League headed up by the Dindrenzi Federation, Directorate and the Relthoza Empire.
The Terran Alliance is a vast human empire but their resources are more dwindled than the up start Dindrenzi who hail from new frontier worlds rich in resources. Their over-all technology base is a little behind the curve but due to their close ties to the reclusive Saurians who have mastered shield technology their fleets are well shielded. In game the Terrans have average all around stats in most areas but the best shields in the game. They also have a preference for Torpedo weapons and have some of the highest damage torpedo weapons in the game when at longer range.
The Aquan Prime are not actually one species but a collection of species working in harmony with one another. In their society each race has a kind of role they best play but they are free thinking enough as to not limit each species to that role so a member of one species are known to perform other tasks if they excel at it. Aquans are also one of the oldest space faring races. In game they trade in overall firepower for the ability to put out firepower into every arc so they are best right in the thick of the fight. They are also one of the quicker fleets and easily the most manoeuvrable. They have a preference for laying Mines and have slightly harder to damage hulls as they are mostly aquatic races and so their ships are actually filled with liquid, reinforcing the hull.
The Sorylian Collective are a reptilian race, they are strong proud warriors but are generally slow to react and tend to analyse every possibility before acting. They are also heavily set in their ways and customs which can sometimes be their downfall but they have a powerful fleet indeed and highly advanced technology. Also as allies once they have pledged their allegiance they will not go back on their word. In game they have some of the fastest ships in the game, some of the best boarding parties and the most impressive broadside fire power of any fleet. They lack some range and forward firepower but few ships can go toe to toe with a Sorylian counter-part broadside to broadside.
The Dindrenzi Federation is a highly motivated society and due to their rich supplies of resources and intuition they have advanced technology beyond the Terrans. They have a strong national pride and belief they deserve to rule humanity. Their methods are direct and fierce. In game they have the toughest ship designs going. Also as with their direct nature they have the most powerful weapons in the game but they are all fore mounted so if they line up their, shots correctly there is little that can stand up to them but they have relatively weak broadside firepower so can have a hard time close in if they get outflanked.
The Directorate is a giant conglomerate comprised of three of the biggest corporations in Human space. They once worked within the Terran area of space but saw the fledgling Dindrenzi Federation as a means for them to advance their technology and manipulate the government to their own ends. The Directorate is the main backer of the Dindrenzi. In game they have slightly tougher than average hulls and incredibly heavy close range firepower. They are another kind of all around faction but several of their ships have some major underhanded tricks up their sleeves.
The Relthozan Empire is an arachnid race with a strict ant hive like society. They are ruled by their queens and have a hive like mentality. Every so often their race succumbs to a strong urge to surge forth and expand their empire which has brought them to blows with the Sorylians several times in the past. It just so happens that one of these race wide urges coincided with the outbreak of the war and their Queen has made great use of this convenient coincidence. In game the Relthoza are the masters of stealth having cloaking fields and other advanced stealth technology. They advanced up to the foe cloaked, only to uncloak and unleash broadside firepower on the same level as the Sorylians before re-cloaking and making their escape for another pass.
Honestly the easiest factions to learn with are Terrans and Sorylians but that's not really that big of a deal. Aquans can be a bit tricky to learn as you have to know how best to manoeuvre them to get enemy squadrons into several arcs at once and good mine placement. That said Aquans look fantastic and have some of the best big ships in the game. Most rate their Medusa Dreadnought as the best Dreadnought out there and their Battleships and Battle Carrier are all fantastic. Where they fall a bit short is in their cruisers and frigates who have much lower damage attacks than most ships of equal size in other fleets, the trick is they come is larger squadrons in most cases and have to really have enemies in almost every direction to shoot at to get the best out of them.
Now typical learning how to play most go with 500 points which each starter set is set to by default so picking up the starter fleet for any two factions and two people are good to go for a game. Now I mostly play 1000-1500 points these days with my expanded fleet and I find that's a good total to let you get in a good mix of everything.