The nine various ship systems all determine your combat readiness, and must be upgraded independently of each other, which is another great opportunity for min/maxing for those of us who thrive on the practice. If you've got three levels of Laser technology, you'll probably want to have your ships outfitted with higher-level Lasers. Engines keep you agile, and will need to be upgraded frequently as you outfit your ship, since the weight of the other upgrades will slow you down. Shields and Armor determine how survivable you are when taking fire, while Lasers and Plasma Cannons offer long and short range firepower respectively. Stealth and Sensors work with the cloaking systems to either hide yourself from the enemy, or detect hidden foes who have activated their own stealth. Torpedoes are unique in that you'll fire it on your turn, but it won't detonate until at least the start of the next turn, when you'll have the option to detonate immediately, or move it forward a few hexes, after which you can detonate or hold until your next turn and repeat. Torpedoes offer serious damage at long ranges, but they're incredibly easy to avoid as long as you're paying attention.
Finally, there are fighters. You can outfit each of your ships with up to several fighter squads, which take an action to launch, but then actually become independent units on the tactical map. They've got minimal firepower and start with very low HP, but swarming the enemy with them will frequently save your more important vessels a lot of damage, as the enemy will have to waste a 50-damage plasma burst to take out the 15-HP fighter. It's even possible to focus squarely on upgrading your fighters through tech and ship upgrades, allowing you to keep your primary ships off the front lines entirely. Just hide behind a planet and send forth a stream of fighter squads to face off against the enemy.
The wonders you build on the strategy layer can play a crucial role on combat, and the power of the various wonders can't be overstated. Wonders are tied to planets, so each planet that joins your civ will have one wonder available to build on it, preventing stacking of wonders on a well-defended planet. They're incredibly expensive compared to regular buildings, but some of the perks - like allowing you to always take the first combat turn - are much more valuable than any resource building could be. Another wonder actually removes the range penalty from your laser damage, allowing you to snipe effectively from very large distances, and changes the entire dynamic of combat, assuming you're outfitted with mid-to-high-level lasers.
As an XCOM-style, multi-layered, tactical-strategy game, Sid Meier's Starships has a huge pair of shoes to fill. It manages to keep just enough depth of gameplay to stay true to its strategy origins, while keeping much of the minutiae to a minimum, allowing greater accessibility for those who might not be hardcore strategy aficionados.
Bottom Line: Sid Meier's Starships lacks the strategic depth of Civilization, but the added tactical layer, and shorter game times make it a fair substitute, especially if you're looking for bite-sized strategy.
Recommendation: The most hardcore Civ players will find it a little lacking, but for everybody else - including those who've never played a Civ game before - it's got enough meat to keep your appetite for strategy sated.
The Escapist's Editor in Chief, Joshua Vanderwall has been playing strategy games of all stripes religiously for more than two decades, and has a particular soft spot for XCOM and its ilk. Notoriously bad at (though still a huge fan of) more action-focused games, making anything turn based gives Joshua an instant morale boost.