Stellar Trader is essentially a good old space trader with a few bonus features.
Aside from the usual 'buy cheap, sell dear' trading routine and the ship customization, the player now has adjustable stats (chosen at the beginning of the game, there is still no 'leveling up'), is able to recruit and train crew members, and can choose to run errands for various organizations or commit space piracy as means of procuring income.
There are 4 major organizations, each offering unique benefits for higher-ranked members. The Criminal Syndicate, for example, will grant a slightly experienced member the ability to bribe corrupt police officers, whereas the Merchant Consortium will offer its most valued members a special software that allows the player to easily browse through historical prices and find the lowest/highest bidder for different goods. All factions offer missions and pay for their completion.
The planets are under various types of governmental systems, from anarchy to dictatorship, which influences the amount of law enforcement units, the legal nature of certain goods (like arms, narcotics, and slave clones), the degree of corruption found amongst the police officers, and the amount of pirates roaming about. Each planet also has its own tech level, major economic sector, and wealth.
It's all the space-trading (or pirating, or questing) fun you could ask for. Be sure to read the manual first, so that you don't spend an hour wondering why your ship fails to lift off or shoot lasers.
The difficulty of the game is not dynamically adjusted. This means that the units you will encounter at the beginning of the game (when you are piloting a tiny Ferret with two Class I lasers and no crew) are entirely identical to those you will encounter as a big, mean, Class X torpedo launching Wolf.
The learning curve is not particularly steep once you have read the manual.
The problem associated with a non-dynamic difficulty is that 95% of your deaths will be right after a new game has started. Once you survive the initial unforgiving cruelty of the universe and begin upgrading your ship, the game will begin to get easier and easier, eventually becoming so easy that boredom kicks in. The lack of a time limit also ensures that a player can play for as long as (s)he wants, and the high-score will grow ad infinitum, effectively rendering it pointless.
Minimum. The battle is illustrated graphically, with red, white, and blue lasers flying about the screen. Aside from that, most of the game is text-based.
Turn it off! It will get annoying very quickly.
1. Fighting with an alien ship.
2. Shopping for ship components.
3. Character creation.