SFA is characterized by having an absolutely enormous game map, far larger than Nova's, and for design decisions that put major twists on typical Escape Velocity gameplay: there's no fighters, you're mostly restricted to Federation ships, ship modification takes the form of hiring members of your command crew and is less about drastic changes than it is about tweaks, and in keeping with how ships on the shows behave, most ships are inertialess which reduces most combat to Chasing Your Tail.
Starfleet Adventures provides examples of the following tropes:
- Anti-Armor: Federation ships carry both torpedoes and phasers. Torps are better at damaging shields than armor and phasers vice versa, so recommended tactics are to bring down shields with torps then finish with phasers.
- Chasing Your Tail: Making ships inertialess makes the Monty Python Maneuver so beloved in Escape Velocity unusable, and ships can't fire backwards in SFA (though guns swivel on the forward arc). Combat instead takes the form of trying to get behind the target and staying there long enough to frag them.
- Command Roster: The mod uses your hiring of one as justification for ship modification, with different crew having different effects on performance. Enterprise crew members are generally the best (e.g. TWOK-period Scotty lets you warp two systems per jump), but crew members who have expressed an interest in serving under you personally will break you out of jail should you do something illegal and get court-martialled.
- Continuity Porn: Though the mod is set in the TOS/Movie period, its fluff and map draws information from all eras of Trek and the Expanded Universe. You can, for example, open diplomatic relations with the Breen and the Son'a, or visit an independent Bajor decades before the Cardassian Occupation began.
- Derelict Graveyard: Surplus Depot Z15, a system that contains a couple dozen randomly generated derelict ships at any given time.
- Easter Egg/Intercontinuity Crossover: There's an Imperial-class star destroyer in one system. Captained by a Star Trek character who conceivably could have created an ISD based on seeing one on TV: Trelane.
- Galactic Superpower: The Federation controls a patchwork of systems covering about half the map, with the other major Alpha and Beta Quadrant powers interspersed among them.
- Hero of Another Story: Kirk et al. to the Player Character. Your career runs in parallel to TOS and the movies and events in the live-action canon have effects on such things as the map (e.g. post-"Errand of Mercy" several systems surrounding the Klingon Empire are converted to a DMZ, and a Klingon dignitary complains about the Organians forcing the UFP and Klingons to talk instead of fight). You can also hire Enterprise crewmen for your command staff.
- Loads and Loads of Races: It's Star Trek. Just counting the species that control independent territory on the game map, we have the Federation, Romulans, Klingons, Gorn, Cardassians, Bajorans, Metrons, Tzenkethi, Breen, Ferengi* , Tholians, Son'a, Orions, and Nausicaans. Add Federation member species such as humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Betazoids and the number tops thirty easily.
- Money for Nothing: You are paid a salary based on your Starfleet rank for no other reason than because the price of fuel is hardcoded into the Escape Velocity engine. All other outfits are free, as they consist of 1) torpedo restocks and 2) senior crew members, both of which are supplied by Starfleet's logistics chain.
- Orbital Bombardment: Shipboard phasers can be set to "bombard" mode, and though planets are indestructible space stations aren't.
- Portal Network: Warp conduits are the same type of object as the hypergates in the base game. Memorize their locations, as they will shave literally months off your travel time in some cases.
- Tagline: "The human adventure is just beginning...", borrowed from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
- Unwinnable Training Simulation: The Kobayashi Maru, naturally, which in this case takes the form of a dozen D-7 Birds of Prey versus the player in a Constitution-class. Hilariously some players reported beating the Klingons, only to discover that the devs hadn't taken that into consideration. (There was supposed to be implemented a proper reaction if you actually won—the basic idea was that, impressed by you beating the unbeatable scenario, your superiors would have promoted you, allowing you to start out the game proper one rank above the default—but since development apparently stopped and no version was released after alpha 0.5, it never got put in.)
- Video Game Cruelty Punishment: In most Escape Velocity games disabling, boarding, and capturing enemy and civilian ships is a good way to earn extra credits or gain escorts. Do that in SFA and you'll be court-martialed and thrown out of Starfleet, and the only way back in is to complete a dangerous mission deep in Romulan territory.
- Wide Open Sandbox: The map covers both the Alpha and Beta Quadrants and comprises every single planet and system that has ever been mentioned in the Star Trek canon and then some. The size is far larger than the base Nova scenario, which was already several times larger than the original Escape Velocity.