I've been putting off posting because I really have nothing new to report. I'm still playing on Easy difficulty, and while I can get to the eighth level more often than not, I've yet to beat the Rebel Flagship. Regardless of how powerful I think my ship may be, taking on a massive foe three times in a row is beyond my power.
Mostly, I think it comes down to luck. In level 8, there are a couple of places you can go to repair your ship between battles, but it's entirely up to chance whether the layout of the jump points will let you retreat without encountering powerful enemies. That's what happened to me. I had a strong ship that did some damage - even to the point of beating the flagship twice in a row - but after the second battle, the only route to the repair station just so happened to run right into the third stage of the flagship. Another time, I got caught between a rock and a hard place, where my heavily damaged ship could only retreat to a rebel-occupied sector.
I feel like I'm getting better, but I also feel like skill is not enough. As I learn more about the game, I've come to realize that parts of it are heavily deterministic, and without a stroke of luck, your optimal path through the encounters will still lead you to ruin.
I think I can say with confidence that I don't like this style of game. As much as I tell myself "yes, but it's fair," it turns out that I don't value fairness nearly as much as I think I should. I don't necessarily want a game that just hands me victory, but the continual sense of growth and progress is very important to me (yet, strangely, I love Tetris, which just goes to show that a gamer's heart is an ocean of secrets).