My final word on FTL
Well, now that I have 48 games under my belt (with six victories!), I think I'm able to make a more informed comment on the difficulty level of FTL and the game in general. My personal verdict is, contrary to my initial analysis: Everything is as it should be.
While it's certainly true that there is a huge random element in every game to contend with, there is no denying that I have gotten much, much better at the game than when I first started. Being "good" at FTL is less about solid strategy (although this does play a role) and more about overcoming adversity and taking advantage of opportunity.
FTL is a game of decisions. Assuming one has a solid grasp on the mechanics of the game, which are quite simple and easily mastered, the most effective activity one can employ involves calculating risks versus rewards and responding accordingly. In order to do this well, one must play through the game many times, exploring the myriad possibilities and outcomes that the various events in the game present.
So yes, you have to know how to time your burst lasers in order to inflict maximum damage and when or where to reroute power when a combat situation demands it; just as you have to consider what might happen if you decide to send your crew to put out the fire on that science vessel, or let that crazy guy you found planetside onto your ship.
Despite popular comparisons, this game reminds me, moreso than any roguelike, of the "choose-your-own-adventure" game books I used to read in my youth (Steve Jackson, anyone?). Only now, the outcomes for each choice are randomized so that I can read it again and again and have a different experience every time. Perhaps it's this nostalgia that keeps me so engaged with FTL.
A more likely explanation, though, is the way the game really puts me in the captain's chair with the weight of the universe on my shoulders on a mission that, for all intents and purposes, should be impossible. Usually, it proves to be exactly that. But every once in a while the planets align and a hero is born. And to paraphrase a great sci-fi author whose name escapes me, the universe is only big enough for so many heroes.
Although certainly not for everyone (what game is?) FTL is an absolutely brilliant game, and one that I can't envision myself growing tired of anytime soon.