The races are very well balanced. You can't get it wrong.
Of course, each race has some kind of play-style bias or situational strengths. Generally, you can learn skills to become a completely balanced and powerful pilot of any race, if you accept it can take months.
- Amarr have the best tanking capabilities of any race, which can be quite useful in PvP and PvE. Amarr were the least popular because of ship problems, that were fixed in the Revelations 2 patch (June 07), so now they'll have a resurgence. Their ships are second-fastest. (Read more on the wiki here).
- Caldari are the most popular race, so their home-system is a bit laggy and overpopulated. Caldari ships are nearly all missile platforms, which is superb in PvE but not as popular in PvP. However, they can be great snipers or stealth bombers. They also have a few ships that can carry drones. (Wiki here).
- Gallante generally have drones to do their damage, but can also fit guns on a ship. Gallente do loads of close-range damage and are highly regarded for PvP. Drones are incredibly versatile, but drones can be destroyed which is a weakness. They also have a great sniper battleship. (I'm Gallente, and love it. Wiki here).
- Minmatar have the fastest ships, which makes them the most survivable race in PvP, where controlling the engagement range is critically important. Their ships do not bias as much as others, so you have a lot of versatility by choosing specialisation through skills. (Wiki page here).
Visual explanation of ship classes
You start with Frigates, and gradually build your ship skills up to larger and more powerful ships like the Battleships.
- Each class of ship has both Tech 1 (cheaper) and Tech 2 (advanced, specialised, expensive) variants.
- There are three or four variants of Tech 1 ships, such as a Frigate for electronic warfare, close-range or mining for each race.
- There is usually one or two variants of each specialised Tech 2 type (eg: there is only one Gallente Interdictor).
- Bigger ships do not automatically kill everything smaller than them. In fact, bigger ships have trouble even hitting smaller ships. However when they do, it hurts.
Industrial, mining barges, freighters and transport ships are all purpose-designed. Transport ships are upgraded Industrial ships; these ships carry perhaps 6000 to 36000 m3 with specific upgrades.
Freighters can haul 750000 m3 of equipment but cannot pick up any loot in space from jetcans or wrecks. They're for hauling equipment from one station to another.
Mining barges do just that: mining. Serious miners need to do jetcan mining and have a hauler to then transport all the ore back to station.
Capitals, which are used in 0.0 warfare, include the Carrier, Titan and Dreadnought. Note the Carrier holds 'drones' called Fighters, which make them a good contributor in fleet combat. The Titan is out of reach to all but a handful of players on Eve. The Dreadnought is designed to kill player-owned stations (POS), so don't be confused into thinking it's the ultimate kill-everything ship.
All ships overview
This slighty incomplete diagram drills into more detail, with ship names, and includes the combat, hauler and capitals. It is missing some Battlecruisers and probably others too. Still useful.
Pictures of the ships themselves?
If you'd like to see how the ships look, this brilliant site has screenshots of them all. Look how beautiful the Gallente Myrmidon is, that's my baby!
Optimum range is the distance you want your targets to be from you. Add 'accuracy falloff' to this to calculate the range when hit 50% as much as optimum. Yes, add it. The in-game information on weapons doesn't explain this.
Small -vs- larger ship: you can miss
Size is an important issue to consider with ships. You have to match your weapon size against your target, or you will miss.
Frigates are smaller than Cruisers, which are in turn smaller than Battleships. Frigates use small weapons, Cruisers can fit small and medium weapons, Battleships can use large ones.
Ships have a thing called 'signature radius' which is usually 40 for Frigates and 120 for Cruisers. This number indicates how easy it is to hit that ship. Bigger number means it is easier to hit.
Guns also have a signature resolution. Small guns are 40, medium are 120.
A weapon with a signature of 120 will have trouble hitting a ship of 40, generally, unless the target is a long way off. The speed of the target is also a factor. Slow ships are easier to hit.
You can equip your ship with a Stasis Webifier to slow the target to 75%. This helps.
A full description and a graphical display letting you work out guns is here.
Missile and rocket range
Look up the missile itself, not the launcher, and you'll see its speed and flight duration. Multiply these to work out the range. So if it travels 2500 m/s, and can fly for 5 s, your missile range is 12.5Km.
Rockets are designed for short-range.
A graphical description and explanation on of how missiles work is here.
To determine missile range given your skills, do a Show Info (right click menu) on the missiles loaded into your missile launcher within the fittings screen (bring this up using Ctrl-Shift F, this works in space too), rather than on any old missile. The missile info for speed and flight time (which you multiply together to get range) takes into account your skills and any ship modifiers.
If you are Gallente, you should train drone skills before gunnery. Drones will do loads of damage. Train guns if you want, once you have at least 600K skill points in drones. Don't bother with missile skills beyond being able to fit a launcher and shoot a missile. That's about 25K skill points.
Drones come in different sizes and can deal every type of damage. This is brilliant versatility. You want to train to get Drone Interfacing IV. It'll give you +80% drone damage.
There are normal guns, launchers and drones, and then there are the Tech 2 variants for each. They usually do 20% more damage, but take lots of training before you can use them.