What version did you install? If you are using the latest then there will be bugs but try to use a more stable version.
I installed 1.5.3. Since it is a point release stablity shouldn't be an issue.
"matured at the same rate as Discourse" <-- Could you pleas specify exactly what you mean with this!
Discourse has really listened to their audience and features that the community wanted they either caved, built it themselves or if a community plugin becomes popular, it is forked and maintain by Discourse. I feel Jeff and company has made a decision that the core is strong and by pulling some community plugins they provide a seamless and maintained product.
Its easy to complain, better to help out instead. Be more specific about what features you need. Hey, its opensource
So is Discourse and Vanilla (kinda). Open source doesn't magically make it better.
"majority of the plugins I installed not working." <-- Please specify the plugins.
nodebb-plugin-emailer-ses - Settings page doesn't load.
nodebb-plugin-ns-spoiler - Spoiler reveal button doesn't work. Causes formatting issues in the post.
nodebb-plugin-btn-spoilers - Doesn't work.
nodebb-plugin-youtube-embed - videos don't play. formatting all messed up.
NodeBB is a fascinating project that has great potential, BUT, I am fearful that it is going a similar route that of Vanilla. A paid SaaS version with all the really cool features with all the bells and whistles and then a bastard opensource version with community maintained features where half of them have been abandoned. I rather have a solid foundation of core team maintained plugins (if any at all) over a house of cards that can collapse at anytime or have to maintain.