Brad - thanks for jumping into this conversation - the Stardock team's availability for discussion is what sets the company and its games apart from the pack.
Some observations in relative priority from a MP perspective, which still have relevance to the SP game (based on a 3-hour MP session tonight):
1) Asteroid mining is extremely OP - 1 base production point for $100 is insane based on the purchase price of a factory which gives 2.5% at $1k. In our quick game, my starting planet had 8 avail asteroids to my opponent's 0 - that provided an immediate early-game +8 base production which a MP opponent can not overcome (everything else being even, my social and military prod rates were +22 vs. his +9). Asteroids either need to be a percentage boost like factories or a smaller base boost like +0.2. This impacts the SP experience as well - I'm going to re-roll galaxies until I get a huge number of starting asteroids and then steamroll the AI and boast about how great a player I am.
2) Administrators not broken, but could use refinement. Maybe break administrators out of the citizen pool. Instead of 1 administrator per colony/starbase/ship, you can slowly grow a base pool starting at 100 or so. Each colony would require admin points equal to its max terraformed size (ie 12 available hexes requires 12 admin points). This way, a single size 12 planet would require the same proportion of administrators as a size 8 and a size 4 planet combined. Starbases would require, say, 5 points, which would provide enough starbase admin for an average of two starbases per planet. You could choose to place six SB around a planet, but have to make the choice to neglect other planets. For starships that require admin, you would need a number of admins based on the hull size: tiny = 1 to super dreadnaught = 5 (sorry, I used to play P&P Starfire). You could still have "Admiral" citizens that could be assigned to ships for promotions, etc, and their assignment would "trump" the admin requirement. If you chose to disband a ship, you must do so at a Shipyard or Colony in order to regain the admin points or Admiral. If you scuttle the ship in deep space, all hands go down with the ship. I wouldn't worry about recovering admin points for colonies or starbases, but you could do a "project" that takes X number of turns to complete. Once completed, you disband the colony or starbase, but recover the admin points. If the colony or starbase are destroyed/captured in the interim, your lose the admin points (good CEOs are hard to find). For colonies, this process could actually end with the production of a colony ship with part of the original planet's population so you could move the part of the planet's production capacity "east of the Urals" in time of crisis.
3) At least for MP in Crusade, the map generator seems to be somewhat broken. We restarted four times on small and medium maps using abundant star systems and habitable planets. In each case, the majority (8 out of 10) of star systems had zero habitable planets. When you did find good planets, they were almost always found in clumps of three per star system. It seems like the Crusade map generator is calculating resources first which then exclude planets within a certain distance of the special. A suggestion would be for the generator to work on habitable planets first - on abundant, every star system would have a high chance (80-90%) to have a decent to good habitable planet (size 8-14) with a small chance for a great planet. A second calculation with a much lower success rate (20%) would spawn a second poor to decent planet (size 4 - 10). A final "lucky" roll would check for a third, always poor planet (4 - 6). This would create a much more balanced play map, still with the thrill of exploration (papa needs a multiplanet system). That would also mitigate the imbalance of being able to cover multiple planets with a single econ/cultural starbase.
4) MP needs to be able to create custom races. In our play group, we like to let skill rather than chance dictate victory. We will often create vanilla, identical races to level the playing field instead of allowing each of us to min-max a race. Think of MOO where someone picking Creative (damn Psilons) was a certain path to victory - research simply snowballed too quickly and could not be overcome short of a lucky, early rush. Currently, by forcing MP to pick the pre-generated races, there is always a small benefit to one of the players that allows them to pull ahead too early. That extra 1 movement point can be critical in identifying the first star system to colonize, and that 5-turn headstart reverberates throughout the remainder of the game.
Until some of these issues are fixed, we are going to have to play with house rules excluding asteroid mining, limiting the number of starbases to a multiple of planets colonized, and restricting which races are available for play (we could all be the same race, but haven't found a way to change just the color sets). Then we'll have to roll multiple galaxies and pray for an even distro of habitable planets and systems.
Hope some of the above makes sense. Thanks.