I started with an Insane Map. I was just curious about the performance and playability, plus I like to see large maps. The recommended number of players is 63, but I think Brad likes the maps way too crowded, so I reduced it to 55 - maybe still too many as noted below.
Turn 10 - two of the closer star systems are already occupied by other empires. One empire started with a colony ship and had sister planet they colonized right off. I gambled and sent my initial colony ship off to find a place to colonize. Suddenly, some empire, who's homeworld I haven't even discovered, makes a bee-line straight for my companion world! They did not have any ships scouting, as you can see in the image, they have no ships in the area. So either they got lucky, or the AI saw my planet. Stardock swears up and down that the AI has the same fog of war as players. Fine, let's say it did get lucky.
But how is this a fun start? What is it with 4x games these days that need to pack every map with as many players as possible? Civ VI, Stellaris, Endless Space 2, GalCiv3 all do the same thing and I guess the devs think it helps "get to the good stuff?" But what about the first two X's? EXplore and eXpand? They're actually the best two X's. But when you pack the map with players there's no elbow room, no room to grow and develop an empire, it's just warfare from turn 1.
I could remove more players from maps, but how many? Does anyone have suggestions on number of players per map? Because I hate the guesswork of figuring out how many players to use and the random placement of empires which seem to always be on top of one another. You know what game had a reasonable balance between growth of your empire and then experiencing other empires was Distant Worlds. The difference being between that game and those mentioned above is that DW did NOT have multiplayer.
And by the way - that is a STUPID AI move. Eventually my influence will flip that planet. Thanks to the AI for building it up for me.