I'm not sure if it's a 1.9 problem, but galaxy generation seems to be much worse. Loose clusters results in a galaxy with almost perfect spaced, ordered looking stars, and tight clusters results in literally just a few spots with stars and an almost entirely empty galaxy.
Tight clusters is my usual galaxy and now that we are thankfully back to 1.80 map sizes so I've played two games with usual Huge and all 12 AI's. I felt rusty as I hadn't played in months so I stepped back Incredible rather than Godlike.
Game 1 provided a great starting position and I felt that the galaxy was nicely spread out. My custom race is designed to attack very early and often. I killed 5 AI's quickly with little effort while remembering how to micro my planets and not forgetting to plan my attacks in different places at the same time and to have transports to finish the jobs. Luck was also with me with capsules for unfortunate geniuses. I then tech'ed and built up for a dozen or so turns, and decided that killing everyone was easier than a research win since relevant late game techs cost more now. Everyone was dead on T95 and I was so built up with so many planets that I was generating 20,000 RP/t with the slider near 6 o'clock.
This was an exceptional game and start and I felt that he galaxy was properly spread out as clusters were in several spots.
Game 2 with same settings. This time all 13 races are jammed together in half the galaxy and the other half has no stars! That can't be what is intended for a huge galaxy. As a result I have fewer planets to colonize as the AI's take them and bump into each other. I am lots slower and certainly won't be winning pre-T100. Yor were very close and found almost instantly. Killing their 2nd ship of colonists slowed them way down and I soon took both their planets.
This is a poor start and the tight clustered galaxy is basically one big cluster half the map with no stars in the other half. Of course there are some resources in the empty half.
Re: Incredible and Godlike. Incredible gives the AI's double production (+100%). Godlike gives the AI's quadruple production!!(+300%) and the human player is always FAR behind at the start. Why isn't there a level in between Incredible and Godlike with just triple production for the AI's (+200%)? The gap between Genius and Incredible is big but the gap between Incredible and Godlike is crazy. Please devs, make a level in between the two and no I don't want to mod it myself.
In closing I, as the OP does, urge the devs to take a look at galaxy generation and esp. Tight Clusters.