I gave this game another try. It was fun, one time. Enough to justify my money on a Steam Sale.
Played large galaxy, 7 Incredible AI. Decided I would run a different money-based economy where I build a Port of Call on every planet and run taxes to 100%. Rush-buying a Port of Call generally makes my money back in 1 turn. Colonized an Echoing Heartstone, about halfway into the game I was making 400,000bc per turn. One of my biggest challenges was figuring out how to spend it. I paid cash to the AI's for all their techs; the AI has no clue how to spend it anyway. That put me in the tech lead (over Incredible AI). Bought one guy's planet for 30k bc with an Empathic engine. Now I'm running 94% approval at 100% taxes, and commonwealths be damned. Played an Echoing Heartstone on that planet I bought--mostly for influence defense--but ended up flipping the whole system. Found 3 Echoing Heartstones in the galaxy, so just bought the third one, and once I researched Advanced Foundations I basically had all the charges I needed. Started rush-buying Recruit Citizen, just to keep my bank below 1 million bc. But what citizens do I need? I rush-buy everything. Admins and Commanders. And leaders, which are useful under Fleet priority. All the while, resources are a serious bottleneck. Can never get enough Promethion, Antimatter, Arnor Spice, and especially Durantium. Mercenaries gobbled up a lot (have to hire them before the Incredible AI's do). Struggled a few times with my planets flipping early on, prior to getting Empathy Engine, because my Approval was at 4%. Since I didn't have any spare Echoing Heartstone charges yet, I just rush-bought consulates and culture starbases. Once I was first to Age of Ascension, the Empathy Engine, basically had all the citizens I needed, and none of my planets needed to build anything socially, it was really a question of how fast my ships could move, to mop up. And even that--I purchased Stellar Folding from the Thalans.
Cool game, different economy. Ever since Galciv1, I grew used to the standard model of run a deficit at first to grow your population, then flip over to run in the black. This one was different: it was approval-be-damned, and who cares about production. I rush-buy everything. I wouldn't play it again, though, because this was obviously all messed up on many levels. I had no qualms about exploits--after all, the Incredible AI cheats, incredibly. That's how you beat it: you exploit it.