Well, those games were like that because we're both aggressive players and engage into battle early on. Mid-tier units are as far as we go, because by that time the conflict is resolved. Although Lord Agamemnon said that he's against turtling in AA, this mod has a clearly slower pace than the original game, promoting slow development strategies. However, after you play a few games, and get the grasp of it, and with every next game everything becomes just TOO slow, and you want to cut straight to the chase. Unto my knowledge, Shadow and I have one of the bigger shares of the played AA games, hence our strats are like that.
The close colony is there for the AI, not for the players. Ad Astras is about going to the stars and exploration is of the more important aspects of the game. It's importance can be seen in the first game of me vs Shadow. Had I discovered the neutral planet in the very centre of the map (the one that Shadow used) the battle would take place there, not in my main, and I wouldn't be cut off from resources (like I was, and which was my demise).
As for the difference between races - you have 2 out of 10 sanctions to choose from, making it 90 unique combos in total. And sanctions CAN make a difference, as you can see on my side in the 2v1 rep. Without controlling the wormholes I wouldn't be able to take the battle to Shadow so quickly, giving him WAAAY too much time to do what he does best
Thanks for the comments, it's good to see that there are some new people who like this mod, not just us, the "old wolves"