And yes, uphill struggles are so much more glorious than games where you're in the lead from the get-go.
I hear you! This second game is getting much more fun that the first one! Might as well tell a bit of what has been going on...
Shortly after what I told above I started falling behind badly, due to having few colonies, mainly (I could only colonize 3 planets, two class 5 and one class 8, with a medium-sized galaxy... at least I converted Mars quite quickly, after the Torians had colonized it!). So I built some ships, to scare possible attackers off for the time being, and focused on extreme planets colonization research. I had found a couple of toxic planets (class 11 and 12) near my influence zone, so I wanted to get them fast.
Meanwhile, the Drengin started getting ahead of everyone else in research, and particularly in military. Shortly after, they began to threaten me to give them money (as if!!!), so I "convinced" the Torians and the Thalan to attack them (who had the second and third strongest fleets, respectively). That war would last quite a long time, so I could shake the Drengin off my back.
However, I knew that I had to start building my own fleet up, since I could see the Korath (one of my nearest neighbours) where getting antsy, and my military rating was about half of theirs. Having colonised the toxic planets in the meantime, I started researching Logistics and Miniaturization, to complement the nice bunch of military techs I had recently traded from the Snathi (don´t know if it was because the Thalan had recently declared war on them and they were desperate, but I could get up to Stinger IV, Deflector III and Point Defense from them, without giving to many of my techs in exchange).
The Korath, however, didn´t declare war on me, but on my allies the Arceans. I figured keeping the alliance going on would be beneficial, so I answered the call. However, my fleet wasn´t still up to the Korath´s... I needed another manufacturing planet, fast. So, I went for Advanced Toxic Extractor as soon as I could, to put one of my new toxic planets to build top-of-the-line ships (medium hull, 3 missiles, 2 lasers, 3 point defense, 2 armor, the best I could get with my techs).
With the new ships coming from Hestia III (that planet was a life savior), and help from a military starbase conveniently placed in the Terran-Korath border, I could defeat the Korath fleets, picking them one by one. Thankfully, they didn´t have medium hulls... that surely helped a lot.
Shortly after, I got Planetary Invasion from the Arceans, and started building my transports. I managed to take a couple of Korath planets, but I had a bit of a problem: I understimated the AI. When the war with the Korath began, I bribed the Thalan to attack them as well, to see if a distraction could buy me time to build my fleet up. The Thalan, however, were still at war with the Drengin, so I didn´t see them participate much in the Korath war. So I went on destroying fleets and planetary defenses. Then, suddenly, Thalan transports start to show up! They managed to take the Korath capital and a couple more planets, while I took another couple of planets. I lost some nice opportunities there... My bad, I know. In the end, the Korath surrendered to the Thalan, so they now have, by far, the largest amount of planets and influence.
Even though the Thalan took some of my conquests, the war left me in a much better position than before. My military rating is close to the top players, my economy has improved a lot, and my tech rating is quite good. The Torians and the Drengin are still at it, while the Thalan dropped from that war. Probably, the civ which ended up being the most benefited from these conflicts were the Korx, who stayed mostly passive during this time, but now have the highest military rating of all, though followed closely by the rest, and a tech rating that went through the roof!
Wow, that ended up much longer that I thought! Maybe I could post it in a different thread, as a mini-AAR, lol!