Ok I made some changes on the map maker, setting phase lane to orange, basically cutting distance. I also restarted the game and tried it. I am starting to get a feel that while culture trapped in a phase lane had a factor, the bigger issue was the small stars with few phase lanes. I had also wanted to avoid using the D engine as that would mean the game was advent only, but I ended up trying it anyway.
Basically the 18 systems, each had about 2 to 3 lanes from the sun. each lane leads to 2-5 places. I had entered a system with 3 lanes, basically forming a pie if you will. I took 1/3 of the pie, the ai holds a lane that leads to a terran world, which then goes left and right leading to a desert on one side, and ice on the other. Here is where things got fustrating. I started jumping toward the terran world, and fired a burst of DE at the terran world, then my fleet cleansed the world, I fired another burst of DE at the terran world, then we held the system from a fleet trying to retake it, and I fired yet another burst of DE at the now long dead terran world. The culture rate on the long dead planet was 16.7 and the pink color(ai color) influence indicator did not even move. All this time I had 5 cap ships sitting in the GW. I am calling it quits, looks like the model I had in mind will not work, well in a way it does work, it makes taking out an enemy empire almost impossible, and taking an enemy world a really big deal, that in itself is fairly "real", that and I get some really spectacular battles I recorded, as waves and waves fleets came at my front door
Oh on the starbase idea, I could not put that into practice as there were only 8 upgrades avail and I needed every bit of it. 3 armor, 2 weapons, 1 MS, 1 MD and 1 fighter.
I dl'd galaxy forge, but haven't had the time to learn it. I know the tutorial is available, maybe now that I scraped the idea I can go learn it instead of play testing.
Thanks for all your suggestion