You really only need one planet and roid-free well amongst the trade routes to have a vulnerability to significant interdiction. Also, if the trade ships were far slower there might be more of an opportunity to hit them at lightly guarded planets.
I suspect that Darvin's comments may be aimed more at 4s and 5s rather than 1v1? Playing 1v1 its standard to have trade before the first battles with the enemy, though not necessary- of the stronger 1v1 replays I've seen only one player didn't have early trade? Also it depends what you mean by early game. But if you're one roid away from an enemy homeworld then trade may not be a great plan- even against the AI.
Trade might not make up more than half of income, or even nearly that, however depriving your opponent of a third of his income is a great plan! What I'm reassured by, though, is that neither of you have objected that it would harm the game in any way. If it's easy to implement, and there are no evident drawbacks, perhaps it might be good even if it won't affect every game? I'd like the trade and refinery ship speeds reduced to about a third of what they are, my experiments suggest that it could be fun, and it might make a couple of unused techs more valuable.
There have been complaints that the second expansion doesn't bring much, but to be fair players don't seem to be using all of what we already have. Mines could use help, especially TEC, and most of the defence techs have hefty price tags, enough to deter players who badly need more LRF to survive. A general problem with most of the techs is that they just don't do enough! Though the combat upgrades do have an effect, the game might be improved if they had an evident effect. The civics upgrades would be scoffed at by players of most other RTS games.. a tech that takes 15 minutes to pay for itself? That Advent resource focus I'm still unclear about- is the effect confined to a single grav well, or is it like a refinery, a tech used by none of the other factions anyway? Is it a tech with a negative impact if it is used? That is.. ungenerous.
I'd like to see the second expansion used to restructure the game. Double the effect of refineries, and most of the civics upgrades, so that we get to see them in games. Double the effect of the military upgrades as well, so that they become vital, like the military upgrades in most RTS, rather than a useful option, strong at later levels. Change the counters system, with LF equal to or counter of LRF, heavies stronger against LF and LRF and LRF the counter to support rather than LF. Then fast agile units would counter ranged units... and specialist units counter support units, like most RTS. Cut the cost of turrets, hangars- and even starbases at the lower levels. Improve mines. Bring all the capitals up to the same level. There's so much that can be done with what exists already, rather than complaining about stuff that won't appear that wouldn't be used anyway.
I dunno, there are posts claiming that the game is much closer to balance and I can't understand the basis for them. At 1v1 level, there is almost no balance or variation and most of the techs seem to be unused. For the game to be balanced the top players would have to play 1v1 regularly with all factions, then 1v1 strategies would begin to emerge and be discussed on the forum, like most RTS. Smurf 5s aren't advancing the game at all- are there any other RTS games where most of the multiplayer is large teams of players using temporary names to mess up the initial team selection? A huge step forward would be if the second expansion would include one or two set 1v1 maps that weren't rush maps, balanced maps as large or larger than the random 1v1s. Then a ladder might be possible that wasn't based on rush-only play, or the whim of the random map generator. Mods will never be popular enough for multiplayer, its entirely up to the devs. I wish they were more active on the forum.