I put all AI's on normal. I am guessing when you soak your faction takes the normal AI (or whatever the default is for the ai you set for the map)
I didn't want anything to throw off balance of the base AI factions. (giving a research boost to all factions boosts the research heavy factions more than others, etc.)
The main reason I was doing the soaks was to get an idea of distribution of factions and habitable planets. This is my observations on that.
The other thing I noticed was starting faction placement really needs looked at. That last soak was on huge scattered map with 7 total factions. I Removed the Krynn as they tend to go wild no matter what and the Yor because I wanted to see how the AI handled extreme planets. I also removed the Thalan because they are so slow to expand, so that could give another faction more area.
The Drengin and (lesser) the Altarians were given almost 40% of the map! So while most factions were scrambling to get 6-8 planets, the Drengin didn't break a sweat to get 20! The Alterians 13 or so.
Spirals can be a real pain. I have seen factions stuck on a tip and couldn't get more than 2 planets. This was 11 factions on a huge spiral. We really need something that says This size map with these paramaters will generate X planets per faction on average. I dove into the XML and saw the changes in galaxy, planet and resource formation were changed quite a bit, so I rethought my settings for Huge to 7 given the parameters I set. I had to increase the # of starts, lower the # of planets from abundant to common and raise habitable from uncommon to occasional to try to spread out the planets. They were grouping in 2 or 3 habitable on a star too much for my liking. I think we need a "no more than x" habitable or habitable quality of 8+ planets per system option.
I don't mind singleplayer throwing me a curve and sticking me in a tight spot, but multiplayer where one person gets a big advantage right off the bat kinda stinks. Especially since you don't know until an hour or two in if someone is "stuck".
Perhaps the habitable planets should be generated first, then the factions placed based on the distribution of those planets. So if an area is dense in habitable worlds, there will be closer factions. Areas with less habitable planets the factions will be more spread out.
It seems everything is fairly random right now. Sometimes factions start right next to each other and sometimes there is a wide stretch were no one is close, but the one or two factions closest have a big advantage getting into that region. That is what happened with the Drengin and Altarians in the game mentioned above.
I don't want to seem like I am bashing the game. Really overall it is very good. IMO, work on these things will really improve the overall experience.