There is something about this game that is impossible for me; I'm literally 1 and 99 playing DWU. It could simply be the Real Time Strategy part, as I'm more a turn-based guy. I can't quit playing it, though; there IS something with the real-time changes that is appealing, and I can't believe I'm this bad at a strategy game. Not only do I play on Normal difficulty, I have to turn off most of the story lines. In general, I play the custom game (with no Shakturi!) in a 15 x 15 sector, 700 or 1000 star galaxy, on completely manual control.
I found the super-luxuries last game while doing an explorer rush start with the Quameno. I was looking for generic bonuses and independent colonies, but just happened to find all three luxuries close together and tried to capitalize on it. I was able to keep the Loros colony, but the Ackdarians and a pirate faction (snuggled up to the Ackdarians) eventually got the other two.
Resources, per se, aren't a problem (I get several sources of each), but money usually is, relative to the AI. I'll be in the black, with some small fleets, but the AI will have ten times the ships I have with a half or third of the planets. Pirates and protection fees are a whole nuther game. And, the AI seem to do diplomacy much better than I; getting into a conflict with one AI usually means I'm into it with one or five of their friends, as well, while no one seems to have an interest in my empire at all, gifts and one-sided technology trades notwithstanding. Way of the Ancients is really what I'm looking for during an explorer rush, to boost my economy.
I've read AARs, watched vids, read game guides, used the game editor to spy on (not edit) other empires, tried economic, technological, and militaristic strategies, turtled, expanded, and otherwise have tried my best to replicate other's results in the game, to no avail. I still have no clue what I'm doing wrong. I even registered in the forums of a ten year-old game for advice.
I'm not complaining; I find this to be a somewhat enjoyable challenge, though the repetitive nature of game starts is starting to wear a little thin. I'm looking forward to DW2, in fact.
I'll ask more questions as I become completely stumped, or until DW2 comes out.