Stuck in one place?

Well how can I expand in below screenshot? I can’t reach any more star, so am stuck after getting 2 more… Should I just give up? Or can I do something else?

This is also straight in the middle of the board with 2 players to the left and 4 to the right. So I know everyone WILL have to move straight through me.

Research scanning tech and / or hyperspace range tech.

Try to negotiate an alliance, either trading tech and / or military. Who can you trust ?

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Scanning won’t be necessary, as you can see all the stars. Hyperspace will do.

Both my neighbours acted very harsh and said they didn’t want to trade and just wish to fight me. This is a " first game" btw? Should I start off with hyperspace research?

Yes, research hyperspace and try to negotiate with other players - they don’t have to be your neighbours to trade with you.

Scanning tech would be needed if the game settings enabled Trade withing scan range only. Otherwise scanning tech is not yet needed.

Can you negotiate an alliance with other players against your enemies ? get help from them? Maybe also trade tech with them ?

If you enemies are busy fighting someone else, it gives you breathing room to grow your empire stronger.

Well that’s all for later (though apart from 2 others the rest haven’t done anything the first day, so it seems we’re only with 5 active people).

But the main problem still exists: I can’t grow early on, so what should I then focus on?

Look at the bright side. The crabby neighbors can’t get to you for a while. That gives you a cushion of time.

That’s what I love about this game. Every position on every (random scatter) map requires a different strategy.

When playing chess, I often say to myself, "I am still not dead yet ! " Sometimes there can be an unexpected revival, when the other player makes a mistake.

In this game, if you are suffering difficulties and challenges, I just remember that the other players are also suffering difficulties and challenges.

They will need Hyperspace tech to reach you, the same way that you need Hyperspace tech to reach them.

But once someone reaches out, then it becomes a contest of who has which better tech, and would come out ahead, maybe with bigger allies too. What will it be ?

I play chess at tournament level… And let me say you: this is the worst thing to happen to you. It is considered in tournaments or any ranked game to be bad conduct to not surrender when you are behind.

Anyways back to the game: I have not lost yet, but am really really wonder how to expand now, the two neighbours almost encircle me completelly, I need at least tech 3 to escape now. And while you can say they can’t reach me: I only have 8 planets while those “neighbours” have all 15+ right now.

Not everyone will find themselves in this non-typical situation, but ROFL ROFL !!
Hilarious to watch !
13 year old IM Magnus Carlsen seems bored and is delivering an exasperating difficult challenge to GM Gary Kasparov. 2004 March.

Very serious cut throat !! At these high levels, subtleties are enormously impactful. LOL !

However, NP2 is multi-player and has more diplomacy than chess.

If I am reading your screenshot correctly, then you need to be able to research Hyperspace enough to reach unclaimed stars in the southeast before either of your threatening neighbors can reach you.

You could buy enough ECON to generate more income to buy SCI, which can accelerate your research.
Since you are challenged by your HR gap, while other players are not, then the other potential allies could be persuaded to not research HR, so that you could trade tech with them, while they are actively attacking your threatening neighbors.

You local terrain effect motivates you to research HR, so your allies should be complementary and research some other useful tech for mutually beneficial trade.

You must make your allies understand that your alliance is a team effort, so if they are able to protect you, then you can mutually trade tech to the detriment of your enemies, for the benefit of your alliance.

My suggestion is not the only way to play, but this is my suggestion based on your screenshot.

If you believe that you could still be weaker than your neighbors when orbital contact is achieved, then you and your alliance will need other techs to gain advantage over your enemies.

HR tech allows you to travel farther. Weapons allows you to fight stronger. Manufacturing allows you to build ships faster. Terraforming reduces the prices of infrastructure. etc. . .
It is a tricky balance that each player will have their own style and strategy.

Sometimes you could negotiate to trade stars, to allow a lane passage for an ally to bring ships parallel with you to fight your enemies on an expeditionary front.

But first you need HR to reach more stars and gain more cheap resources. Good Luck !