Since Master of Orion is a strategy game, I suspect It would not be too outlandish to use for illustration another strategy game which many of you may be familiar with: Classic Risk.
I absolutely love Risk, but I cant stand your Risk.
whenever I have a conversation with someone about Risk, that person usually wants to recount their most glorious victories. Before they reveal their secret to success however, they'll usually look over their shoulder, take a significant deep breath, pause for effect, and then in whispered tones they reveal the brilliance of their plan; which invariably involves Australia.
In the game, countries are naturally connected to adjacent ones, and unnaturally connected to ones across entire oceans. Somehow those thousand-mile 'bridges' (or are they arbitrary sea routes?) remain viable for any conquering force to use them throughout the game, and so the world is your oyster. That green diamond to the right with one way in? Thats Australia, and its 'secret' is the single path in. Not only does it have half the entrances of also-4-territories-and-2-army-bonus-South-America, but as a secondary advantage, its neighbor, Asia, has more lanes than either North America or Africa, meaning Asia is less likely to be a unified threat against Australia.
The first few times you play the game, you may not have anything to do with Australia, you have to defend across multiple fronts, and generally have a good experience in the game. The more you play however, the more the strategy of holding choke points emerges, until finally you realize that Australia, having one entrance while giving a continent bonus is a unique advantage to be sought after in every game.
Now, about 20 years ago, while stuck at home during a blizzard. I got to help my dad in a unique father-and-son project: We made our own Risk board.
Its 5.5ft wide, can play 12 players at once, uses the original french rules for combat, does not have silly cards to turn in for free armies, has 96 territories (instead of the normal 42), and every territory has its own point value granting you income (instead of having every territory being the same, making Greenland the same to your war effort as Western Europe, the US, China, etc).
Perhaps you also noticed there are no dotted lines across the oceans? That's because we made our own molds and forged ships to carry your armies across the seas. Every player can have up to 6 ships, carrying up to 3 armies apiece.
More significantly, these fleets can go anywhere (using a die roll) to attack any country with a coastline. There. Are. No. Bottlenecks. There are no 'lanes'. Someone has taken a continent and is amassing an army on your border? Take a boat and strike the soft underbelly. Go around. Hit weak points. The game is no longer static, it is fluid. It is never the same twice. Players must think. Players always have options. Some examples:
Purple (maybe coming from south america) wants to break up the North American continent. In YOUR Risk game he has to go up through central america/mexico. Here, he can use Cuba as a staging point, and perhaps hit Canada. Yellow is aware of the threat, and has to spread out his troops to compensate (and therefore does not have a giant blob of death on the border).
Here's another possibility:
Yellow is invading Africa. There are far too many coastal territories for Blue to defend. However, because Blue is willing to sacrifice one of his outlaying territories, he is able to have a consolidated defense and counterattack anywhere.
With a single ship, Green could strike anywhere in the southern hemisphere. Here he is looking at Africa's and *GASP!* Australia's vulnerabilities. At only 2 or 3 spaces of movement for his ship depending on where he places it, he is all but guaranteed an effective strike.
You see? Starlanes are like the dotted bridges in Risk. They do not increase the strategy, they limit it. They create choke points that are supposed to be strategic, but since there are no other options, it just means a frontal assault every time. Combining the freedom of the seas with territories of different values, I now can think strategically about where to strike. Do i his that high-value-but-heavily-defended target? or do I sweep across multiple low-value-but-lightly-defended targets? Both may net me the same amount of points, but both are entirely different strategies for me to choose from. In YOUR Risk game, I do not get that choice. In this MOO game, I do not get that choice.
I do own the 'classic' Risk as well as our homemade version. Care to guess which one is infinitely replayable? Which one still keeps me guessing after all this time? which one has gathered dust for 20 years and which one all those 'Risk veteran' friends who told me about their amazing Australia strategy still want to play?
Can the classic Risk with its dotted lines be fun? Sure. Can people have fun playing the new MOO with star lanes? Sure. But in both cases, they likely are unaware that there is a better way. However, once they see the possibilities that freedom of movement can offer, I doubt they'll want to go back to those static, arbitrary lanes.
Hope that helps.