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I'm new to GalCiv2 and the ship design stuff wasn't well explained in the tutorial. The game provides a number of basic ship designs as you discover new basic techs, but will those designs be automatically upgraded to the highest quality parts of each type as you discover new parts?

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Nope. You have to go and upgrade these manually through the shipyard. Usually the prebuilt ship designs are just helpers to get you started. Some designs are unlocked if you research certain tech levels. Once you get familiar with the game you should be constantly updating your ship designs with the latest components as you progress through the tech tree. It is mostly advisable to build your own designs instead of relying on the prebuilt ones.

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That's... unfortunate. –  Lokathor Jan 21 '13 at 10:41
It's a rather common feature of the 4X genre, requiring you to keep closer tabs on your fleets and providing a check on rampant expansion. –  rsegal Jan 21 '13 at 15:43
Actually Galciv 2 became popular cause it gave that much control over what goes on your ships. Colony ships that can zip through sectors. A fleet with 3 murderously deadly behemoths ships with one fast ship with fleet speed module for that killer fleet! There are things you can create with such flexibility that will be impossible with normal prebuilt ships. –  Samyam Jan 21 '13 at 15:53
Yeah, I've played a lot of MoO2, I'm familiar with the idea of custom specialized fleets being better than generic ones. However, one of the parts I love most about MoO2 is that you can turn off the part where you need to design your ships and just have generic ships that go up as your tech goes up and you don't have to fiddle with it. –  Lokathor Feb 2 '13 at 14:05
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