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Does "Design Type" matter in Space Empires 5? Specifically does it have any impact on how the AI or computer will build or manage those ships/units?

I already noticed that units are grouped by design type.

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I'm not 100% sure, but I believe Captain Kwok (creator of the Balance Mod, and one of the few people who has ever mastered the arcane scripting language in SE5) said that the reason Aaron never added player-customizable design types in SE5 like he had in SE4 (you can only customize them at the mod level) is because the customizable ones in SE4 confused the AI since it didn't know what to do with them. So I believe the answer to your question is yes.

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