I think it's a great idea, jalapen. I'd like to see something like this get implemented.
I don't think anyone can really know what effect it will have on balance. It will need to be tested. I know that in the games I play, when I design multiple ships and use them to good effect, the AI is really compromised. So I think it's essential that some sort of AI ship design improvement be implemented as well. I think this is probably the easy part.
The AI must then know how to use it's new ships to good effect.
For example, the AI must know that if it designs a powerful short range, close combat Destroyer, then it should set its behaviour accordingly. It should attack weaker opponents at point blank, and in some cases, never flee from battle.
The attack overmatch ratio could be used to determine how the ship reacts in small, less than 5 ship battles, medium 5-10 ship battles, and large 15+ battles.
Here's an explanation of how the AI could determine the behaviour in each battle scenario. This is just for the short range, weapon heavy, moderately shielded, light on everything else, no troops Destroyer.
If our tough, short range destroyer is engaged in a small battle then it'll engage stronger opponents at stand-off, weaker opponents at point blank and it'll flee when it's shields reach 20%.
In a medium size battle, our ships captain will take more pot-shots at stronger opponents, because other ships are their in support. Again, it's probably best to flee from battle when the shields are 20%.
In a large battle, the stakes are higher, so the ship will engage all opponents with all weapons. The captain will not flee from this battle because his/her ship is there to provide the firepower and the risk is acceptable. Perhaps it should depend on racial aggression, but I'd like to see a captain with some guts for a change in these large fleet battles. They're too important to run away from.
Ok,I don't know. I just about deleted this whole thing just now. I'm not actually sure if this is right. Any thoughts?
I'm sure we can all agree that the AI needs to know how to use it's new ships. But what jalapen has suggested for human ship classes is a step in the right direction, but eventually, the AI needs to get some extra help too.