OK, here is another long one. I hope some of the ideas can be folded into the AI programming.
Although World in Flames is an excellent game because it is a crucible of strategy on several levels and areas of the world simultaneously, I have long thought that one rules system somewhat hobbles newer players in operating strategically: the turn initiative.
Initiative is critical in military operations. Professional armies can even teach their officers to attack at times they can't decisively win, merely to continue to hold the initiative for their forces. You want the enemy to be reacting to your decisions whenever possible in war. Otherwise, the enemy is more free to do something of it's own initiative; something designed to hasten your defeat.
But in World in Flames, each turn starts with determining who holds the initiative for the turn. That is separate from who goes first; holding the initiative allows you to select who moves first of course. But moving first is almost a given for a newer player of the game that wins the die roll to determine the game initiative. Aside from the implications of that decision, the problem with a variable system of who moves first each turn can appear in the player's mind-set. "Double" moves where one side moves last in a turn and then first in the next can produce dramatic results of course, but the whole system of rolling for initiative, deciding who moves first, and re-roll decisions, etc., is not actually what I want to discuss.
That whole game mechanism distracts players from a proper concern with the true initiative in the game. Initiative works on several levels and areas of the game simultaneously, just as I typed above. Holding the initiative means having the strength to force the enemy to wait to see what you do, or can even be seen when a superior force is not well led and thus waits for enemy action when it has no need to do so.
Clearly on the top-level, grand strategy view of the world, the Axis hold the initiative at the beginning of the game. The Allies have little choice but to wait and see what the Axis will do, and then respond to it, a clear example of strategic initiative. But initiative also works on subsidiary levels, such as in a single theater, that is more operational to tactical in nature. An example might be a Russian Declaration of War in 1940; upon launching a war of some sort, they would be on the attack and thus holding the initiative locally, even while the Allies as a whole side do not yet hold the overall strategic initiative in the game.
But despite not holding the true initiative at the start of the war, the Allies have one force that has the combat strength and depth to hold their own and then some with the Axis: the Royal Navy. Until the Red Army 2.0 is constructed and the USN joins the fray, Her Majesty's Fleet is the only such force. Well handled, the Royal Navy starts with the operational initiative to a large degree, and can hold that initiative throughout the entire game even, at least in Europe. There will probably be a period of time in the Indian Ocean where the RN must reluctantly cede the operational initiative to the Imperial Japanese Navy, but this time need not be that long in most games, and even the USN goes through a similar phase in the Central Pacific.
Now of course in the war at sea, many things are different from the war on land. But in a strategic sense, many things are the same. You want to use your military forces to accomplish your objectives: your country's war aims. These are controlling things on the land generally (the objective hexes), but control of the sea has a large impact on what your and your enemy's armies can do on the land. And what stays the same about military strategy at sea, compared to on land, is that you must complete operations that further your objectives, and one of your prime objectives is to keep the enemy from accomplishing their objectives.
Generally strategic and tactical objectives at sea revolve around three things: transporting economic resources, transporting & assisting (via shore bombardment) ground forces, and maintaining supply links from one area of land to another. You want to do those three things for your forces, while denying your enemy the ability to do those same three things. Of course destroying enemy naval forces is also important, but is just a subset of your navy's main tasks. If the enemy navy is eliminated, you can do those three things as much as your land forces require, and your enemy can not.
But the sea is a very big place, and military combat there is markedly different than on land. For the most part, a naval force can not form a line that the enemy must somehow assault and penetrate or flank the way armies form them on land. The sea is just too big for that in most areas. Additionally, the weather can have more of an impact on the operations of military forces at sea. One result is that even a large naval force can not be guaranteed to prevent a smaller naval force from accomplishing a mission in support of one of the three goals mentioned above, because until satellites came along, no navy could know where their enemies were with 100% certainty.
All of that flows from the fact that your naval forces can not be everywhere at once; there is always a chance the enemy eludes them. Now, let's finally return this to playing the game of World in Flames. When you fight at sea in the game, you will eventually realize that the most likely result of possible naval combat is: no combat at all. Many players ascribe this to bad luck. But the nature of the WiF sea-box system dictates that combat is going to happen in less than half of the instances of rolling search dice.
This has many implications in the game. The first would seem to be obvious, but given the game mechanics is frequently missed: your forces have to actually be out at sea to prevent the enemy naval forces from accomplishing their objectives. They can not do it by sitting in port. But they have to return to port at the end of each turn, or their combat efficiency degrades by moving them down one sea-box / turn. And given a player's overriding concern with those all-important objective hexes on land, their naval forces can too easily be sitting in port when the enemy decides to attempt one of their objectives.
So the first thing a naval force must do in World in Flames to prevent enemy objective obtainment is to stay at sea at the end of the turn. This carries risks to a degree, as your forces move down a box, eroding their tactical position. But if you don't have anything in a sea-zone, the enemy can sail out and do anything it desires, such as landing troops adjacent to or even right onto your navy's principal base. This is just an unavoidable consequence of the I-go-you-go alternating movement system of the game.
But even with forces at sea, they might fail to intercept enemy naval forces, who thus complete their objective. Thus is formed another very important imperative in the game: powers with a lot of naval objectives to meet, and sea areas to defend, must move their naval units early in a turn to do so. This maximizes their chances to find the enemy navy and engage it in combat (sinking their transports), and/or having the maximum possible amount of your forces present to defend against enemy attempts to prevent your objectives (your transports landing your troops). It can be difficult to pass up a key opportunity for your ground units in attack or defense on land, but for the most part it can be more important for the future of those land units to maintain control of the local seas via taking a naval impulse first each turn for the main naval powers in the game - the US, Commonwealth, and Japan. Not doing so exposes their light, holding naval forces to an extra impulse of risk from the enemy navy and the just discussed problem of units at sea too long losing combat effectiveness.
This imperative to move your naval forces as a priority also ties in with the strategic situation the Royal Navy is immersed in at start - their forces are larger than the Axis forces. In combat, attrition favors the stronger force. If it can cause losses to a weaker force at an equal rate to it's own losses, it will by definition win the conflict as the weaker force is eventually eliminated. But to cause attrition to the enemy force, they must be engaged in combat, and this is a bit more difficult at sea. So the number of chances to engage in combat must be maximized by the superior force, something which is achieved by moving your naval forces out to sea earlier in a turn rather than later.
Now, the Royal Navy does have one passive objective to attain: transporting resources from around the globe to the factories in the UK. Only the Axis can decide when or if to attempt to deny that objective to the Allies. So, should the Royal Navy sit in port and wait for the Axis to attempt this? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Well, mostly. It is good to have a reserve reaction force in port in the event of an Axis naval sortie. But overall, it is much better for the Royal Navy to use it's superior forces to blockade the Axis in their ports. And this, finally, is what I mean by the Royal Navy starting with and holding the operational initiative. If the Axis surface forces want to sortie to disrupt Allied naval objectives, the Royal Navy should be right there waiting for them, just over the horizon from the Axis base, i.e. in the first sea zone the Axis navy has to enter. If the Axis want to do something, they should have to fight to do it, plain and simple. If the RN sits in port and waits to see what the Axis navies do, it has handed the initiative to the Axis and taken the first step to losing the war.
Quite simply, the Royal Navy is more than big enough to always have a force at sea in the North Sea and the Western Mediterranean at all times, waiting for an Italian or German sortie. Why those two zones? To protect Algeria and the nearer approaches to Gibraltar, and to keep the German navy bottled up in Germany. Should the Kriegsmarine rebase to France or Norway, the North Sea becomes less important; also if the Axis concentrate their NAV forces there it won't hurt the Empire that much to let them muck about in the North Sea temporarily, unless an actual invasion of England or Scotland is threatened. In the Western Med however, you have to fight some even facing 2 or more Axis NAV. This might not go well, but this is what those nice carriers Parliament gave you in the 1930s are for. The flank approaches to Gibraltar simply have to be defended no matter what. Concentrate what CV fighter planes you can, and your ships with the best AA factors, operating in a large group. You can't beat them if you don't fight them, and at sea, even a just slightly inferior force can win a battle.
Now, I would suggest always having at least 2 Battleships in this sea area at the end of each turn, with 2 Heavy Cruisers as escorts. This is not hard for the RN to accomplish. 2 BB and 2 CA probably can't take on a large Kriegsmarine or Regia Marina force on their own, but have the attack and defence capabilities to make the Axis weigh carefully a decision to simply sail past them after a successful interception attempt, possibly giving the intercepting RN squadron a lot of surprise points to shoot up the Axis raiders with. And of course, these trip-wire forces have to be backed with more substantial forces in nearby ports. (Also worth noting that any and all WiF Commanders should use their Battleships whenever and wherever possible. Cruisers just don't have staying power in combat and have a more difficult time achieving their objectives as they are just too fragile. Especially the Light Cruisers, which should handle escort duties in the least threatened sea zones.)
Hopefully, by now you've noticed that this stay-at-sea tactic is designed for turns where the Allies aren't moving first. A wise Axis might actually have the Allies move first at times, particularly during the winter of 1940, saving up their own chances to move first for sunnier times ahead. Then things are simple for the Royal Navy: large blockading forces can set up in these sea areas and all RN naval objectives for the turn can be easily met.
Also note that success in naval combat does not depend on a standard odds ratio of 3:1 or better so strongly and classically advised on land. At sea, odds ratios and game unit factors are far less important, though of course if you fight with inferior forces too frequently, you will lose more units and battles over the long term. But for the Royal Navy, any 1:1 type fight should be considered a victory before the battle even starts. The RN has huge numerical advantages over the Euro-Axis navies, with a big green war machine to be added to their side sometime before the middle of the game. It is also very important for a CW commander in WiF to remember that he is not commanding real human lives, but merely pieces of cardboard or fleeting images on a screen. This game does not reward you for having naval units left at the end of the game; in the last 2 years of the war you will need a certain amount of shore bombardment factors, but otherwise a big healthy navy is just not needed all that much once the Axis navies are defeated. So the Royal Navy should fight hard, and fight often. There is very little reason not to.
I would also note that an aggressive posture for the Royal Navy is not effected by the status of the French Navy. The French Navy is a good asset on the Allied side at the beginning of the game. But it obviously isn't going to be around very long. All of what I have written here is a way the Royal Navy can operate regardless of whether France is still in the war or not. Even while it still is, it can be difficult for the French to select a naval impulse as their army is in quite a predicament. If they can choose a naval, that's great; I suggest adding a French squadron to most every sea zone the Axis can reach, both in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. They can always stay at sea afterwards and contribute forces to any potential combat next turn. The French should be played even more aggressively than the Royal Navy, but it is just not always possible to do so.
Returning to the realm of pure strategy for a moment, it is also worth noting that a prime directive for a superior force is to not let two separated inferior forces join. Thus the CW and especially the Royal Navy should fight with everything it has to prevent the Axis from taking Gibraltar. But the CW should fight ferociously to prevent the hex's capture with little regard for casualties. A round of naval combat may go bad, but the next one may go very well. I don't mean a last couple cruisers should make a hopeless last sortie no matter what; there is still the actual UK, etc., to defend after it's loss. A Kriegsmarine & RM combo based in Gib and Dakar or Lisbon can make maintaining the CW empire links to England very challenging. Best keep this from happening for as long as navally possible in the first place.
Now you may notice I have not mentioned air units. I can't give you every secret of World in Flames. Air units, both offensive and defensive, become increasingly important as the game goes along. In the first few turns, this isn't as true as a single NAV can rarely do much to a decent sized task-force, due to the anti-aircraft fire. But as more NAVs become available, everything changes. But overall, the CW can use their air units in the same way as their heavy fleet units - they fly out to sea early in the turn, and make the Axis deal with it. Of course, the CW does have to pick and choose carefully about what to build, but all of their long range FTR, both single and twin engine, are critical to the naval campaign from 1940 and onwards.
The result of the first year of naval combat should be decisive, clear, and not hard to accomplish: the Axis transports, most specifically the Italian ones, should be kept off the map by sinking them or damaging them whenever and wherever and as often as possible. If their TRS aren't on the map, your overseas possessions are perfectly safe. The CW should never pass on an opportunity to port strike them, intercept them during movement, and activate the sea zone for a search and combat every single impulse they are at sea.
For the most part, this is a simple strategy point I wanted to get across. The Royal Navy can single-handedly keep the Allies in the game while they wait for the USN and it's brother forces to ride into the game and change everything. I am no expert on British naval history, but from what I have absorbed of it over the years, the Royal Navy only very rarely ceded any amount of initiative to the enemy, from the tactical scale of a single ship to the situation across the entire globe. If World in Flames players operate it in the same way, they will take the first step to winning the game for the Allies. And I will leave you with this thought - what color are the CW pieces? What color is the sea? A coincidence? Most definitely not.