From: Christchurch, New Zealand
I can so hear what you're saying: "is this game all about one carrier battle"?
The answer is NO..... and yes :D
If you put your carriers in separate groups you get one main benefit - incoming enemy attacks can concentrate on one of the TFs while sparing the others. In 3 groups of 2 for instance, 2 carriers may be sunk but the other TFs of 2 not touched. These carriers can now retaliate in the next turn. If your opponent had all his carriers in one group 4 or 5 of his carriers may be damaged: damaged carriers will be hit more easily in round 2 of strikes (they may also not be able to conduct flight ops).
You have seen the detriment of having multiple groups - they are commanded by different captains, with different capabilities, and they are likely to get a bit uncoordinated. It was in this uncoordination where you fell down - he had multiple defenders - you came in in dribs and drabs.
In my experience, even with 9 against 7 carriers in opposing TFs (say) not all of the carriers are sunk or even damaged, and usually some damage is sufferd by both sides - enough to force both sides to retreat and lick their wounds. A carrier sent back to Pearl or Tokyo is lost for a long time, with no gaurantee you will get it back - especially if you are the Japs. My point here is: 2 surviving carriers (say) suddenly become a very powerful force and by the same token other units like LBA and especially surface units become more important: they don't have to worry so much about enemy carriers.
What tends to happen is both sides heavily CAP their groups but one gets a few lucky hits. Because of the heavy CAP alot of the attacking bombers (from both sides) have their numbers savaged and the moral of their pilots gutted. Alot now depends on where your battle took place. If it is in the middle of the ocean - the better conditioned side should be able to kill cripples, but again some will escape.
The Japanese (and this is an opinion) are toast if they loose their Carriers - by proxy this includes their aircraft and aircrews. So a decisive victory for the US means the Japs are in real trouble; however, if they manage to get their planes off and base them on land, then they are not completely without a sword to smite the capatilist enemy. The Allies paradoxically don't really NEED to have carriers - they make you far more capable of succeeding and give you far better flexibility, but they aren't absolutely necessary. With the strength of their land based fighters (especially after they get P-38s and their ilk) they are able to LRCAP naval forces and make Jap based carrier attacks very costly. They will loose alot more ships but they have forces in spades so they can afford it (usually).
These opinions I have put forward are all open to the vagaries of the game. Weather, as you have seen, can turn all your plans upside down. Luck plays a huge part. Alot falls on the moral and fatigue of your aircrews - this to me is the most important, if difficult to measure, aspect of the carrier battle.
Not many use it, but the utilisation of very separate (on the map) carrier groups could pay large dividends. You could have 2 carriers ghost your opponents carriers - never getting close enough to fight but always being a needle in his side; while on the other side of the map 3 other carriers wreck havoc upon unsuspecting transport TFs. Remember, another big drawback of having all your carriers in one TF is they can't be everywhere at once - the old hit him where he aint maxim!
So the game, in my regard, isn't all over after a CV-CV battle. About the only time I would agree to it being so is if the japs lost decisively - most carriers sunk and with it their planes and aircrews. In my opinion it changes, while both sides have carriers they are kings of the sea and all must be wary of what they do. If one side has carriers they have operational flexibility - but all is not lost. You can't take bases with carriers, for that you need transports, there are plenty of ways of killing them without using carriers!
pauses and takes large breath.