The AI in the game is something of a mixed bag. The AI is ruthless and will try to exploit your weaknesses, especially early in the game. On the allies side, you will find yourself on your heels as the Japanese forces concentrate on taking all the historic locales they can. At the same time, the forces from Nippon do tend to become ‘target fixated’ and even on hard mode they can get sucked into committing a large amount of forces in an endeavor that has little gain.
The enemy AI’s tactics are pretty simple. They will gain local air supremacy over an area before they bring in land forces to take the bases. If you maintain some semblance of air parity and the ability to hurt the AI’s transports then you can keep the enemy at bay, at least for a while. This is a very conservative and probably correct way to do things but there are problems at times.
Unfortunately the AI sometimes doesn’t know when to realize that taking an area isn’t worth it. In a fight over Java, I reinforced a large part of my Garrison from Singapore to attempt to hold the island. I also ran up a bunch of torpedo planes (Beuforts) from Australia in the attempt to keep the Japanese transports at bay. Most of my P-40’s I pulled from the Philippines to cover Java.
The Japanese sent a task force of two light carriers and four fleet carriers to suppress all air activity over the island and to lead the way for an invasion fleet. This is a good idea, something I would of course do but unfortunately for the Japanese all it takes is one or two good and lucky hits from my Beuforts to cripple a Japanese carrier or two. By reinforcing Java early and having a large number of supplies pre-positioned right at the beginning of the war, I was able to hold Java and at the same time sink four carriers.
This is the problem that I have with the AI. After getting a carrier or two hit, I would have backed off and used bombers from Singapore to knock out the island but instead what happened was the carrier task force stayed on station long enough for me to get one or two blows in. By continuously shuffling Beuforts into the fray I was able to hit all of the carriers with torpedoes several times. Instead of pulling them out, sending them to Singapore for quick repairs and then to Japan for refit the AI kept them on station too long. While still operational, they were kept with 15-20 percent system damage and one more hit was enough to severely limit air operations. Once that happened the enemy carriers became sitting ducks.
So in other words, a smart player, even on the harder settings, can take advantage of the AI and its tendency to stick to a game plan regardless of losses. This isn’t a massive slam on the AI, every artificial intelligence I have played against in almost every wargame has this problem and it seems that target fixation is a problem that has not been fixed over time.
The best way to play this game is against another person. Human players tend to be the best opponents although the way the game is set up now, many do not want to try the game from the beginning on the Allied side. The game is so out of balance toward the Japanese that in the beginning you may find stopping a good Japanese opponent nearly impossible.
This imbalance was probably true to life, in reality the Japanese probably could have invaded the US in 1941 and taken San Francisco or could have run the table on the Brits and taken India. In the actual world though the Japanese knew that there was a limit to what they could hold effectively so a serious thought of taking Hawaii or even Brisbane really wasn’t considered.
Japanese players have a more complicated game than their Allied counterparts. The Allies can rely on a steady supply of equipment and supplies while the Japanese have to rely on taking strategic areas and holding them to build up their supply base and to reinforce their troops. The merchant marine is critical to Japanese success and ultimately is the Achilles heel of the IJN forces. The Allies, most notably the US Navy’s submarine service, sent the majority of Japan’s merchant shipping to the bottom of the ocean by the end of the war.
So overall the game plays like it historically should. The Japanese player will follow the historic guidelines until it reaches a point at which history is changed. Since most players have a decent working knowledge of what really happened you can take on the AI and generally win after getting an idea of what to do with the game. That isn’t to say you cannot do something stupid and lose the game to the AI, but smart playing will be rewarded generally.
The best way to play the game, once you figure out how to play, is against another person. As I alluded to earlier, playing against a human being takes the generality of gameplay out of the game. A human being can do quite a few a-historical things like actually plant the IJN task force off of Pearl Harbor and reduce the island to a burning hulk. IJN players may skip trying to take China and concentrate instead on taking India and Burma from the British. A good PBEM player can give you fits in this game.