First, let me start off by saying that I haven't played a proper game of AI War since something like 4.0. Started LotS couple of times, momentarily tried AS, and so on. Always had too much other stuff to focus on to get back to the game proper. So my in-depth knowledge of current balance is pretty limited.
AI War's fundamental problem comes down to a problem of lethality. I strongly disagree here. Fleet-to-fleet combat lasts minutes at most. This seems about right. And having higher lethality would mean those sub-fleets on the AI planets would die against your blob even faster, without the small chance to support each other they have now. (also, doesn't Blitz/normal/epic style do this, if you want to change the lethality?)
Increasing lethality would, I think, increase blobbing. Tactical strike teams would be cut down before they could do anything useful.
Finally, I do support making the planetary-level stuff more interesting. I just don't think there are any fundamental problems with the game.
This is exactly what I feel too. Lethality is pretty ok. For me it is as long as I play on Epic. Anything faster is just out of my hands on tactical level. For me to use anything else other than blobbing, I need time to perform those strategies, maneuver the ships, observe the results and change the tactic while the results are happening. The less time I have, the less incentive there is to try anything creative. Blobbing isn't ideal, but it works decently, so it's easy to rely on that in such situations.
And yes, planetary-level stuff could be more interesting. My biggest issue has been that despite the AI having some variety in its ship usage, it seems to be a jack-of-all-trades on most planets.
For instance, if AI has ships A,B,C,D,E in use, on an AI planet with 15 ships, I'd tend to see combinations like:
...and so on. The AI always has a bit of everything. This does mean that it makes sure it has no weakness. Which in turn becomes its weakness. The AI seems to be powerful only in total numbers, and rarely in having upper hand in specific scenarios and tactics.
What I would like to see on the AI side is more variance in the ship distribution. Combinations like
Because player is limited to certain number of each ship type, the AI could occasionally have a planet that simply overpowers the player's favorite strategy by sheer number of a specific one or two ship types that counter it, forcing the player to either use a completely different strategy, or try to use less-ideal ship types together with the primary tactic, to improve the odds of success.
What if, for instance, one AI planet had been seeded a preference of anti-blobbing. It would prefer primarily ships that deal AOE damage, or generally hurt multiple ships at a time. Or what if one planet had been seeded an artillery preference, and it has a higher distribution of long-range weaponry, compromising it's mobility in turn (not completely, but partially). Or Anti-starship preference. Or... well, you get the idea. These would not need to be defined on every planet, but it would be nice to see different planets having different sets of preferences, that are considerably more noticable than the current distribution variance.
Anyways, just thought I'd share the idea. These preferences could change according to what the player does, but they'd be a sort of starting point for the AI. Strong in something, instead of average in everything.
Another benefit of this would be that the AI's ship selection is more limited on these occasions, and picking out strategies against each ship type is much easier than in scenarios where the AI has tens of different ship types. Seriously, I'm not going to bother tactics against such a mess. Blobbing should suffice.
Again, I don't know if things are different in end-game, because I haven't played a game past taking a few planets since late 4.0, but every time I feel like I'm going against jack-of-all-trade planets, and it's been very... uneventful.