First of all, I’m a little confused about the thrust of your question. You say that you usually play the Axis, and your friend usually plays the Allies, and you keep on solidly thumping your friend in game after game, and your friend keeps using the same losing strategies – but you want to know how you can be more efficient? It sounds like it’s your friend who needs the help! Not that you asked for this kind of advice, but if I were you, I would be looking for ways of helping your opponent gently shift his strategy – obviously he favors a very conservative, orthodox, straightforward approach to the game, but he’s going to have to branch out at least a little bit if he wants to be at all competitive. Maybe you can help him find some conservative strategies that work better for him.
One simple shift for Russia is that instead of buying 8 infantry each turn, he can instead always buy 2 artillery each turn, and then spend the rest of his economy on infantry. On R1, this means buying 5 inf, 2 art. After Russia loses a few territories, that might mean buying 4 inf, 2 art, and so on. This is a very, very modest investment in offensive power – 2 IPCs per turn taken away from max hit points and devoted toward offense. If Russia can manage to trade one territory per turn in eastern europe, the extra offense pays for itself economically (because all the territories are worth at least 2 IPCs), and if that territory is on the road to moscow, then it slows down the loss of the capital by a full turn as well.
A simple shift for the Western Allies is to increase their fighter support from 1 ftr UK, 2 ftr US up to 2 ftr UK, 3 ftr US. That still leaves a small budget for building up a fleet and an invasion force, but it will offer more meaningful support for Russia’s defense – especially if you’re trading against an almost all-tank offense and you have a big stack of Russian infantry fodder, fighters offer excellent defensive value.
Alternatively, the Western Allies could shift their invasion from Africa/Norway (which, as you point out, are not strategically important when the Germans are blitzing toward Moscow) toward France or Italy. If America can take France on turn 4 and build an IC there on turn 5, then even if Moscow falls on turn 5, the game’s not over.
You ask a good question about when Russia can hope to counter-attack Germany’s tank stack. Let’s do some math. At the start of the game, Russia has 12 infantry, 3 artillery, and 4 tanks that can reach West Russia. Let’s say Russia sends them all, and suffers a typical 2 casualties. That puts the West Russian stack at 10 infantry, 3 artillery, 4 tanks at the end of round 1. Russia can build 5 inf, 2 art in Moscow on its first turn, and also has 2 infantry (from Novosibirsk and Kazakh) that can reach Moscow on turn 1, so Moscow will have 7 inf, 2 art, 2 fighters at the end of round 1. All of those units can reach West Russia on Russia’s second turn, plus the 2 infantry from Evenki, for a total West Russian stack of 19 inf, 4 art, 4 tank, 2 fighters.
Your standard German strategy calls for Germany to attack Karelia on turn 2 with everything that can reach (except Ukraine and the French and Dutch tanks), plus Germany’s first-turn buy of 5 tanks. By my count, that’s 14 infantry and 11 tanks. I’m not counting the air force, because the German planes can’t land in Karelia the same turn Germany takes Karelia.
If Russia attacks Karelia on turn 3 with 19 inf, 4 art, 4 tnk, 2 fighters, it has slight odds (51.5%) to win outright, killing every German unit in Karelia and returning home with a fighter or two. Even if Russia doesn’t win outright, they’re likely to blow up 9-10 German tanks that Germany can’t afford to replace. Meanwhile, Russia still has a force that can defend Moscow against what Germany sends out next – the 5 Siberian infantry will arrive in Archangel on turn 3 and Moscow by turn 4, plus Russia can continue to build 4 inf, 2 art on turns 2, 3, and 4 that aren’t being used for the Karelia battle, for a total of 16 inf, 6 art sitting in Moscow at the end of turn 4, plus about 10-15 fighters from the Western Allies. So that’s a valid counter to your tank blitz strategy.
Alternatively, Russia can wait until after your forces move to Archangel, on turn 3. The tanks you built on turn 2 cannot reach Archangel on turn 3, so your force is still only about 14 inf, 11 tnk. Let’s say by now the tanks from Italy and Romania can reach, making it 14 inf, 13 tank. Now, though, Russia can counterattack not just with the West Russian stack, but also with the forces it built in Moscow on turns 2 and 3, plus the 5 Siberian infantry (which can move to Vologda instead of Archangel to avoid being lost). So we’re looking at a Russian attacking force of (19 inf, 4 art, 4 tnk, 2 ftr) + (4 inf, 2 art) + (4 inf, 2 art) + (5 inf) = (32 inf, 8 art, 4 tnk, 2 ftr).
That battle’s not even close – the AA calculator shows 100% odds of victory for the Russians, who on average will get to trade 21 dead Russian infantry worth 63 IPCs for 14 dead Germany infantry and 13 dead German tanks worth a total of 107 IPCs. The Russians will survive in Archangel with a force of 11 infantry, 8 artillery, and 4 tanks – more than enough to resist the German counter-attack of roughly 3 inf, 7 tanks that’s coming the next turn. So, against a Russian player who’s willing to invest even a tiny fraction of the budget into offensive artillery and who is willing to attack West Russia on turn 1 and then counter-attack Archangel on turn 4 (making no other attacks the whole opening!), the German tank blitz will get shattered. Germany simply cannot get into Archangel on turn 3; it’s too reckless and Germany will be defeated unless Russia literally never leaves Moscow.