I think, with exceptions because no game is perfect and obviously with only the two I’ve played as evidence, that the rules are designed so that these sorts of role-play decisions tend to dovetail very nicely with the actual rules tactics.
Looking at A Distant Plain:
The Coalition cares most about two things: the sum of population in Support regions and the total of Available coalition pieces. They want to create Support and de-escalate their involvement.
The Government cares about two things: the amount of Patronage they can generate and the population in COIN regions.
The Warlords care about two things: the population in Uncontrolled regions and their own total resources.
The Taliban cares about two things: the population in Opposition regions and the number of their own bases in play.
Other than defining the term “enemy” such that it doesn’t apply between Coalition and Government forces, the game doesn’t tell you what you want to do to any of the other factions. It just gives you a number. And that number combined with the actions available to each faction is where all of the magic happens. Most of the complexity in FitL and ADP is in the record keeping system and the jargon. What’s “Sharia?” Oh, its just ADPs jargon for adjusting Support/Opposition as the Taliban player. Etc. Once you have the core system concepts down, each new COIN game is mostly about learning the new jargon and the fine details of what each faction can do. Even your first COIN game, the tough part isn’t so much learning how the system works as figuring out what on Earth you’re supposed to do while you stare at that player sheet. When would I Assault? How often should I sweep? Should I Train? When the heck am I supposed to bother Patrolling?
I’ve wandered a bit off-course here. We’re trying to get to roleplaying and I decided to get there through the magic numbers.
The Coalition needs to get a certain combination of Available pieces and Support population. This number is set in such a way that they can’t afford to do without the assistance of the Government for most purposes. Similarly, they aren’t told “You hate the Taliban” but rather the Taliban quite straightforwardly needs to get regions to Opposition which naturally counteracts the coalition looking for Support.
Let’s look at the map, because I forget the exact calculations:
If the US pulls out entirely, they have 28/31 points. If the US commits all all available troops and holds full support of the government, they have 25/31 points up to 31/31 if returnees have been rallied, too. This means two things clearly: first, asking for Government assistance in protecting territory is essential. Second, while you can win through supporting the Government and fostering retournees even under heavy losses … the optimal strategy is to secure high-population support in a small number of regions (probably around Kabul) and then pull out as many troops as you can.
The Taliban, meanwhile, doesn’t need to defeat the Coalition anymore than the reverese. If they put all of their bases down, they get 19/21 points. If they foster maximum opposition they get 25/21 points up to 31/21 points. The Taliban wants to focus on opposition much more clearly than the Coalition wants to focus on Support. The Taliban ends up wanting to spread rapidly and early through rural areas to maintain a strong level of Opposition and a bunch of bases on the board, and then spends its efforts trying to eat away at larger population centers and keep its bases minimally protected. Meanwhile the Coalition tends to turtle in high population regions while going back and forth on how much to commit and the Government is stuck needing to expand quite a bit or develop a super robust patronage system … but without really having especially efficient means to doing all of that without the Coalition help. The Coalition, despite not caring about doing so directly, has the best tools for rapidly forcing into territory with the Government’s strength being holding down the fort later and giving the Coalition extra oompf.
The Government doesn’t care about Support–it just wants the control and the patronage. It’s on you to generate support. But you don’t care about control directly … you just want the support. Your uneasy alliance with the Government–taking away their resources, moving their troops, training new troops for them, dismantling their patronage, and tacitly approving of their Control so long as it allows you to defend Support–reinforces the uneasy relationship between the Afghan government and the actual coalition.
And here we are. The game builds the role-play elements of the factions into the rule structures. Playing your role doesn’t harm the game’s tactical play because for the most part optimal system tactics tend to reproduce similar narrative desires. By tweaking how everyone performs the basic actions of holding and swaying regions, moving, fighting, and developing resources … the richness of this de-jure role playing gets even more fascinating. But here we are, mostly focusing on the magic numbers and their relationship with the board state and we’re already seeing a lot of the more complex tensions in the conflict arise!