Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Cost of Kingdoms

The recent birth announcements for Britain's new little Saxe Coburg Gotha princeling have gotten me thinking about Richard III and those who pay the cost of kingdoms.

Richard, of course, died at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, by some accounts taking a halberd to the back of the head as his horse foundered in the mud a mere sword's length from Henry Tudor, whom Richard was doing his level best to kill at the time.

It is telling that this was the last time a king of England would actively take the field to defend his crown. Five hundred twenty-odd years later the cost of kingdoms is far less than the price paid by Richard. The royal line has moved so far from warrior kings toward its current collection of Disney characters that, when Richard's remains were discovered and exhumed from beneath a Leicestershire car park in 2012, the current royal family's DNA could not be used to verify his identity. A London cabinet-maker turned out to be a closer genetic match to the last Plantagenet king than the current Prince of Wales. 

All of which is excellent fodder for a novel or two, but you may well ask what it has to do with Eve Online. It's a bit of a stretch, I admit, but hang with me.

Over the weekend the war in Fountain took a profound turn in favor of ClusterFuck Coalition (CFC). Test Alliance, Please Ignore and Tribal Band's allies, Northern Coalition[DOT] and Nulli Secunda are once again drawn East to defend their territories from Solar Fleet and friends. This has provided CFC with a clear numeric advantage and stripped away the Allies' supercapital high cover that has heretofore prevented CFC from deploying its own supercapitals extensively in Fountain during final timers.

Seeking to make hay while the sun shines, CFC is driving fiercely on the military, psyops and diplomatic fronts to bring the Fountain campaign to a quick conclusion and, if possible, to neutralize Test Alliance as a future enemy before Test/Tribal's allies can return. Sole possession of the supercapital field of play has allowed CFC to extend their previous weekend's gain in Pegasus constellation into Manticore and Sphinx. This move effectively cuts off the Wyveren and Taurus constellations, which provide Fountain's sole empire access route, from the rest of the region. It also isolates from the rest of Test's holdings in Fountain the Chimera and Unicorn constellations which contain seven Test station systems.

Outnumbered, with fewer effective FCs than CFC and lacking a coherent supercapital force, Test and Tribal leadership have called 'balls to the walls' for their members. Their hope is to pull out all the stops and bring sufficient numbers to keep the fight for Fountain alive and make the interlopers pay a price for the systems they take.  However, despite an uptick in Test/Tribal fleet participation, their FCs are having to pick and choose which timers to defend.

There is a certain irony to an alliance with twelve thousand members and a reputation for overwhelming its enemies with sheer numbers finding itself on the wrong end of the numbers game against a coalition that can claim in excess of twenty-six thousand members.  Still, CFC cannot allow those twelve thousand members to roam free in New Eden. No other known nullsec alliance or combination of alliances, however skilled, however well endowed with supercarriers, can come close to matching the CFCs numbers unless Test stands with them.

It has been shown time and again over the last year or so the advantage CFC's numerical superiority gives them.  However, if Test stands with CFC's foes on the field of battle, Test's numbers make a genuine contest possible. Thus, if Test can be brought to heel and made to submit, or its numbers significantly reduced through failscade, it will remove an essential component from any opposition to the CFC's hegemony over nullsec. Once that is accomplished, CFC can rule nullsec relatively unmolested and the rest of its enemies can go whistle.

This speaks volumes as to the motive behind CFC leadership's recent 'Testie, Come Home' campaign.

You'll have noted through various CFC media outlets that the party line is that CFC never wanted this war; that it was backstabbing by Test's leadership - first by Montolio and then BoodaBooda - that brought Test and CFC, once best friends forever, to blows. Come back to the fold, goes the siren song of CFC psyops, and we can all be friends again. All we want is Fountain and your friendship. Give us those and we can have peace for our time.

Of course the cost for Test of such friendship and colloquy would go well beyond Fountain. The undermining of Test as actor co-equal to and independent from the CFC was well underway before Test withdrew from the Honeybadger Coalition.  Test and Tribal's members appear to have no illusions as to what bending their collective necks to the CFC would mean. Indeed, both Test and Tribal appear to understand that this is not a war over Fountain. It is a war over the future and spirit of nullsec.

The CFC vision for nullsec has a decided corporate tang to it. It is nullsec leashed, controlled and sanitized for your protection. Admission to the CFC's nullsec is controlled by its governing members, as are nullsec PvP events. It is nullsec as an industrial and economic power, with all the order and institutions that implies. Think of it as Nullsec, inc., where l33t administrative or political skills are a more certain path to lordship than one's abilities on the field of battle. 

The nullsec vision of Test and its allies is a much more visceral, less secure place. In their vision warrior kings hold sway and battle for their place. One's reputation is measured in the blood of one's enemies and if the little grey men from the corporate office get out of line, they are quickly minced and thrown to the dogs. Empires rise and fall, barbarians swarm the gates, and princes of nullsec put their very selves on the line to purchase their kingdoms.

I am, I confess, somewhat torn between these visions. The CFC version of nullsec has demonstrated itself to be much more efficient than the old PvP-centric model, just as Britain under the industrialists proved more efficient than England under its warrior-kings. From a political economy standpoint, the evolution of nullsec in this direction was to be expected eventually.  Indeed, as a sometime industrialist, I've wished to see that aspect of the nullsec game more fully leveraged.

Having said that, I don't log onto Eve Online in order to continue my RL work day.  Eve Online is an entertainment; a work of fantasy and science fiction in which I can play a small part of the larger story. In such a work there should be warrior kings and barbarian chieftains who lead vast fleets into battle. And the consequences of such battles should be more than just entries in an ISK ledger or bragging rights over kill-board scores. I've no desire to see the better part of nullsec tamed and turned into a theme park and moon-goo cartel controlled by a small minority of the Eve player-base.   

In Real Life, warrior kings are no more, having been replaced by the more predictable and compliant likes of the Saxe Coburg Gothas; men and women pleased to reign without the burdens of rule. They are as much king as our modern age can bear.  Yet the aura of the old kings still clings to their crowns, commanding our attention, however dull and uninteresting the current wearers have become.

However impractical they are today, the raw and bloody-handed kings of old fire our imaginations in ways the thoroughly sensible Duke of Cambridge cannot. Good or evil, we will likely remember Richard III long after the Saxe Coburg Gothas are forgotten.  He knew the cost of kingdoms, paid it in full, and inhabits his still. 

Happily for Test Alliance Please Ignore and Tribal Band, they exist in game, where impracticality is the order of the day. Whether Fountain stands or falls, much in New Eden hinges on their actions in the next few days and weeks. This is a rare gift even in the digital world of MMPORGs. The individual pilots will collectively choose how their alliances will be remembered.  They may diminish or disband under the CFC assault and no one would blame them. They may bend to the yoke and accept a place in the CFC's new order; an undeniably easier road than the current battle against long odds. Or they may choose to stand to their tackle and pay the cost of kingdoms.

The ends of such purchases are never certain and often go astray, but they are rarely forgotten.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Perils of Prognostication

 "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings."
    - Ralph Carpenter
The Fabled Kodachi Snow Globe

For the most part Kirith Kodachi is a conservative writer.

Which is not to say he goes clubbing with Anne Colter or sits down to poutine with Glenn Beck. No, what I mean is that Kirith is a thoughtful writer, not given to fiery rhetoric and an excess of hyperbole.  Kirith thinks twice before clicking on the "Publish" button over at Inner Sanctum of the Niniveh.  He has become something of a senior statesman among bloggers; a sane voice of reason when tempers flare and egos collide in the Eve Online community. 

Heck, he even has his own snow-globe.

However, even Plato stepped in the rhetorical dog-shit now and again. And when that happened his buddies at the lyceum didn't just pass the wine cup around again and pretend they didn't smell the logical fallacies. No, indeed. When that happened a philosophical throw-down would ensue and Plato would be called upon to either defend his thesis before his peers or go outside and scrape said thesis off his metaphorical shoe.

In that same spirit, I must take issue with the Canadian Sage's recent post 'Prognosis' with regard to the ongoing war in Fountain between the Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC) and the allied forces of Test Alliance Please Ignore, the N3 coalition, the Retirement Club and small host of other alliances. Kirith had spent some time looking over the situation and came up with a template for victory - a performance checklist of sorts, describing critical ways in which the Allied forces must execute in order win against the CFC:  
  • Excellent participation rates
  • Ship reimbursement program humming along
  • Finances in good shape
  • Allies committed and coordinated
  • Enemies distracted by attacks from third parties
Holding his assessment of the state of the war and the Allies' execution of it against this template he came to the following conclusion:

"Test is screwed."

I know. Not the sort of utterance once expects from a man usually given to nuance. In fact, Kirith was so bearish on the Test's position he recommended they cut their losses and extract themselves from the war lest they lose organizational integrity. 

"If I were TEST leadership, I'd be thinking about my exit strategy at this point before this war grinds your alliance apart."

Now, it should be pointed out that before doing his research for this piece, Kirith wasn't convinced an actual sov war was going on in Fountain at all. As recently as a week ago he was wondering whether or not Fountain wasn't just another Delve 'Thunderdome' with the combatants using the region as a playground for good large fleet fights; sans any desire to actually contest sov or any meaningful enmity between the combatants. Sort of the 'controlled PvP' concept put forward by PL and CFC as an alternative to sov warfare in the pre-Odyssey days.

Anyone who's been paying close attention will have known what Kirith discovered last week: There is an honest to goodness sov war going on in Fountain. In fact, a key point that Kirith seems to have missed is the nature of the war in progress. This war is not merely a push for additional space or interstellar goodies. Leadership on both sides of this fight want nothing less than the extinction of their primary enemies. This, my friends, is a death struggle. Neither side is going to let the other walk away to fight another day. For the principles, there are only two ways out of this war: With your shield, or on it.

The leadership of Test and Nulli want Goonswarm dead. Dead, as in no longer among the quick. Dead, as in singing with the choir celestial. Dead, as in making smores over the flames of a burning Mittanigrad. Test and Nulli's rank and file seem highly motivated toward the same end. This is not a case of senior leadership driving a personal fight of which the membership want no part. Kirith rightly points to the internal fund raiser Test recently held to stabilize their finances as an indication of weakness. However, in so doing he misses entirely the enthusiasm Test's rank and file showed for the effort and how quickly and successfully it met its goals. These are not players ready to turn tail and run. These are highly motivated foot-soldiers with a fierce and personal grudge against Goonswarm.  Nulli Secunda, for it's part, has been quite upfront with their position on Goonswarm: Their self-proclaimed raison d'etre is Goonswarm's destruction. 'Nuff said.

Likewise, CFC leadership does not merely want Fountain. They want Test Alliance well and truly obliterated as a rallying point for anti-Goon resistance.  CFC leadership has had both Test Alliance Please Ignore and Pandemic Legion firmly in their cross-hairs for some time, and that has not changed. Goonswarm will not abide the presence of any entity capable of challenging their hegemony over nullsec; a hegemony that is an essential prerequisite to their longer term plans for economic dominion over New Eden.  At present, Test is the lynchpin of any such challenge to CFC, and must therefore be extirpated. Further, by having the temerity to challenge Goonswarn directly, both Test and Nulli must be utterly laid low in order to serve as an object lesson and cement the CFC's reputation as an irresistible force in order to discourage future challenges from other quarters. 

Under the heading of 'Allies committed and coordinated' Kirith makes much of public statements by Pandemic Legion representatives, particularly in the context of a Crossing Zebras podcast, as to the degree to which PL is committed and how well they're coordinating with the rest of the Allies.

First of all, as I commented on Kirith's website, it should be recalled that the hosts of Crossing Zebras are CFC members who have a vested interest in the outcome of the current conflict.  Thus it is notable that their departure from the fairly dull and mostly harmless CSM/CCP interviews, which have the virtue of being safe and CFC content free, is an interview with Pandemic Legion members saying uncomplimentary things about Test Alliance and leading one to believe PL is ready to abandon the war against CFC should PL stop having fun. This is not to say that propaganda was what motivated Xanfer and Jeg (who I quite like, Zander's fashion sense notwithstanding). In fact the content itself doesn't deliver much in the way of new information for those who've been paying attention (see below). However, the timing of its delivery is of interest, coming as it did in the midst of a CFC push to take a second constellation in Fountain, following a series of set-backs for Test and its allies.

Secondly, as I've reported previously, Pandemic Legion has not been terribly committed to the Allies from the the get-go. Their participation to date has been, shall we say, episodic, and not merely due to a lack of coordination. Pandemic is now and has always been in Eve for the 'pride parade'. While they play hard and are very good at what they do, they are grasshoppers as opposed to Goonswarm's ants, preferring to gambol in the glades of Summer and move on at the approach of Autumn's chill.  Mindful of this, CFC's diplomatic corp will have been working tirelessly to emphasize how cold the Winter will get for PL should they dedicate themselves more than marginally against the CFC and end up on the losing side. Unless and until the present tide turns again and the trench warfare in Fountain turns into a march on Deklein, I don't anticipate Pandemic Legion will battle in earnest for the Allies. If, on the other hand, Fountain turns into a route for the Allies, I expect PL will pull out altogether.

Having said all this, there's no doubt the tides of war have been running in CFC's favor. The Allies continue to fight the war on CFC's terms which, as I've written previously, has allowed the CFC to concentrate their forces in the Fountain staging areas and given the CFC diplomatic and psyops corps plenty of time to do their work. At the same time, the fall-off in secondary enfilading fronts against the CFC has permitted the CFC home-front to operate relatively unmolested and avoid the sort of perception of vulnerability that brings on the dog-pile.

But barring unforeseen misfortune for either side, the 'Fountain' war is far from over. Despite recent CFC successes the Allied forces have prevented the fight from becoming a rout and and have limited their losses to the Centaur and part of the Pegasus constellations. Pegasus is heavily contested at present; CFC having just today burned through ten Territory Control Units in a close-run attempt to take 9-VO0Q.

If the status quo holds, who wins this war may be decided by who has the will to stand against the other and keep punching the longest.  In such a fight, who is best led and best coordinated matters far less than the collective will of the rank and file pilots.  It is the sort of fight in which the clock could as easily run against the CFC, where to date it has run primarily against the Allies.  Offensives in which the invaders are not heavily invested in the outcome, particularly those against a determined foe, tend not to end well for the invader in the long run.  Despite their leadership's desire for an end to Test Alliance and access to Fountain's moons, the CFC rank and file are generally quite comfortable and well-fed in their existing territories.  The war's justification on CFC's side is primarily financial, aimed at acquiring additional income streams.

"More money for the Mittani", while an honest battle cry, is not one that's going to keep the CFC pilots enthusiastic about fleeting up for grinding sov fights. 

But status quos can be fragile things, and Test and its allies are battling with their backs to the wall. There is no exit strategy for Test Alliance in this war except kill or be killed and if CFC can score a knock-out punch or open a significant second front against the Allies, resistance in Fountain could collapse along with Test Alliance itself. 

Time will tell. The clock ticks. The winds of war blow ever unpredictably; their small, subtle winds the pins 'pon which the great outcomes swing. Meanwhile, somewhere in the depths of nullsec, a fat lady checks her watch and waits patiently for her cue. 

Tricky things, prognoses.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

In Harm's Way

While the battle at Z9PP-H was unable to complete due to node crash, it's a singular fight in that capital ships came out to play in force, and both sides in the fight have said that they had additional caps and supercap fleets on stand-by waiting to enter the fray.

Given the number of players in the system and the degree of TiDi encountered by players on the ground, it's not surprising that neither side chose to deploy their back-up fleets. Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC) has justifiably claimed victory based on the number of Test Alliance Please Ignore and allied capital ship kills. Further, the CFC forces had a large Test capital fleet bubbled and in trouble at the time the node finally went down.

However, the peril of the bubbled Test capital fleet doesn't necessarily mean that the node crash saved Test, Pandemic Legion (PL), and N3's collective bacon. In fact there are reasons to believe that the opposite may be true. 

As I've written in a number of prior posts, large-scale sov warfare is won or lost when one side cedes the supercapital high-ground to the enemy. When one side of a nullsec scrap becomes risk-averse when it comes to deploying supercaps, the other side simply rolls over them, dropping SBUs in system after system while the defenders retreat; their subcapital fleets effectively useless absent credible supercapital cover. 

Until now, the ongoing war between CFC and the Test, PL and N3 allies (TPN), both sides have been cautious about large-scale capital and supercapital deployents in battles over final timers. The battle at Z9PP-H indicates that the TPN allies have changed their posture and are willing to put substantive capital ship fleets in harms way in order to draw CFC's capitals and supercapitals into a stand-up fight. That would mean the allies are confident in their ability to win a cap/supercap war of attrition even if the CFC shows themselves capable of holding their own, or even pulling out marginal wins in supercapital slapdowns.

Given the outcome in Z9PP-H, we may see CFC adopt the tactic of attacking bait capital fleets and then rushing additional players into the system, slowing the node down sufficiently to make jumping backup capital fleets into system a high risk option for the allies. 'Crashing the node' was a common tactic employed by the old Northern Coalition in their battles with the Drone Russian Federation upon a time and those lessons will not have been forgotten by Goonswarm. However, it is a tactic that can backfire if the CFC is unable to anticipate where the enemy capitals will strike, if they strike at multiple locations at once (preventing CFC from pre-positioning the numbers needed to crash the node), or if CCP is able to reinforce the node sufficiently so its performance doesn't degrade enough to keep TPN allied backup fleets out of the fight.

If the allies follow Black Legion's example and begin deploying capital fleets agressively, CFC will be put in a position in which they're forced to respond with their own capital ships on the enemy's time-table, or abandon their Fountain beachhead.  In the former case, CFC will have to go all in and bet the house on a series of large-scale battles that will likely decide the outcome of the campaign. If, however, CFC chooses to let the Fountain beachhead collapse, they virtually guarantee that the TPN allies will invade CFC space and begin a march on Mittanigrad. That would gain the CFC more time to attempt diplomatic manuverings to distract or divide the enemy camp, but would be seen as a sign of weakness and an admission that the CFC supercapitals cannot contest the ultimate high ground with the enemy.

There is a certain irony to CFC's situation at present. Their foreign policy since ascending to nullsec's technetium throne was heavily occupied with the elimination of any entity that might pose an extintion level threat to the CFC. This was supposed to bring in an era of stability in which the CFC could rest easily upon their sovereign territory and orchestrate a new economic sphere of influence in nullsec that would allow them to project power across the whole of New Eden. However, in their attempts to eliminate or emasculate potential external threats the CFC has created the very extintion level threat they most feared; and one singularly dedicated to the CFC's downfall.

The CFC's campaign to take Fountain's moons has stalled.  Instead of annexing a rich income stream next door, CFC's leadership is faced with a well armed and well led enemy on their own doorstep. As diplomatic means deliver diminishing returns, CFC will have to win the day by force of arms if they are to avoid invasion and the subsequent dog-piling it will bring. CFC's supercapitals will have to go into harm's way or go home.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ebb and Flow

I write this from a hotel room overlooking the Bosperous. Istanbul, once Constantinople, lynchpin of empires and synonympous with international intrigue, seems an appropriate venue for holding forth on the current state of affairs in nullsec.

My apologies for such a long gap between posts. My current location may give you some idea of the whirlwind June has been.  I've been keeping my hand in events but there's been precious little time to write a finished piece and, as those who regularly labor through my dense walls of text will attest, short posts are not in my DNA.

Most of you will have been keeping up with events in nullsec through other venues. However, just so we're all on the same page, a brief summary of events in the current nullsec dust-up:

If you were keeping up with The Edge through my last post, you would have been unsurprised with ClusterFuck Coaliton's (CFC) sudden shift away from operations in Delve to their announced invasion of Fountain.

In so doing CFC left the reduction of Delve in the hands of Northern Coalition [DOT] alliance (NC). This would indicate that Delve's income generation capacity was not enhanced sufficiently by the Odyssey moon-goo lottery to warrant CFC's attention. Further, CFC obviously hoped that the NC invasion of Delve would bleed off Test Alliance Please Ignore (Test) forces that might otherwise oppose the CFC in  Fountain.

Things did not go quite according to plan.  More on that anon.

Now, "Why Fountain?', you might well ask.

Much was made at the time of Goonswarm's announcement that the motivation for the current offensive against Test was financial rather than payback for real or imagined past slights, or a war of survival against some existential threat.  Personally, I was surprised at the Eve community's surprise. I commented on EN24 at the time that this was likely the first time The Mittani had been criticized for telling his followers an evident truth.

Goonswarm's larger strategy for some time has been to move beyond the military and diplomatic aspects of the game and develop themselves as nullec's dominant economic power, thereby providing themselves another means of projecting their will in New Eden. The Technetium Cartel and CFC's ongoing campaign for Farms and Fields are early steps in the implementation of this policy. Thus, controlling a large share of rare and critical nullsec resources is crucial to Goonswarm, not only as as a means of financing military operations, but as part of Goonswarm's larger economic dominion strategy.

In addition to posessing a large number of desirable moons, Fountain has the advantage of being adjacent to CFC sovereign space. Cloud Ring's B-DBYQ, the region's sole entry point to Fountain is also a terminus of the Goonswarm jump bridge network through CFC space.  In friendlier days B-DBYQ was a common through-way for CFC convoys supporting Honey Badger Coalition (HBC) activities in the South. It connects directly to the HBC jump bridge network in Fountain's J5A-IX system and a few bridge hops later, into Delve.

For conventional ships without the benefit of a jump drive, the B-DBYQ/J5A-IX gate is the only direct road between Fountain and Cloud Ring. It is, in military parlance, a choke point, and its strategic value is attested to by the scale of the fighting that has taken place in and around those systems during the last month.

The first week of post-Odyssey fighting in and around Fountain was all CFC. Test appeared to have difficulty pulling together sizable fleets and those that formed up seemed heavily skewed toward Hurricanes and Stealth Bombers. CFC quickly took station systems in Fountain's Mermaid, Minotaur and Manticore constellations as well as several systems around J5A-IX in the Centaur constellation. This last reavealed their desire to lock down that gateway in order to facilitate their own flow of subcapital reships and reinforcements while blunting Test counterattacks in the other direction.

Events in Fountain seemed to be following the classic CFC playbook; grind down the enemy's will to fight, and then roll over him in a large scale assault. As the first week closed, things were looking grim for Test. Test leadership began putting out calls for the rank and file pilots to stand to their tackle and hold fast, promising that heretofore secret allies and reinforcements were on the way. As similar pronouncements had been made in the waning days of BoB/IT Alliance, EVE pundits began proclaiming this to be a desperate last-gasp effort to keep Test pilots in the fight and a harbinger of doom.

Then Test's secret allies and reinforcements arrived.

On June 10, Pandemic Legion, who had left the campaign in Delve a week early to pursue other unspecified options, and NC, who CFC had assumed would continue their offensive against Test in Delve, took the field against the CFC in J5A-IX and B-DBYQ. Coordination between the new allies proved a bit spotty during this first outing, allowing CFC to rally and end the fight with a draw despite the unexpected presence of Test's allies and the sharpness of the defense.

In the following week, the war between CFC and Test escalated into a pan-nullsec event, with almost every alliance of note falling on one side of the other of the conflict. In a key development Nulli Secunda's coalition N3 joined the fight on the Test Alliance side.

For a time there were signs of a second front being opened against CFC in the North.  Black Legion (BL) and The Retirement Club (401K)  upped their game in the North, taking the Q-CAB2 system in Tribute, taking down station services and camping the CFC relief fleet of dreadnaughts inside, aborting two supercapitals under construction in-system, and causing a number of pod-killed CFC capital ship pilots to wake up in empire space clone vats.

CFC has called these actions minor set-backs, however there is no doubt that the tail-twistings BL and 401K were beginning to take a toll. The attacks in the North by Black Legion and The Retirement Club had gone from small, harrying raids, to successful strikes against CFC capital ships in Deklein to a successful system take-down in Tribute. And the entry of Rooks and Kings into the Northern front against CFC at the same time could not have been comforting.

CFC kept matters in Tribute from escalating out of hand by paying BL a ransom in exchange for safe passage out of Q-CAB2 for their station-bound capital fleet as well as making a side deal (acknowledged by BL) to not attack CFC in Tribute for a time. While that deal seems to have somewhat blunted the immediate threat to CFC on their home turf, it provides an indication as to how seriously Goonswarm's leadership takes the threat of a second front against the CFC opening in the North.

As of this writing, CFC has managed to keep the bulk of the fighting down in Fountain, at arm's length from Deklein and of CFC regions and resources. To the extent the've done so, CFC can claim to be holding the initiative. The longer the primary front remains in Fountain, the longer the CFC Intel/Covops and Diplomatic corp will have to attempt to pry away Test's allies in this war.  While the recent mass sov drop by S2N Citizens, a Nulli associated renters' alliance, did not meet its goal of drawing N3 away from Fountain, it stands as an example of the sort of mischief Goonswarm can make to distract Test allies in order to undermine resistance there. 

However, the tide in Fountain appears to be turning.

In the last week Test and its alies has increased the pressure on CFC, collapsing their early beachheads in Fountain's Mermaid, Minotaur and Manticore constellations and taking back a number of high value moons the CFC had rolled in the second and third weeks of the conflict. Fighting in Fountain now appears to be centered in around the choke point of J5A-IX and adjacent B-DBYQ Cloud Ring. Losing that strategic objective and the movement of the fight into CFC space would be a significant morale blow to the CFC rank and file, would embolden their enemies, and increase the probability of multiple fronts opening up against the CFC as entities across low and nullsec seek to participate in 'Burn Mittanigrad'; a 'must attend' in-game event.

As usual, Pandemic Legion, having taken up Test's cause, retains the tang of a wild card.

While PL has been seen in some engagements, they have not often shown up in strength down in Fountain since the second week of the conflict.  The absence of Titans in engagements involving final system timers suggests that PL, while not grinding structures (yet), is providing its allies with high cover against CFC Titans.  One wonders, however, where the bulk of the PL fleets are. It is possible that PL are preparing for a coordinated strike against the Goonswarm homeland, with support from The Retirement Club and (possibly) Black Legion, while Test, Northern Coalition and Nulli Secunda increase pressure on the last CFC beachhead in Fountain.

In that case Goonswarm and it's allies may find themselves caught between the hammer and anvil and, as Doc Brown once said, we are going to see some serious shit.

On the other hand, PL has tended to hedge their bets where the CFC is concerned and may be playing both ends against the middle. A worst case outcome for the Legion would be a CFC triumph over forces PL enthusiastically supported. No doubt CFC diplomats are heavily focussed on PL, offering both eternal friendship and heady amounts of cash should PL abandon Test, N3, Nulli and company. Despite the threat so recently posed by CFC to PL, it would not be uncharateristic for the latter to temporize; entertaining offers while waiting for the outcome of the struggle to be more clear before striking decisively for one side or the other.

At this point it appears that the Test and Allies strategy is a brute-force push to collapse the CFC bridgehead in Centaur and Pegasus constellations, punching through to Cloud Ring. From there, Deklein can be invaded by way of Fade.  As stated above, expect to see a second front opened elsewhere against the CFC as well as attacks against the CFC jump bridge networks to disrupt fleet movements. 

The sooner the anti-CFC forces move out of Fountain, the better for Test's fortunes. It is always more fun to tear down an enemy's systems and assets than it is to defend systems and assets not your own. Test's allies will enjoy the fight much more once they're breaking CFC stuff rather than defending Test Alliance stuff, and CFC will enjoy the proceedings far less.