The Trail of Ashes: A Frontier Update Restrospective

The Trail of Ashes: A Frontier Update Retrospective
Written by Westinor

Just over a year ago, the Frontier Update was released with a central goal in mind – formalizing the tradeoff between security and growth in regions. As is well-known by now, user-created regions can now opt to be Frontiers, with executive power vested within the Delegacy, or Governed regions, protected by a similar process to Founders pre-update. A key hope of the update was to allow military gameplay to be more “opt-in”, shielding regions that became involuntarily vulnerable by way of an absentee founder from becoming targets and providing benefits to those willing to risk their region in the form of nation foundings. Now, twelve months later, how well has the update stuck to these goals, and how have Frontiers impacted the dynamics of military gameplay?

New Horizons

The highlight of the Frontier Update was the ascension of several headline regions to Frontier status, with noteworthy actors in gameplay like the League and Concord or the Order of the Grey Wardens prepping sister frontier regions in advance, and some, like Europeia, choosing to transition their main region to a Frontier. The impacts of the Frontier update on these regions are well-documented, and are generally agreed to be somewhat underwhelming. Although regions like Europeia or Concord have seen marked increases in their regional population, World Assembly Endorsement levels have not dramatically skyrocketed, nor has regional power of influence seemed to shift significantly as a product of Frontier status.

Of the new Frontiers, the most successful have risen from the completely new. Carcassonne and the Wellspring have established themselves as relatively notable gameplay actors. Early initiatives to introduce institutions and agreements to the quickly burgeoning realm of Frontiers were led by these regions, as well as since-transitioned regions like Community and Valley of Peace, but have since largely failed. Other, relatively smaller Frontiers have made similar attempts at diplomatic agreements at smaller scales, and some have quickly surged to stable endorsement levels of around 20-30, but few have made a name for themselves beyond high-profile liberation attempts and raids.

A Darker Night

Have Frontiers shifted the landscape and dynamics of military gameplay? The answer is a resounding yes. Regardless of the metrics used, of the major raids since the Frontier update, the vast majority target new Frontiers that are overwhelmingly vulnerable to invasion. Peppered between these operations are delegate bumps of regions like Concord and Europe or attacks on regions like Realm of the Whispering Winds or Philippines, but the massive influence stockpiles or presence of a Governor have prevented lasting damage. However, in the face of a substantial Raider Unity faction, Frontiers have provided a far more appetizing and easier target for raiders to run rampant in.

Depending on the methodology, about 12-20 major raids have occurred since the Frontier Update; of them, four have ended in high-profile refounds and one in a transition to governorship (The Perfect Utopian Region, Yessssss, Alcatraz, Eclipsis, and Magna Aurea respectively). A different three included raids on established or historic regions that were not Frontiers (Philippines, the Realm of the Whispering Winds, and Canada), and at least four were del-bumps of high-profile regions or Frontiers (Europe, the North Pacific, Concord, the Amaranthine Isles). Nearly all of these raids that eclipsed counts of a hundred endorsements (a common threshold) that were not liberated or significantly challenged by defenders in the first few updates were put at risk of refound due to the low influence supply of regions that have had less than a year to build up WA infrastructure and influence. Not only that, the development of these quickly-growing but often isolated communities have resulted in frequent raider infiltrations, be it in the placement of sleepers in targets or intrusion into communities posing as a different player, most notably in Magna Aurea and Alcatraz. This combination of factors have given far more momentum and a significant advantage to raider forces, who can threaten defender opponents in every major confrontation with the highest of stakes – the absolute destruction of a region.

The changing of stakes is a dramatic departure from the military gameplay meta of past years, which often revolved around the repeated sieging of familiar targets that posed low risk to the regions as a result of long-accumulated influence supplies, defender-native networks, and relatively lower endorsement levels from raiders. Frontiers struggle to attain these, with 6-month influence decay and few gameplay-familiar officers internally to help manage security or growth. As such, both defender and raider strategies have shifted, with raiders gaining advantages in stealth scenarios given the far wider target pool and defenders being forced into overdrive in nonstop all-or-nothing scenarios.

A notable outcome of the Frontier Update was the uneven allocation of Frontiers in favor of independent and defender regions. While independents and defenders have maintained strong enough security systems to protect their Frontiers from raider attack, in every notable instance, raider-aligned Frontiers have been destroyed or forced away from reaping spawns by the threat of defender retaliation. Solidarity is the highest profile of these cases, with a nearly month-long operation led by the League and Concord ending in the absolute destruction of the NSLeft Frontier, while the sudden end of Atlanticana’s Frontier status also came at the hands of a supposed threat to the region by defender forces. This reflects an indirect effect of a slower shift in modern gameplay in defender tactics, which have increasingly utilized offensive operations against raider regions.

The Frontier update has undoubtedly shifted the onus of military gameplay onto Frontiers – but an entirely different question is if many Frontiers even understand the tradeoff they are making. While the threat of raids and destruction seem present in some Frontiers, resulting in the often temporary creation of inter-Frontier alliances or oft-doomed security systems, most have floundered and come nowhere close to matching the massive strike forces raiders can muster for large operations. In an age where raiders have significantly higher operational capability, the unfortunate side effect of Frontier status is the high likelihood of destruction at the hands of an uneven operational status quo between raiders and defenders. In a slightly different world, with raider forces more in line with where they have historically been and a stronger security apparatus and defender-native networks, Frontiers might very well stymy the number of raids that occur, given how quickly they seem to sprout and grow.

Reclaimed Regions

One final consequence of the Frontier update that is often overlooked is the reclamation of several historically vulnerable regions and communities. Belgium, Christmas, Middle Earth, and Portugal, all common targets in the past two decades of military gameplay, were transitioned to safety early on in the Frontier Update with the assistance of an energetic defender command, protecting those commonly harassed communities from threat for the foreseeable future. While attempts since then to complete transitions have resulted in some disastrous consequences, most notably in the Realm of the Whispering Winds, the ability to do so has had a pronounced effect on military gameplay – raider flags will no longer signal existential threat on the shores of Belgium or on the fields of Middle Earth, and defenders and raiders both will have to go from working with or playing against weathered and experienced guardians to a newer generation of natives.

On the other side of the aisle, an attempt to transition the governorless The Communist Bloc was stymied by an injunction headed by Europeian officials, following an attempt by the NSLeft region to secure a governor and the safety of their region. Since then, Europeia has declared war on the Communist Bloc, which remains one of the few notable governorless and non-Frontier regions left; though its massive endorsement counts all but count out traditional methods of attack.
This is a fascinating piece, brilliant job as always West
ok I hadn't checked the EBC for literal months but I was answering the satisfaction poll, which led me to think about Communications, and then to my shock I only saw two articles since the midterm!

But now that I've read this one maybe it was worth all the articles because it is awesome
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