Reserves (or more basic 40kisms from Evil Homer)

Let’s talk about reserves. This comes from a comment Big Whit made in a thread below implying that I don’t like reserves. Having played all reserve armies in the past, and partial reserve armies, I can honestly say I like the reserve rules but they have specific uses and purposes.

Principle 1

A unit should not be placed in reserve because you don’t know how to deploy.

I’ve seen players put something in reserve because they don’t know how to deploy. Deployment, if you think about it, is tricky. You have to weight a lot of factors, turn order, shooting lanes, movement rates, threats, are factors to consider.

In some minds it’s easier to skip deployment entirely or at least partially rather than make the mistake and learn from it. (A little aside here, when I started playing 40k I intentionally played an army that did not require me to deploy. I have been paying for it ever since.) In their minds it’s easier to react to the opponent than to deploy and try to dictate to their opponent. The problem with this is you sacrifice the initiative, the ability to play the game on your terms rather than the opponents.

Learn to deploy. Learning to deploy is a key to winning in 40k. Deployment is the subject of many posts across multiple forums and blogs, and still a difficult thing to learn properly. Deployment strategy is beyond the scope of this article but at some point you have to accept that you are going to get hurt regardless of how you deploy, you need to learn to plan for it.

Principle 2

Understand what you are losing when you place a unit in reserve.

Understand that anytime you place a unit in reserve you deny yourself its use until it arrives. Dwell on that for a minute. It seems obvious and it is but consider many of the tactics that get bandied about talk about being able to use a all of your army to fight a portion of your opponents, by reserving a unit your are enabling this not preventing it.

The loss of fighting power a unit represents is proportional to the point value being played. The lower the points the higher the value of a unit, the greater the loss of fighting power the unit represents sitting off the table.

Understanding what you deny yourself, what you sacrifice by placing something in reserve is important in weighing whether or not to do so.

Principle 3

A unit placed in reserve should have a tactical purpose.

Any unit you place in reserve should be there for a specific purpose. Lets use obliterators as an example. I like to use oblits as an example because they illustrate an obvious sacrifice for tactical gain. Oblits are very handy to have on the table from the 1st turn, flexible shooting on a move and shoot platform that is also easy to hide? Yes please. But let’s say you know your opponents has heavy armor. Deep striking the oblits for a shot with the multi-melta nets you a better chance to kill a Leman Russ sitting in the back field or a land raider for that matter.

The oblits being left in reserve have a specific tactical purpose. They are there to accomplish a goal as part of your overall strategy and plan. Leaving a unit in reserve to respond to your opponents actions is rarely wise as it costs their fighting power until they arrive and their arrival is random.


Outflanking units obviously have to be placed in reserves, as these units have a clearly defined role in most lists their use is governed by Principle 3.


The reserve rules are a tool for a general. Understanding how best to utilize them and the cost to your army they represent is a valuable skill that will improve anyone’s game.


Jwolf said...

All good points, EH. Knowing when and how to use Reserves is a critical skill for 5E. I like your point about "when in doubt, deploy it". Deploying the unit and seeing what happens will be instructive in regards to how it might have been used from Reserve.

Big Whit said...

For me it's not about not knowing how to deploy, but most of the time especially if I go first I like to have a reactionary force that is still in tact to come in to claim, reinforce, or what ever is needed. If a ten man unit is deployed on the far left side of a table, then it would take me three turns to get to the other side of the table to help support, but that's if you know three turns in advance that you are going to need the help. A ten man unit in a rhino that is in reserves can come in on that side of the board were you need them, and not get shot at along the way, or need a crystal ball to predict were to move them to. At a thousand points I only have two scoring units. I think that as the points go up and I have more scoring units it will be easier to put them all out there. The school of fish or large herd idea. Your army is suited for this idea due to the massive amounts of scoring units you have in transports. That gives me an idea for my 1250 list, 5 man units.

Evil Homer said...

I only have 2 scoring units as well. When you leave 20% of your army off the table and have to wait for it come on you run pretty sever chance of having that tank/unit do nothing.

If the game is not being played in your deployment zone its going to take 2 turns to get it where you need it to be anyway, and that's on top of waiting for the reserve rolls.

In annihilation you miss the combat power.

In the 2 objective mission just place your token at the edge of your zone or make a dedicated effort to play for the opponents token and say fuck your own. Either way the game gets played in the middle. Trying only to protect your own is a recipe for a draw not a win.

In secure and control there are a minimum of three tokens, none of which can be in your zone so all of them are a minimum of 1 full turn away and quite easily 2 turns away.

MSU chaos can work but to do it right you go Nurgle. The T5 FNP makes all the difference to minimum sized units, not to mention the 2 specials you get out of it.

Spamming MSU plague marines would be annoying for alot of people at 1250. If you want to try your welcome to borrow mine.

I guess if it works for you then roll with it but from a too many different angles I see you leaving strength off the table you would could use on it and I guess that is where I see the problem.

In my mind the reactionary unit is being wasted, there is no guarantee it shows up when you need it, and if you started it on the table you can use it to screen the dp, draw fire from the other rhino, rush it forward and pop smoke, secure an upfield position, just so many other things it could be doing for the 1-2 turns you are waiting for it to arrive.

Just my opinion, your mileage may vary....

Green Blow Fly said...

I like to call reserves as anti deployment. It is a strategic concept. Most players feel that deploying their units on the table prior to the 1st turn is the best choice. Deep striking is said to be random at best and that it will bite you in the butt at the worst time. The butthurt that comes from a bad mishap could be chalked up to experience. I can say honestly that I have deep striked units well over a thousand times and only had two bad mishaps. It used to be that if you scattered and rolled snake eyes (Hissssss!!!) the unit was lost to the warp. There has always been options available to minimize catastrophic events due to mishaps... Teleport homer, icons and locator beacons to name three. To say that deep striking or holding units in reserve is generally a bad tactic is quite foolish. When you take a risk there is always the chance that it will pay a dividend. A truly smart player will minimize the risk and optimize the dividend. All successful people take risks and there is no getting around that.

Suppose you are playing an assault army versus a shooty army. Why deploy all your units prior to the start of the game and give your opponent an extra turn to shoot you if there exists a means to counter their shooting? It just seems dumb to me to setup and get shot at when you could have countered the opponent's major strength.

Anti deployment gets around deployment completely. You are no longer subject to the constraints of deployment. That is extremely powerful in and of itself but unfortunately most players would rather play it what they consider to be safe.

I remember a 3rd edition game with my Dark Angels versus Iron Warriors. This game was played prior to the heavily revised 4th edition Chaos Space Marine codex. I chose to select an army consisting solely of units that could use the original drop pod rules... Basically all infantry. I had good rolls for my reserves and ended up winning the game. Basically my opponent had one turn to shoot then I could start to assault him. I took my losses on the chin, losing my Grand Master during the initial drop from focused fire, then I charged with what left in my initial phase and proceeded to tie up his shooty units. He had castled and used a refused flank... It all folded quickly. This was back when you couldn't deep strike the first turn, which to me is better than having 1/2 your units drop the 1st turn.


Master Manipulator (every store needs one) said...

Ok Bruce I am going to respond to your post. I have a few issues with your thoughts.

First off...If you have two units that are three turns of movement apart..your doing it wrong!

If you have one unit one turn away and another three turns away form where they need to be...your doing it wrong!

One of the main points I think EH
was trying to make is that people tend to use reserves to make up for the fact that they have failed in the past using deployment. You have just validated that point by saying you don't want a unit to be three turns away from something you need to get to. If you make a good deployment, you should never be that far out of place. Or, you place a unit in reserve so you can respond to your own poor deployment. Either way, it is not always the optimum choice.

The way I look at it, you should decide at the beginning of the game what part of the table you are going to fight for. Very few lists/players and fight and/or defend the entire table. That being the case, if you are three turns away you are trying to fight for a portion of the table you did not want to fight for at the beginning of the battle.

Big Whit said...

Master, why do you hate me so? Wait don't answer that. I was just giving an example of what could happen with a unit in a rhino. I think green blow fly hit one giant nail on the head about denying your opponent the opportunity to shoot at you. I know that I am out gunned on this issue two to one, so I will just stay in reserves. Maybe I'll show up on turn three after both of you go after someone else.

Green Blow Fly said...

Let's look at some units that are of good use when starting in reserve. I would like to focus on one army for now, Orks. Remember that you roll first for deployment so you don't automatically have to take a position that you should always start in reserve. A unit that works well either way is always a good choice to include in your FOC.

- Orks in a battlewagon with red paint job
Okay I will just say that taking Ghaz is the best choice. You can also substitute a trukk for the wagon too. If he starts in reserve the turn he comes in you have a 13" move in the transport. They disembark for another 2" of movement. Next Ghaz calls down his version of the Waaagh for another 6" and then they finally assault up to another 6".

13" + 2" + 6" + 6" = 27"

That's huge.

Next let's look at a unit of deffkoptas. You know the drill.

Finally there is Snikrot...

Holding units in reserve that are fast can lure your opponent into a false sense of security. That's what you want, right?

I would say if in doubt then learn your army better. You should know when to deploy and when to start in reserve for each unit. It should be just like a science. Sure there are plenty of units that have no business starting in reserve but those units draw no bearing to other units.

Now let's take Dawn of War as an example. This is a great deployment for a mechanized army. You can start your whole army in reserve and they all come in at the same time. Very powerful but so often people simply fail to make the connection. Unfortunately this deployment is hated on and a lot of TOs purposedly avoid it. I call bully on that. It's just like a TO substituting victory point for killpoints. Personally I find Pitched Battle to suck an egg but this one seems to be a big favorite, probably because just like victory points it harkens back to 3rd and 4th editions. It's really boring but you just to deal with it.

Going back to reserves I'll give you another example of why it has so much Win sauce going on. If you happen to be using the table quarters deployment your reserves can come in anywhere along your full long table edge... It's like a poor man's version of Outflank and to be the ability to come in anywhere along your long table edge has less risk associated with it as compared to outflanking. These are the kind of things you should be thinking about, not doubting. Doubt leads to failure most often.

So here is my last specific example of holding a unit in reserve. My BA army includes Dante joined with a large squad of veteran assault Marines, they all have jump packs. Suppose for example I am playing against IG and the deployment is Pitched Battle. I have two options. Keep the fly boys behind my tanks and try to move them up into a position to shoot and assault... there are a lot of risks associated with this option - my tanks could well get shot up before I can move them into assault range or a stray ordnance blast could drift over my jump infantry. There a lot of things that could go wrong and I need to maximize the effectiveness of Dante and his VAS. The other option is to hold them in reserve and deep strike them close to the enemy line using intervening terrain or other objects for terrain. Sure I need a good roll on the scatter dice so some of the decision making process simply comes down to how lucky I am feeling at that particular point in time. If they come in relatively on target it suddenly puts a lot of pressure on the opponent and they have to re evaluate their battle plan. It's not something I'm going to do everytime the opportunity presents itself and it's not something I want to have to rely upon but it's a trick I can keep up my sleeve.


Herr Fernseher said...

As an Eldar player, I usually have to get everything on the table on turn one because so many of my units are interdependent. Also, I like to choose which squad(s) is in the van taking heavy fire and confering the 4+ saves to everyone else.

Of course, if I'm deploying second and my opponent does a full reserve, sometimes it is worthwhile to do a full reserve myself. And even more rare, I do sometimes run a list, usually mech, that works just fine with a full reserve.

But usually choosing the structure of a full deployment is worth the casuaulties I might experience from an extra round of shooting.

Master Manipulator (every store needs one) said...


You make some good points. The underlying one I think is really what myself and EH have been getting at. Have a plan and a purpose. You have some really good examples of units the benefit from reserves.

Now..one important thing though....not having a good place/plan for deployment does not equal having a plan or a purpose to me. I also don't feel like keeping a unit in reserve so you can react to your opponent is a plan or purpose.

To me, using reserves is just like another part of the table. Its like one great big transport. So, like other areas of the table, or transports, you decide at the beginning of the game how to use it. Just like table/transport you normally place the unit(s) there with a plan of action and a purpose in the mission. Hardly ever do you place a unit in a transport thinking I will wait to see what my opponent is going to do.

Maybe this is just me. I try as hard as I can to NOT be reactionary. I try to make my decisions and force my opponent to react to that. Granted there are times with game situations and dice require adaptation, but most of the time it all revolves around a plan.

Green Blow Fly said...

All I am really saying that is that reserves can be just as good or better than deployment. To me this thread was crafted around deployment being better which I think is fundamentally wrong. It would have been better served to the general public if this thread had been about when and how to take advantage of deployment. Deployment and anti deployment are the most important aspects of the game but I dont think the author can grasp that. Soft tactics appeal to people who dont win much.


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