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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Art of Reserves - Part 1


Reserving is a key part of Warhammer 40,000 and something often overlooked. It's one of the key reasons why going first doesn't generate an automatic first turn win, allows for tactical flexibility and combined with special rules such as outflank and deepstrike, can significantly alter the way things unfold on any given tabletop. In this two part series we're going to look at the benefits and cons of reserving and when one should reserve or not reserve their whole army. In the second article we'll look at more common applications of reserving such as individual units deep-striking/outflanking and how the different deployments affect reserving as a whole.

So let's take a deeper look at what reserving does and the pros and cons of doing so. Without any reserve bonuses your units come on in the following order:

Turn 1 - n/a
Turn 2 - 4+
Turn 3 - 3+
Turn 4 - 2+
Turn 5 - automatically

The immediate benefits should be obvious. By not coming in at all on your first turn you are denying your opponent at least one turn of shooting. This is of particular importance if versusing a list with extreme shooting ability who has the first turn. You've just denied them two turns of shooting and allowed yourself to do the first significant damage. This is the next major benefit of reserving - you get to strike your opponent before he strikes you. This is obviously of great importance when going second as you are denying your opponent two turns of shooting but even when going first, you're at least able to deny your opponent one turn of shooting. This is a common 'counter-tactic' against reserving lists as it minimises their impact on the opposing army to operate. Furthermore, even reserving and coming on from the long table edge (no deepstrike or outflanking) allows you some of the same advantages as deploying second. Your opponent has to deploy more centrally to be able to come to grips with your army wherever it deploys and this grants you more freedom in terms of how and where to deploy. This makes it much easier to maximise your firepower and minimise their return firepower on the initial turns you come in, further emphasising the advantage reserving has against shooting armies.

However, there are some obvious disadvantages here. The first should be obvious. Statistically only half of your army is coming in on Turn 2 which means you are going to be seriously outgunned early on. What this means if you have to be effective the turn you arrive in at least minimising your opponent's shooting. Whether it's by destroying/suppressing your opponent or deploying in such a fashion that not all of their army can access yours, you must in some way decrease your opponent's ability to hurt you. Otherwise, even though you've denied your opponent initial turns of shooting, your army will feed itself into a meat grinder and be picked apart. With smart moving on from reserves and appropriate firepower you can of course minimise this but sometimes the dice just don't do you any favors. Only 1/3 of your initial army could come on or all of it. What's important is to remember you need to minimise your opponent's incoming firepower whilst maximising your damage dealt to them.

So those are the broad strokes of reserving. Let's take a look at more specifics.

When to reserve?

The most obvious answer is against a shooting list which chooses to go first. Most Imperial Guard lists or RazorWolves are prime examples, particularly if you are running a list which is weak in defenses (such as Dark Eldar) and you cannot safely secure your army in deployment. If you army has whole army reserve options such as +1 to reserve rolls, re-rolls, lots of deep-strikers/outflankers, etc. then this window opens up a lot more as you are able to bring the majority of your army on in a more specific place and/or more of it at once. Remember though, you don't ALWAYS have to use these abilities or bonuses and reserve your army. Sometimes knowing you can do this will dictate what your opponent does (i.e. give you first turn) and thus not force you to reserve.

When not to reserve?

This is IMO, the more important of the two questions. Reserving changes the dynamic of the game and against shooting lists, it's pretty easy to decide whether you want to gamble for the seize or on reserves. Either can blow up in your face but both can work wonders. On the other hand, reserving against a list you shouldn't reserve against is rarely going to work wonders. For example, a list which needs to get into midfield or is very aggressive/assault based has no pressure on it during the first couple of turns if you reserve. Their advance across the board is uncontested and suddenly when you come on from your table edge, it's hard for you to minimise their damage output as they are right where they want to be.

A note as well: if you are reserving an all foot list which comes in from the long table edge, don't do this if your opponent can block your table edge (infiltrators, moving fast, etc.). It's just dumb.


Whole army reserving is rare to say the least unless there are reserve bonuses (such as +1) or benefits (i.e. all deep-striking army, Drop Pods, etc.) There are some key things you need to remember when you reserve however. They are:

  • you minimise your opponent's shooting
  • you can change who gets the 'first' shooting phase
If neither of these is going to be of importance to you, you probably shouldn't be reserving your whole army. And remember, there is a significant amount of gambling involved here as you are relying on that 4+ to come in on turn 2. If you have +1 bonuses such as an Astropath, Hive Commander, Autarch, Psychic Communion, etc., this is mitigated somewhat but the two main points above generally dictate whether you reserve or not. It's a lot easier to lose a game by reserving inappropriately than not reserving when you should.

Next article we'll look at reserving in specific deployments and reserving only a couple of units rather than your whole army.

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