Monday, July 13, 2009

2nd + Reserves = Win

Sometimes it is fun to read someone’s bad logic as it can give us a base of comparison for our own. This article may just be one of those cases as I share my logic, aka the bad logic, about why going second in 5th edition may be a good tactic. As you read this article, I need to point out that I am not a tactics guy. So while I enjoy casual discussions about them, take this article with a grain of sea salt and enjoy the insanity.

In a recent post, I had commented about how I had read that some expert gamers were referring to 5th edition as a game about going second. Shortly after making that comment, Ernie asked me about it and I honestly couldn’t really explain what that statement truly meant at the time. Since then, I have been giving it some thought while reading the core rules and believe I have a little bit better understanding of the quote. The secret to the quote is combining the choice of going second with the new reserve rules.

The new reserve rules allow you to hold back any units you want and have them arrive onto the battlefield later in the game. Usually this arrival is going to be random, but some armies, like IG, have ways to improve the odds of getting those units onto the field sooner. In terms of the game, this means that units don’t have to be committed in the beginning, thus increasing the possibility that the unit will have at least one turn to damage the enemy. What this also means is that when combined with going second, units that arrive from reserve can react to the actions of the player that went first.

As an example, let’s take a Leman Russ Battle Tank (LRBT) versus a unit of obliterators. In this scenario, the obliterators have the clear advantage because they can deep strike into an advantageous position. By placing the LRBT in reserve and going second, there is a slightly better chance that the LRBT will arrive after the obliterators and thus eliminating their advantage while giving the LRBT a better chance at damaging them before they can return fire.

Keep in mind that the above scenario is 99% theoretical and doesn’t account for all the variables that can happen during a game. The single unit match-ups rarely occur, but I think the fundamental concept can be applied when doing an army versus army comparison. By going second and using the reserve rules, denial of units/targets can be accomplished. Going second also means that the second player is going to have the advantage of looking at the other player’s "hand" and can act accordingly.

So while going second can have its advantages when combined with the reserve rules, it can also have its disadvantages. The random nature of reserves when combined with placing too much in reserve can result in that army being chewed apart in piecemeal. It also means that the effectiveness of individual units may be diminished as their strengths cannot be utilized to their maximum potential (sorry, that sounds very cliché).

In conclusion, the effectiveness of going second is based on the idea of controlling match-ups. This may work best when combining the reserve rule with going second, though each does have its effective uses when considered independently of each other. To my friend Ernie, I hope this answers the question you posed to me. To my readers, I hope you found this article useful. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and comments about the topic in the comments section.


  1. I think that units CAN take an advantage by reacting, but it's not as simple as 'Reserves + 2nd = advantage.'

    You're right to note that reserves can readily back-fire on you; there's nothing like waiting 'til turn 5 for something to come in. That's 5 turns that it could've been contributing to the game, but wasn't.

    The opportunity cost of not getting shot at while in reserves is that you don't get to shoot, of course.

    Some armies can pull off the reserve shenanigans, like Guard (via Astropaths, and even Officers of the Fleet) and Eldar (Autarchs for the +1 to reserves). They have a way of boosting reserves.

    Though, I think you also need an ability to exploit coming in from reserves. In your example, oblits are one such unit; the chaos codex can bring a LOT of icons to ensure precision deep-striking. (Of course, problem is that each is a heavy support slot not contributing 'til they arrive...) The Russ could do it as well since its main gun has range, but the Russ also has solid armor plating.

    Mechanized Eldar with an Autarch are another candidate for this strategy; the average Fast Skimmer grav tan has the speed to make up for the lost movement. The same goes for the Imperial Guard Vendetta.

    There are also some army types where slapping everything in reserves and going second can be both fun AND effective. IE: Daemons and Drop Pod Heavy Marines. These armies MUST arrive in large chunks on their first turn, and they are by nature reactionary: you place your things, and they position accordingly to kill you and take your objectives. Or, they WOULD, if you were on the table. It's not always the 'must-do' move, but it is certainly an option to keep in mind.

  2. In my last event, I won every first turn roll off. I had an inflitrating/outflanking army lead by Shrike. Depending on the mission and the opponent I choose to go first only once. First game against Chaos marines in objectives. In the other 2 games, one dawn of war and other against drop pod marines I could not get a good first turn push with possible assaults so there was no point in placing my units in harms way.

  3. Thanks John. Playing foot-slogging Greenskins, I need all the time I can get to close on objectives. A trukk or bikers might have enough speed for reserves, but that would sacrifice their usefullness as cover/support for the tramping boyz. As could be expected, these exotic tactics are of little use for us smash-and-grabbers.

  4. I know guys where I'm at who always use the "Go Second" rule, except in Dawn of War games. However, I feel there are definately exceptions to this fact - case in point - last night I was fighting 'nids with my IG, and having to go second ( though not my choice ) hurt me as I ended up getting hit with charges from turn one on. I would much rather have one, if not two turns to shoot the assault armies before I start having my poor grunts slaughtered all over the place.
    On the other hand, 2nd + reserves also allows you to get your apoc games going quicker, as you don't have to set up 300 orks ahead of time..( not that I've done it, but last round of Apoc campaigns, all the Ork players ended up doing that for their own sanity's sake, and In one case to avoid a warhound, but who's counting )

  5. Well-written article that I enjoyed reading. I second Raptor1313's comment about Icons being key chaos wargear for this tactic, but you forgot to mention Termies. Depending on the mission, I think I would rather have my elite Termies DS and have my Oblits stationed in an objective lobbing lascannon fire at the enemy's armor or something of the sort. Termie squads equipped for CC/tank popping can be pretty effective when deep struck to a Termie Lord with an Icon...providing that you run him up the field in a Rhino or something.