Let's be blunt, one of the reasons people don't use reserve forces when playing wargames is that they can't see the benefits of doing so. Often the rules of the game don't actually allow reserve formations to work as they do in real life. More often than not, any player who does keep a reserve back suffers because his or her opponent will be able to concentrate more of their force against them.
I can quote figures for forming a reserve, and know that they helped to win battles, but it doesn't give me a real understanding about the subject.
For a start most of what's written about wars have a number of assumptions made about the general knowledge of the reader. Hence studying historical texts produces someone who is well read, but usually with no real appreciation of the practicalities of the problems involved. We can see this manifested in many different forms, which produces people whose knowledge is largely irrelevant to the real life experience, myself included.
Given that BattleTech is a science fiction game, for me, the immediate question that sprung to my mind is how are reserves deployed in real life?
I would say that I am woefully ignorant on the use of reserve forces in real warfare, since I have what I can only describe, on reflection, as a facile understanding of the topic from reading about the subject. I am pretty sure that I am not the only one to be so afflicted by such a deficiency.
However, I recently played an introductory game of AK47 Republic.
These are a set of rules by Peter Pig that covers wars in Africa and the Middle East. They're described as rules for the common man, or this case woman. I really enjoyed them, even if I have some reservations about what the figure bases are supposed to represent in real life, but that requires another article to discuss.
However, playing AK47 introduced me to another approach to representing reserves in wargames, and how to do so in Battletech for instance.
To briefly summarise the rules in AK47 has players make up forces, and before deploying, rolling 1D6 for each of the units, where a unit represents a company.
A low roll results in nothing be taken off to the reserve box and the higher the number the more that are. At the beginning of each turn after the first one, players can roll to see if one of there units in the reserve box enters the table. Additionally, you only get so many chances to roll for reserves, but can spend all your chances at once if you so desire.
Failure means that unit never arrives. AK47 also has other tables that cause units to fail to arrive for a host of other reasons too.
Now for BattleTech we generally have a game that plays best with a small number of units per side.
However, we could set up a game where at the start one assembles a company of mechs, and then roll for each mech in each lance appearing at the start of the game. So on 1D6 a result of 1/2 equals no effect, 3/4 put one mech in the reserve box, 5 two mechs in the reserve box, and on a 6 one mech in the reserve box and the other lost for the game. I suggest that the owner rolls to see if a mech goes to the reserves, but the opponent chooses the mech that does.
After turn one, players can roll for reserves to appear, and I’d suggest that a 10/11/12 on 2D6 should be required. To mimic the AK47 limit on the number of rolls you get for reserves I think it should be equal to half the number of units that are in the reserve box. Players can choose to roll all their chances at once, or keep them back for later.
To encourage saving your reserves, every time one brings on a mech one loses a percentage of the possible victory points. I suggest that as the rules are set to get about 2/3 of the company into the reserves box, that each mech that comes on deducts from your victory points a proportional amount of that total.
Now this might sound rather harsh, but at the end of the day we want a playable game, and we know that too many mechs on the table slows things down quite considerably. The values here are basically set so as to put more than 50% of the force in the reserve box.
The advantages of playing the game this is that one will have less control over the composition of your forces, which means that one will need to think about tonnage balance of each lance, and whether or not bringing on reserves is actually helpful, or whether it would be better to withdraw?