The description of Cavalry from the DBA rulebook (slightly edited)
is as follows:
Representing the majority of ancient horsemen, primarily armed
with javelins, bows, or other missile weapons but combining these
with sword or lance, (and also for convenience light chariots with up
to four horses but only two crew). They usually started combat with
close range shooting, more intense than that of light horse, using rapid
archery or circulating formations to concentrate a mass of missiles in
space and time, but charged when that would serve better or to follow
up an advantage.
In other words, knights are mounted troops that charged home in a concerted
attack attempting to break the enemy by force; light horse are mounted troops
that skirmished, irritating and evading until the enemy was vulnerable; and
cavalry is just about everything else. Willing to close with the enemy
if necessary or advisable (unlike light horse) but attacking with missiles and
not a single massive charge.
Thus it isn't surprising that an enormous variety of different troops
are classed as cavalry. Cavalry covers Polish strzelcy (mounted crossbow),
the elite ghulams or mamluks in various Middle-Eastern armies,
turkopoles, hobilars, or mounted sergeants in many European armies,
Ottoman sipahis, Byzantine stratiotai,
Gallic cavalry in Gallic and Roman armies, and many, many other examples.
In short, cavalry are one of the most common element types in DBA armies.
They are also one of the most useful. This essay will cover some of
their advantages and
Cavalry combines good combat factors (+3 vs. anything) and excellent
movement (400 paces). They don't like to fight in bad going, like all
mounted troops; other than that they have no special combat
vulnerabilities or advantages.
Cavalry vs. Spear or Pike:
Cavalry flee if doubled by spear or pike, so they cannot be killed in this
fight. At +3 vs. +4, they can't win it either.
Well-organized heavy foot with long pointy things are largely immune to
cavalry. Cavalry are quite useful in delaying enemy pike or spear,
allowing you to concentrate your troops elsewhere. At worst this
fight is largely neutral for the cavalry so long as they keep their retreat
path open and unhindered. If they get pushed into bad going or near the
table edge, they are in trouble.
However, cavalry is much faster than walls of pike and spear. This makes
it easy for you to concentrate your troops elsewhere, and hard for your
redeploy. It also makes it very easy for your cavalry to take advantage of
any hanging flanks or temporary vulnerabilities.
Cavalry vs. Psiloi: in DBA v1.22 cavalry can quick-kill
psiloi in good going; they even have the +3:+2 combat factor advantage.
That makes cavalry even better at killing psiloi than knights are, because
cavalry are faster and don't have problems with impetuous follow-up moves
getting them in trouble. If you get the chance to hit enemy psiloi in the
open with your cavalry, sieze it.
In bad going the story is different. Even here, though, cavalry are
useful. Cavalry can ZOC enemy psiloi that are in good going, essentially
nullifying them. Knights can't do this without danger as the psiloi can use
impetuous followups to suck them into the bad going. Light horse have
no special killing ability versus psiloi, and only a +2 combat factor, so
don't serve nearly as well to ZOC psiloi in bad going as cavalry do.
Cavalry vs. Warband or Auxilia:
No quick-kills either way, but with movement advantage and combat factors
of +3 vs. +2, cavalry has the advantage in good terrain. Cavalry is
faster, allowing it to choose when to attack, create advantages, and
disengage if necessary. In good going they will be able to defeat
Warband, or Auxilia. Warband can allay this threat a little by
back-rank support giving them +3 to +3, but that means that if they do
lose a combat and get doubled, they will have two units destroyed rather
than a single one. Further, the impetuous nature of Warband means that
the Cavalry can pull the Warband out of its line into a
double-overlap position with a little effort.
One warning, though - without quick-kills on either side, the combat
isn't going to go quickly. Players used to quick results of Knights or
Warband combat will not see it here.
It may take several turns for the first element to fall, which can be
bad if your enemy is pressing hard on the other flank.
combat is not without risk for the cavalry player. A line of cavalry
versus a line of warband or auxilia can expect things to go their way, but
bad luck early can be disastrous. The cavalry can still be doubled by a
good roll, and if the first unit lost is the cavalry player's, things can
turn bad very quickly.
Still, these elements are prime targets for cavalry attack. If you can
match your cavalry against enemy auxilia or warband, you should do
Cavalry vs. Blades:
fight even-up against cavalry: +3 to +3. Since cavalry can disengage from
combat with blades if it wants to and Blades cannot, and since cavalry moves
twice as fast as Blades, the slight advantage in this combat goes to the
mounted troops. Once dice rolling starts, however, the battle can go
Engaging Blades, a cavalry commander should attempt to maximize his
advantages of movement. Hit them while they are unorganized. If they
are in a good wall, go around them, and force them to turn. You will get
to decide when combat occurs, and where. Make the most of those advantages,
and cavalry can get a couple of crucial early overlaps.
Cavalry vs. Bow:
Of all normal mounted troops (that is, excepting elephants), organized foot
bow fear cavalry the most. Bow is +4 to cavalry +3, but bow dies on a
recoil when in combat with mounted. Unlike knights (who press the attack
too hard, and are shattered if they fail), cavalry are not quick-killed if
they lose. So on a given combat with no overlaps, the Bow will die 28%
of the time, the cavalry will die 11% of the time, and the cavalry will
recoil 47% of the time.
Still, the combat is a bit risky for the cavalry. Not because of the
chance of getting killed in close combat, but rather because recoils may
allow the Bow to continue with ranged combat (at no risk to it).
Concentration of fire with a line of bows can blow huge holes in a cavalry
line -- expect some casualties moving in, and have a reserve element ready.
So it isn't an easy combat for the cavalry, but it is still often
worthwhile - cavalry has the advantage engaging Bow if they can hit them with
a concerted rush.
Cavalry vs. Knights or Camelry:
In this matchup cavalry has the short end of the stick. Against knights
it is sometimes possible to draw a single enemy unit into a double overlap
position, using its impetuousity against it. Cavalry will be able to
disengage units on its turn because of their speed advantage, but this
doesn't usually make up for the fact that it is +3 to the enemy +4. In
general cavalry will lose this fight, although it can usually hold out
for some time.
Cavalry vs. Light Horse:
Cavalry love to fight light horse. At +3 to +2, with no quick-kill on either
side, take this matchup whenever you can get it. Very few things are as
effective at killing light horse as cavalry.
Cavalry vs. Artillery:
Cavalry are good artillery killers. If you can get this matchup without
unfriendly overlaps, take it. Cavalry is also fast enough to get most of the
way across the danger zone in one turn. It may take a couple of rushes, but
the odds are with the cavalry.
Cavalry vs. War Wagons:
Avoid, avoid, avoid. Without a flank attack cavalry will never win
this fight, and can be killed
even at range by the War Wagon's +4 missile factor. Luckily War Wagons are
both rare and hard to maneuver.
Cavalry vs. Elephants:
This combat is +3 vs. +5: avoid this as well. If you must fight
Elephants, make them do the
maneuvering. This will force the enemy to use precious pips on them,
hopefully giving you an opportunity elsewhere. Pull back if you are not
recoiled; make the enemy commander spend pips to engage. Pull back
different distances from the rest of your line, making it even harder
for the Elephant to make engagement and using more enemy pips.
What Element Types Are Good Targets For Cavalry?
Light horse, or any foot troops in the open without long pointy spikes.
Psiloi, auxilia, warband, artillery.
What Types Are Roughly Even?
bows, blades, spear, pike. Use your
maneuver advantage and you should be OK. Spear and pike are
neutral -- they have the power, you have the maneuver. In constrained
circumstances the spear and pike win; in the open the cavalry can
usually negate them or even defeat them.
What Do Cavalry Fear?
Camelry, elephants, knights, and war wagons.
The Moral of the Story:
Cavalry are the good-going jack-of-all-trades of DBA. They have good combat
factors and good movement; they aren't quick-killed by anything, and they
don't quick-kill anything but foot bows and psiloi. They
can serve many roles: primary line of battle, secondary line of battle,
fast flankers, or reserve.
Because of their flexibility, the best use for your cavalry is really
determined by the makeup of your army. For a foot army they can be
used in the role of a mobile reserve force, ready to flank, fill a gap,
or respond quickly to an enemy flanking move.
In knight-heavy mounted armies they can be used as secondary
line-of-battle troups, to extend the line of a mounted knight assault
(e.g. Later Polish). In primarily light horse armies (Ghuzz, Lithuanian,
Early Ottoman, Pecheneg, Cuman) they form the harder-hitting
center of a fluid mounted attack.
Defensively, because of their staying power and lack of special
vulnerabilities, you may wish to match up your cavalry against particular
enemy troops. Cavalry is much more capable of redeploying to achieve
favorable matchups than most troops because of their speed. Whether to
assault artillery, screen your blades from enemy Warband, or drive off
enemy skirmishers, cavalry are always useful.
Their speed and good combat factors makes them an excellent reserve.
They can respond quickly and reach a threatened area in time to do some
good. They also have the speed to take advantage of an enemy weakness
before it can be reinforced. In either case, the generally good combat
strength and lack of particular vulnerabilities makes cavalry effective
against unexpected needs, as appropriate for a reserve.
The only thing cavalry really cannot do is fight in bad terrain. Keep
them well away from bad going unless you are truly desperate; most infantry
will be able to outfight them there. Infantry that has a toe in bad going
(but can be attacked without stepping into bad going) can be attacked, but
it is risky.
Picking a Cavalry Army
There are a huge array of armies that include at least one cavalry unit;
136 armies in total. It would have been faster to list the armies that did
not possess cavalry. The variety is enormous. I haven't bothered
to list the 79 armies that have only one or two Cavalry elements.
Note: the counts below ignore light chariot (LCh), even though they use
the same combat factors and movement as cavalry. Some armies (notably #21a,
#22, #31a, and #45) include significant numbers of cavalry and light chariot
both. I chose to ignore the issue of light chariot for these tables.
Max. No. of Cav
Early Rhoxolani Sarmatian (#55a)
Mameluk Egyptian (#158)
Avar (#90), Thematic Byzantine (#99)
Maurikian Byzantine (#91), Ghaznavid (#115)
Mede (#18c), Khazar (#93), Breton (#102b), Nikephorian
Byzantine (#117), Early Samurai (#127a), Timurid (#159b), Islamic
Later Achaemenid Persian (#33), Blemye or Nobades (#63),
Early Sassanid (#73a), Later Sassanid (#73b), Medieval Syrian (#139),
Post-Mongol Russian (#157)
18 armies: (#30d), Gallic (#35), Three Kingdoms
Korean (#78), Later Visigothic (#80), Moslem Indian (#83b),
Early Byzantine (#86), T'ang & Five Dynasties Chinese (#95),
Arab Imperial (#100), Fatimid Egyptian (#118), Seljuq Turk (#124),
Early Russian (#129), Ayyubid Egyptian (#143), Khwarizmian (#146),
Later Polish (#149), Mongol (#154), Later Ottoman (#160b)
20 armies: Dark Age and Geometric Greek (#17), Kushite
Egyptian (#22), Early North Greek (#24c), Early Achaemenid Persian (#28a),
Later Achaemenid Persian (#28b), Etruscan (#30b), Han Chinese (#54),
Marian Roman (#59), Middle Imperial Roman (#69), Late Roman (West) (#77a),
Sub-Roman British (#82), Arab Conquest (#96), Later Frankish (#102a),
Russ (#108), Early Polish (#122), Berber (#125), Comnenan Byzantine (#133),
Ilkhanid (#159a), Early Ottoman (#160a), Ming Chinese (#174)
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