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DBA Online Tactics     

My Kingdom for A (Light) Horse

By Chris Brantley and David Kuijt

Light horse in DBA: its advantages and abilities of fighting against knights, elephants, artillery

Their names ring down through the ages--Skythians, Parthians, Alans, Moors, Pechenegs, Cumans, Huns, Seljuq Turks, Mongols, etc. Light horsemen whose slashing hit and run attacks harrassed and annoyed the enemy until they became reckless and disorganized. Or the auxiliary units of light horse who operated as scouts and mounted skirmishers to safeguard the army's flanks and drive away the pestiferous psiloi. Any DBA general worth his salt hopes to have at least an element or two of light horse in his ranks, although many DBA gamers bemoan those armies that are comprised primarily of light horse. Why the mixed reception?

To their credit, light horse are the best open-field skirmishers any general is likely to have. They are the fastest troop element with a rate of 500p in good going, which makes them invaluable for threatening the enemy's flanks and making dashes on the enemy's rear and camp. They are also arguably one of the hardest DBA elements to kill, which allows you to insert them into the thick of battle in hopes of delaying your opponent's battle line. When things get tough, they are strict adherents to the notion "those that fight and run away, live to fight another day." Only other mounted, war wagons and bows can kill them by doubling them; otherwise they flee. Although only +2 in close combat, they can quick kill elephants and knights. They can also ride down Psiloi, dispatching them on a doubling roll.

The downside with light horse, however, is that they lack punch. As noted in the DBA description, "they were unlikely to destroy other infantry unless they could outflank them, but could greatly hamper their movements." Hampering your enemy's movements is all fine and dandy, but if you lack the requisite infantry or heavy horse to match up against your foe, then killing four enemy elements requires considerable patience and great finesse. Making use of your superior mobility to obtain overlaps and flank positions is critical. Battle lines are less relevant with light horse armies; battles are fluid and good PIP die are required to deliver your light horse into positions where they can deliver telling blows. To borrow a phrase from the boxer Muhammed Ali, you must "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee."

How Light Horse Matches Up

LH vs. Artillery:: light horse cannot be killed by artillery. Even if routed (25% chance), their 500p move can bring them nearly back to engagement in a single turn. This makes them useful at distracting and screening artillery to prevent them from shattering more fragile targets. And on the few turns they do succeed in reaching the enemy guns, their chance of overrunning the gunners (destroying the artillery) is not inconsiderable.

In general, then, light horse match up well against artillery. They will prevent the artillery from doing anything useful, cannot be killed by the artillery, and with some luck may even overrun the guns. Odds are, though, that the pips will be needed elsewhere, and the result will be a standoff.

LH vs. Auxilia, Psiloi, and Warband: Loose order foot, or the energetic but uncoordinated mass of aggressive foot that makes up warband, are the perfect target for mounted skirmishers. Without dense missile fire these troops cannot resist light horse effectively. In combat the factors are +2 to +2, but the Light Horse cannot be slain. So long as he can't become flanked or trapped, a light horse commander should be happy to throw his forces against enemy auxilia, psiloi, or warband.

It may take a while -- on any given roll, there is only a 4% chance that his light horse will shatter the enemy foot, and an equal chance that his light horse will be routed. But with the use of a few reserves to fill gaps and the superior mobility of his forces, if he is careful, in the long run the combat will be his. Warband are even weaker in this respect than other troops, as their impetuousity can be used in probing attacks by light horse to quickly draw them out of formation.

LH vs. Blades: The heavy armour or shields of blades make them more effective foemen than lighter foot, but they are still unable to slay light horse in frontal combat, and have only a slight combat-factor advantage. Light horse can thus be sent with impunity against enemy blades. The chance of destruction for the blade is small (3%), but their lines may be disarrayed (25% chance the blade will recoil), and no real damage is possible to the light horse.

LH vs. Spear or Pikes: Here the combat factors start going against light horse. Even single-ranked, pikes or spear can largely ignore the irritating attacks of light horse. In combat against this sort of heavy foot light horse is most effective be used in flanking maneuvers. Direct attack serves little purpose.

Another useful technique is to simply block the enemy advance. Ensure that your light horse element is not aligned with the enemy, place him in enemy ZOC (or even in contact with the enemy front edge) and leave him there. Make the enemy spend the pips, and disorder his own line, to fight your light horse. It won't work forever, but you can slow his heavy foot advance and give you time to win elsewhere with other troops.

LH vs. Bow: Combat against large groups of bowmen is very risky for light horse. True, the bow is destroyed if simply beaten in combat, and the light horse must be doubled. But a group of light horse fighting enemy bow will quickly become disordered, some routed, and a huge pip drain on their general. The general commanding the bow, on the other hand, hasn't spent any pips. That sort of equation spells defeat for the light horse player if he isn't careful. If you can sieze the chance to attack bow as part of a mixed line of troops (where the bow will likely be part of an overlap on their turns, and unable to use ranged fire) the combat may be worth attempting, but in general light horse are best employed elsewhere.

LH vs. Cavalry: At +3 to +2, with both sides killed if doubled, cavalry has the advantage against light horse. As the Mongols learned from the Mamlukes at Ayn Jalut (where their light horsemen were bowled over and killed by controlled charges of heavier horse), light horse cannot win this fight without great luck or subterfuge. Avoid it if you can; if you can't avoid it, try to create a swirling melee where individual elements are spread every which way. In a straight-up combat of lines of light horse and cavalry, the cavalry will win every time.

LH vs. Knights: The Classic Match-up. The knights have the advantage in the initial fray, with a 25% chance of slaying the light horse and only a 17% chance of dying in return. But if the knights don't destroy their light horse enemies in the first charge they are likely to quickly put themselves in a grim situation: by impetuous advance they will penetrate deep into the enemy lines, often into double overlaps, and far from friendly assistance. A risky matchup for both sides, and the one with the best initial attack (an overlap or two, or a friendly hill slope) will often prevail.

LH vs. Camelry: Avoid camelry. They have as much chance of killing light horse as knights do, and are neither impetuous (to be drawn out of formation) nor are they quick-killed by light horse. Luckily for light horse generals, camelry are rare.

LH vs. Elephants: elephants are a problem for many armies, and light horse may seem the only answer for some. They can kill elephants on a push-back, but don't be deluded by the Quick-Kill. At +5 to +2 elephants will take a grievous toll of your light horse. Use psiloi by preference against elephants; spear or pike next, then auxilia, blades, or bow. Only use light horse if you absolutely have no other options.

Best of all is to surround, flank, or irritate enemy elephants by staying near, but not too near; at an angle, so the elephant must be split off from the rest of the enemy line (using many more pips). In a few turns the enemy will not have the pips to move the elephant and it can be attacked alone if necessary; hopefully by using the light horse as a flanker rather than in a frontal role.

LH vs. War Wagons: Avoid them at all costs. Light horse cannot win this combat, and cannot long hope to survive if they are put in harms way. Luckily there is very little as easy to avoid as an enemy war wagon!

The Classic Match-Up

Light horse made their mark in so many historical periods and settings that you could choose any number of "classic" army match-ups. The one that comes immediately to mind, however, is the match-up between light horse and knights, such as Mongol light horse vs. the knights of Later Poland. The light horse would skirmish and harass the proud knights, inflicting casualties with their missiles until the knights could stand no more. Rashly drawn into an impetuous charge when the light horse feinted a retreat, the knights quickly found themselves in disarray, unable to come to grips with the elusive light horse, and subject to missile fire and slashing counter-attacks on their exposed flanks and rear. These tactics were not specific to the Mongols, but were employed by all Light horse when sharing a battlefield with heavier cavalry. The Mongols added, however, superior discipline and the prepared ambush to the equation.

What Do Light Horse Fear?

Light horse should have a healthy respect for bows and other mounted troops, especially cavalry and camelry, and should avoid war wagons at all costs. Light horse are good-going skirmishers; there is no percentage in allowing light horse to become engaged while in bad going.

The Moral of the Story:

If you are patient, enjoy playing the underdog, and like horsing around, then steppe right up to a light horse army. They are colorful and economical (only two figures per light horse element!) and can really stir-rup a hornets nest if used effectively. If you prefer armies that get right to the point, then don't allow yourself to be saddled with too much light horse. By the same token, don't turn your nose up at a light horse element or two, which can be invaluable in saving you from a bad deployment (by moving across field to fill in gaps on the endangered flank) or covering your camp from the threat of an end-run.

Above all, be flexible! The tremendous speed of light horse can give you a huge advantage. A good light horse commander will be willing to throw his skirmishing horsemen against a wall of blades or warband one moment, and in the next form column and ride like the wind for the other flank. Make your opponent curse the day he ever matched up against light horsemen. Light horse are the most mobile troops around, with a powerful second-and-subsequent move ability. Use it.

Picking a Light Horse Army

If you'd like to give a true "light horse" army a ride, at least 20 DBA army lists allow you to field 50% or more of your army as light horse. The great majority of armies with a light horse option, however, allow only one or two elements.

Max No.
of Elements

Army List


Huns (#79), Pecheneg (#109)


Kimmerian/Skythian (#25), Chinese Border Noman (#62), Ghuzz (#94), Seljuq Turk (#124)


Alan (#55d), Ilkhanid (#159d)


Parthian (#51), Numidian (#53), Cuman (#130), Lithuanian (#148)


Andalusian (#153), Mongol (#154)


Moorish (#65), Khazar (#93), Magyar (#107), Khwarizmian (#146), Later Bulgar (#147), Islamic Persian (#175)


Early Ottoman (#160a), Scanderbeg Albanian (#177)


Early Armenian (#44), Early Bulgar (#87), Avar (#90), Early Hungarian (#119), Berber (#125), Comnenan Byzantine (#133), Ayyubid Egyptian (#143), Late Byzantine (#153), Granadine (#155), Catalan Company (#165), Medieval Spanish (#171)


Kushan (#21b), Early North Greek (#24c), Palmyran (#76), Korean (#78), Tibetan (#97), Breton (#102b), West Sudanese (#120), Medieval Syrian (#139), Post-Mongol Russian (#157), Later Ottoman (#160b), Later Hungarian (#166)


Warring States/Ch'in Chinese (#16c), Lydian (#18d), Libyan Egyptian (#20), Thracian (#27), Achaemenid Persian (#28a & 33), Later Carthaginian (#31b), Alexandrian Imperial (#37), Han (#54), Maccabean Jewish (#56), Ancient British (#60), Caledonian/Pict (#67), Three Kingdoms Chinese (#72), Sassanid (#73a & b), Late Roman-East (#77b), Early Byzantine (#86), Maurikian Byzantine (#91), T'ang/Five Dynasties Chinese (#95), Arab Conquest (#96), Abyssinian (#101b), Feudal Spanish (#104), Pre-Feudal Scots (#111), Khitan Liao (#114), Ghaznavid (#115), Sung Chinese (#116), Nikephorian Byzantine (#117), Fatimid Egyptian (#118), Georgian (#121), Early Russian (#129), Early Imperialist (#136), Later Serbian (#142b), Later Polish (#149), Teutonic Order (#151), Mamluk Egyptian (#158), Timurid (#159b), Medieval Irish (#164), Italian Condotta (#169), Ming Chinese (#174)


Midianite Arab (#5)*, Neo-Elamite (#18b), Illyrian (#26), Later Hoplite Greek (#32), Syracusan (#34), Alexandrian Macedonian (#36), Antigonid (#38a), Lysimachid (#39), Seleucid (#41a & b), Ptolemaic (#42a & b), Pyrrhic (#43), Hellenistic Greek (#47), Pergamene (#48), Later Macedonian (#49), Bactrian/Indo-Greek (#50), Ancient Spanish (#52), Sarmatians (#55c), Pontic (#58), Early Imperial Rome (#64), Dacian (#68), Early Goth/Vandal (#70), Late Rome-West (#77a), Patrican Rome (#81), Sub-Roman British (#82), African Vandal (#84), Thematic Byzantine (#99), Arab Imperial (#100), Early Polish (#122), Sicilian (#135), Anglo-Irish (#144), Romanian Frank (#152), Swiss (#161a & b), Later Imperial (#167), Hussite (#176), Burgundian Ordonnance (#180)

* 2Cm is treated as Light Horse in DBA.

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DBA 1.2 Rules Wargames Research Group 1995
DBA 1.22 Rules Phil Barker, Richard Bodley Scott, Sue Laflin Barker 1990-2000