By David Kuijt
The description of Cavalry from the DBA rulebook (slightly edited) is as follows:
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.
It isn't surprising, then, 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. As such, it is clearly important to understand their advantages and vulnerabilities.
Cavalry combines good combat factors (+3 vs. anything) and excellent movement (400 paces). They have the standard rough-going vulnerability of all mounted troops; other than that they have no special combat vulnerabilities or advantages.
Cavalry vs. Spear or Pike: At +3 vs. +4, this combat is never very good for the Cavalry. When the heavy foot is double-ranked it goes from a poor idea to very stupid indeed. Well-organized heavy foot with long pointy things are largely immune to Cavalry.
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 enemy to redeploy. It also makes it very easy for your cavalry to take advantage of any hanging flanks or temporary vulnerabilities.
Cavalry vs. Psiloi, Warband, or Auxilia: At +3 vs. +2, everything goes the Cavalry way 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 Psiloi, 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.
Also, this combat is not without risk for the Cavalry player. A line of Cavalry versus a line of Psiloi/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, Psiloi, or Warband, you should do well.
Cavalry vs. Blades: Every element fears Blades. Every element, that is, except Cavalry. 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.
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 beat blades easily enough.
The one exception is Psiloi-backed Blades. They are a much more difficult proposition. At +3 vs. +4, Cavalry will make no headway against Blades with Psiloi support in frontal combat. Worse still, the Psiloi can move through the Blades at will, allowing them to leap forward into any hole in the line created by the death of a Cavalry element.
On the other hand, Psiloi-backed Blades reduce the frontage of the enemy army; they are like poor Pikes or Spear. Swamp the flanks; envelop; force him to pull his Psiloi away from a supporting role to react to a flanking move. When faced by Psiloi-backed Blades be systematic, not rash and headstrong. Maintain your maneuver advantage; force the enemy to react rather than dashing your cavalry against backed Blades, and you will find the problem has a solution.
Cavalry vs. Bow: Of all normal mounted troops (that is, excepting Elephants), organized foot bow fear Cavalry the most. The 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).
So it isn't an easy combat for the Cavalry, but it is still often worthwhile - Cavalry has the advantage engaging Bow.
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 is.
Cavalry vs. Artillery: Cavalry are good artillery killers. If you can get this matchup without unfriendly overlaps, take it. It may take a few turns, but the odds are better than 2:1 that the Artillery will die before the Cavalry will.
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 +5 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 if you are not recoiled; make the enemy commander spend pips to engage.
Any foot troops in the open without long pointy spikes. Psiloi, Auxilia, Warband, Artillery, even Bows and Blades. Light Horse are also fun targets - mounted skirmishing is ineffective and risky against Cavalry.
Camelry, Elephants, and War Wagons. Spear, Knights, and Pike should be treated cautiously; double-ranked Pikes or Spear must be avoided.
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 that isn't quick-killed by all mounted. 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; any 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.
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. For the 79 armies that have only one or two Cavalry elements I listed only the army numbers, not the names, to save space.
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||Army Lists|
|11||Early Rhoxolani Sarmatian (#55a)|
|10||Mameluk Egyptian (#158)|
|8||Avar (#90), Thematic Byzantine (#99)|
|7||Maurikian Byzantine (#91), Ghaznavid (#115)|
|6||Mede (#18c), Khazar (#93), Breton (#102b), Nikephorian Byzantine (#117), Early Samurai (#127a), Timurid (#159b), Islamic Persian (#175)|
|5||Later Achaemenid Persian (#33), Blemye or Nobades (#63), Early Sassanid (#73a), Later Sassanid (#73b), Medieval Syrian (#139), Post-Mongol Russian (#157)|
|4||18 armies: (#30d), Gallic (#35), Three Kingdoms Chinese (#72), 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)|
|3||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)|
|2||40 armies: #18a, #21a, #23, #29, #30a, #30c, #31a, #31b, #32, #36, #43, #45, #46a, #46b, #47, #49, #58, #62, #64, #67, #77b, #83a, #87, #94, #98, #102c, #103, #107, #110, #114, #116, #119, #120, #127b, #144, #153, #155, #162a, #176, #178.|
|1||39 armies: #12, #16c, #24a, #25, #27, #37, #38a, #39, #40, #52, #53, #57, #65, #66, #71, #74, #79, #81, #89, #92, #97, #101a, #101b, #104, #109, #111, #113, #130, #131a, #131b, #135, #137, #141, #148a, #148b, #151, #152, #164, #168.|
January 26, 1999. Added two paragraphs regarding Psiloi-backed Blades. Thanks to John McWalters for pointing out the omission.
January 20, 1999. Images added; minor text changes.
Page Created: January 11, 1999.
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