War Wagon

Medieval Armies DBA Page

Tactics: War Wagons

By David Kuijt

War Wagons in DBA are a special type of unit representing wagons that fought on the move. Some of them were specially reinforced, like the wagons of the Hussites. They were manned by missile-armed troops and had "great resisting power to blunt an enemy attack" (DBA rules, page 4). They count as foot troops for DBA purposes.

War Wagons are quick-killed by Elephants and Artillery. Unlike almost all other foot, they are not quick-killed by Knights. They move as heavy foot or Artillery, and share with Artillery the restriction that they cannot be moved into contact with an enemy, nor can they move off-road in bad going.

War Wagons share with Artillery and Bows the ability to make attacks at range with missiles. Their combat factors of +4 versus foot and +5 versus mounted make these attacks quite effective.

War Wagon vs. Blades or Spear

War Wagons can hold their own against the toughest heavy foot. The battle is likely to be long and slow, with the Blades/Spear being thrown back every once in a while. A battle isn't going to be won by this sort of contest, though -- it will usually take so long that something elsewhere on the battlefield will be where the final victory is decided.

War Wagon vs. Pike or Warband

Here the War Wagons do better, although again it is a long, slow slog, and unlikely to come to any resolution quickly. Even double-ranked Pike have only a fairly small chance (11%) of destroying a War Wagon without one or more overlaps, and the War Wagon has an 11% chance of destroying a Pike or Warband single-ranked or by missile fire.

War Wagon vs. Auxilia

Auxilia cannot realistically contend with War Wagons. In missile fire or melee they have an 11% chance of being destroyed, and no chance of destroying (or even affecting) the War Wagon without at least one overlap.

War Wagon vs. Psiloi

Psiloi cannot be slain by War Wagons, but neither can they expect to achieve anything. Every turn they are fired upon or are in contact with a War Wagon, Psiloi will have a 25% chance of being routed and forced to flee. Since the range of a War Wagon equals its movement off-road, Psiloi cannot even interfere much with the movement of a War Wagon.

War Wagon vs. Mounted: Cavalry, Knights, and Light Horse

War Wagons are tremendously effective against the common types of Mounted troops. If the Mounted get into contact they still have no chance of gaining an effective result on the War Wagon, and the missile fire will harry them at range. Every missile attack will have an 17% chance of killing Knights or Cavalry, and a 33% chance of killing Light Horse.

So What Do War Wagons Fear?

War Wagons fear getting flanked. Their slow movement and inability to move to contact the enemy mean that they are more vulnerable to a mobile attack of this sort. Although they do not recoil (and will never be destroyed by a bad recoil into impassable terrain or misaligned friends) they can still be destroyed when beaten while attacked in flank.

Elephants get quick-kills on War Wagons. Elephants must be screened off and blocked if possible; the strong missile capability of War Wagons will often be able to delay them and drive them back, but the odds of a War Wagon killing an Elephant stand are small: 4.5% per attack. When the Elephant gets into contact it will kill the War Wagon 28% of the time, die itself 4.5% of the time, and be recoiled 53% of the time. The War Wagon, of course, will never recoil.

The big danger is Artillery. The low mobility of War Wagons and the long range of Artillery, combined with the fact that Artillery gets a quick-kill on War Wagons, puts War Wagons in grave danger if their opponent has any artillery. In a single turn of firing Artillery has a 42% chance of killing a War Wagon. If the War Wagon is in range for return fire, there is only a 3% chance of the Artillery dying.

There is little that a War Wagon player can do about this sad situation. Luckily, it is as hard to maneuver Artillery into a good position as it is to maneuver War Wagons. Keep your War Wagons away from enemy Artillery. If your opponent puts you in a position where you cannot avoid his Artillery, try to screen your War Wagons with heavy foot (Spear or Blades) and use your War Wagons to hold the flanks, or else give the enemy Artillery something to worry about by charging Cavalry or Knights or Auxilia forward to engage them, screen their firing, and hopefully destroy them.

What Are War Wagons Good At?

Used carefully, War Wagons can be tremendously useful. The fact that they do not recoil makes it very hard to beat them when they are in a good formation. The common offensive tactic of trying to compress and push back a defensive wall is entirely impossible on War Wagons. This, their high factors, and even more their missile ability, makes War Wagons excellent troops for holding the corner of a line or the end of one flank. You can often leave a flank hanging in space without supporting troops if you have a War Wagon holding it down, depending upon the missile fire and high combat factors of the War Wagon to see off any attackers.

As noted above, War Wagons are devastating against Mounted opponents. Strangely enough, War Wagons are also good support for Mounted. It takes them some time to get into position, but they have very good matchups against the troops that Mounted hate most: Bows and Pikes. Where other heavy foot has to worry about getting flanked or overlapped, War Wagons don't mind it as much. This means that a cavalry-heavy army can abandon its War Wagons in a fairly isolated position without great danger.

War Wagons are very good at holding a line, even heavily outnumbered. The enemy may be able to overwhelm them eventually, but it will take a long time to do it, giving you time to return or achieve your own aim on the other end of the battlefield. War Wagons do exceedingly well in a defensive situation, where the enemy must move towards them and they can sit and use their powerful missile factors.

War Wagons are good at interdicting bad going. One of the ways of using bad-going troops is to site them just inside the terrain, putting good-going troops in their face and interfering with their movement. This is easy to stop with a War Wagon or two -- you drive up to the edge of the woods and open up with missile fire. Any Psiloi or Auxilia inside will quickly be destroyed or driven off.

Finally, War Wagons make excellent Camp Defenders. Outside a Camp they can interdict enemy movement and use their missile factors. Inside a Camp they can still fire, and they gain +2 combat factor in melee. A Camp cannot be flanked or overlapped, so the War Wagon will have +6 or +7 combat factor, cannot be recoiled, and can only be killed by being doubled, which is mathematically impossible even for Psiloi-supported Blade or double-ranked Pike. Without Elephants or Artillery, defending a Camp with a War Wagon makes it impossible for your Camp to fall.

What Are War Wagons Bad At?

Maneuver. They can't enter bad going except on a road. This can make an army using War Wagons as part of its formation end up in some awkward and cramped positions. It makes them moderately poor at any aggressive movement in a crowded map. And if there is some piece of crucial bad going that must be taken or passed through, War Wagons are useless.

They also can't move into contact with the enemy. This makes them surprisingly poor support troops at the center of an advance, as they can't go with any advance into contact. Since you cannot fire at any units in melee or in an overlap position, War Wagons quickly become spectators if their commander is trying a push forward.

The Moral of the Story:

If you've got War Wagons, concentrate on giving them a task they are good at. Used carefully, they can be an excellent addition to any army, whether mounted like the Pechenegs or largely infantry like the Hussites. Keep them away from enemy Artillery and Elephants and give them a task within their capabilities, and they will do very well indeed.

War Wagon Armies

War Wagons are one of the rarest element types in DBA, with only eight historical armies possessing them (Scythed Chariots appear in five armies, a couple more if you count Stampeding Cattle).

War Wagons are used in an interesting variety of army types. The Hussites supplement their mandatory complement of War Wagons with Blades, Artillery, and a light mounted contingent. The Pecheneg, with the second largest potential War Wagon entourage, are a mounted army based almost entirely upon Light Horse. The Sea Peoples', in marked contrast, are a Warband army.

A single War Wagon element appears as part of the Early Hebrew mixed-foot army, the Khazar army based upon Cavalry and Light Horse with some foot support, and combined-arms approaches of the Communal Italians and Later Hungarians.

The strangest army with a War Wagon element seems to be the Cyropaedic Persians. Their War Wagon represents a mobile tower, and supplements a mixed force of Cavalry, Auxilia, and Psiloi with one Camel element and a striking arm of three Scythed Chariots! Talk about an eclectic mix.

Max. No. of War Wagons Army Lists
4 Hussite (#176)
3 Pecheneg (#109)
2 Sea Peoples' (#14a)
1 Early Hebrew (#13), Cyropaedic Persian (#28b), Khazar (#93), Communal Italian (#123), Later Hungarian (#166)

Last Updated: July 17, 1998. Added picture at the top.

The author may be contacted at kuijt@umiacs.umd.edu. Please do not use any pictures or text from this page without permission.