Sunday, 8 May 2011


Dragon Princes - flower of the High Elf cavalry
There is no question in my mind that Infantry have greatly improved in 8th edition compared to what they were previously. There are a number of factors contributing to this rise. Amongst these are:
  • Chargers no longer strike first, making the lower movement of infantry less of a disadvantage in combat
  • Models striking in 2 (or even 3) ranks is a rule that players will immediately make use of with Infantry, whereas the small units of Cavalry they used previously can’t really take advantage of it
  • Steadfast is a rule far more likely to be wielded effectively by Infantry than Cavalry
  • Infantry get into combat faster than they used to, given your standard Movement 4 unit can charge an average of 11” thanks to the 2D6 charge range
I realise there are other reasons why Infantry have suddenly risen in people’s esteem, however the main one is really the fact that Infantry are now capable of dealing out a lot of pain, whereas previously they would have been fighting in a single rank, if they got to strike at all.

The sudden rise to power of Infantry has led to a number of people declaring that Cavalry are no longer worth fielding. Why get Cavalry when the rules have been changed to clearly favour Infantry?

Being a naturally contrary person when it comes to this sort of thing, I am inclined to use more and more Cavalry in my games. The fewer everyone else uses, the more I am likely to field. This is partly fuelled by my desire to be different, which has been known to drive me to use completely useless units in the past. However, in this case I do not believe I am disadvantaging myself at all. I figured I might try laying out a few arguments to get people thinking.

Cavalry are fast
Almost invariably, Cavalry units will move faster than Infantry. Cavalry will often have 3” or 4” more Movement than their foot-slogging comrades, which translates to a not inconsiderable 6” or 8” when marching. Add to this the Swiftstride rule, which allows the unit to roll and extra D6 to determine charge distance (discarding the lowest die) and the Cavalry will undoubtedly arrive far sooner than any troops using their own two feet.

One of the advantages that Infantry have now is that is generally doesn’t really matter whether they get the charge. The only difference it makes for them is who gets the +1 combat resolution bonus. This is obviously not the case for some other units in the game, which may rely on the charge for things like impact hits. This holds true for a lot of Cavalry as well, many of which rely on the charge for strength bonuses from lances and spears. This is admittedly a disadvantage, as it means a failed charge will render the unit less effective should it fail the charge and receive a counter-charge instead. However, a high Movement value and Swiftstride should generally be enough to compensate for this weakness by making the charge a fairly sure thing.

I should also point out that whilst some units don’t care who charges, there are definite advantages to being able to charge sooner rather than later. The speed of a Cavalry unit will generally mean you can consider charges in turn 2 (if not sooner in some situations). This can make a big difference to enemy shooting (whether because you engaged their shooters or because your unit ceases to be a target because it’s engaged in combat).

Being fast also opens more possibilities for flank charges. It is quite ludicrous how far a unit can travel on the charge, once you allow for the free 90 degree wheel. I think some people have somewhat dismissed the effectiveness of flank charges because of the steadfast rule, however I think they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are plenty of reasons to try to get into the flank of your enemy. I might talk about that another time.

Cavalry are tough
Cavalry offer the sort of armour saves that Infantry can only dream of. The +2 save you get from being mounted on a barded steed (or a naked Cold One or angry piggy) is a major advantage. It is true that Cavalry often cost twice as much (or even more) as their nearest Infantry equivalent in the same army, however sometimes the extra armour alone can make them twice as hard to kill.

Bear in mind that being doubly tough has more advantages than simply compensating you for the points investment in the unit. Every armour save you make is 1 less combat resolution for your opponent. As such, there is a big difference between losing 5 knights and 10 infantry – it’s more than just the loss of that many points’ value in models.

Cavalry are also immune to Stomp and Thunderstomp attacks. This might seem like an insignificant thing, however it can make a huge difference to some combats. Players will increasingly come to rely on the damage from these things for their large models to do sufficient damage. When they lose the option, they will rapidly find themselves in trouble. Especially when you start passing armour saves against the few basic attacks they can use...

I should also point out that as good as the armour save of a knight is, it comes without sacrificing the damage potential of the model. Most Infantry with decent armour saves (better than 5+) are not wielding great weapons or halberds, so they are not the most dangerous of troops (I realise there are exceptions thanks to things like chaos armour and full plate). A knight gets the full benefit of his lance without sacrificing his armour save. This (coupled with striking in initiative order) is the pay-off you get for putting up with a weapon that requires the charge to be effective.

Cavalry can still hit hard
All of the rules that have made Infantry so much more dangerous in 8th edition also apply to Cavalry. If you are willing to fork out the points, Cavalry can also fight in 2 ranks (or even 3 if you’re truly mad)…

Silly? Some might think so. OK, well everyone might think so... Tee hee
Heavy Cavalry units tend to have some of the better stats in their respective armies. Coupled with options such as lances or great weapons (and a bonus set of attacks from the front row of mounts), a decent-sized Cavalry unit is capable of dealing real damage. Players who have faced the Bretonnian Lance formation in the past will know how much damage a charging block of knights can do – now everyone with Cavalry can pull a similar number of attacks.

Cavalry do suffer from the same problem as units such as bare-bones Hordes of 30 Infantry. As soon as you start taking casualties, you are probably losing attacks. This is unfortunate, however the additional armour saves help to slow this process, and you always have the option of adding more models to the unit to compensate.

It is also worth noting that players are used to using Cavalry as shock troops – the sort of unit that crashes into the front of the enemy formation and ploughs straight on through, out the other side. The Steadfast rule changes this. In most situations against a decent block of Infantry, Cavalry will have fewer ranks and thus grant Steadfast to their opponents. This will even be the case if you are in the flank or rear.

Steadfast requires a change in thinking to how you expect your Cavalry to perform. You will kill just as many (or potentially a lot more) models on the charge than you used to, however it will not mean your enemy is going to break. You may be able to orchestrate things in such a way that they will (for instance combining your charge with that of a unit with plenty of ranks, or a combined charge that does so much damage that the Steadfast ranks are lost). However, just as often, you need to expect your Cavalry to get into protracted combats. As such, it is worth considering such things as the Inner Circle upgrade on Empire knights, or even fielding knights with Great Weapons (such as White Wolves or Questing Knights) – things that retain their effectiveness in subsequent rounds, and are thus equipped to grind through the enemy over several rounds. You can also help the situation by fielding things like heroes with great weapons in the front rank – they can add long-term fighting potential to a unit which is otherwise lacking it.

Fast Cavalry
All Cavalry are fast, however some units are especially so. Fast Cavalry do not enjoy the benefits of their slower friends in terms of survivability; however that is not why they are there. In effect, Fast Cavalry are a different unit type entirely.

Fast Cavalry may make use of the Vanguard special rule, stealing up to 12” before the game even starts. This cannot be used to charge your enemy before he moves, however it can do wonders for putting a unit in the enemy’s flank straight away, or threaten his war machines almost before they have had a chance to shoot.

I have not tried all of these yet, however there are really 5 main roles you can try to perform with Fast Cavalry. Sometimes the same unit may be suited to more than one role:
  • Harassing missile troops – the unit sits close to the flanks of enemy units, firing constantly and forcing march tests at every opportunity. The best units for this tend to be things like Pistoliers and Dark Riders.
  • Light sweeper units – units that have some modest combat ability, using spears to clean up enemies that really can’t look after themselves – things like war machines, small missile units and stray wizards. Things like Ellyrian Reavers and Marauder Horsemen are well suited to this role.
  • Charge diverters – contrary to what people think, it is still possible to interfere badly with the enemy’s planned charges, especially with more than one unit on the job. Fast cavalry are particularly well-suited to this due to their Feigned Flight rule.
  • Deep flankers – this is something I am yet to put into practice, however a large unit of cheap Fast Cavalry should be capable of seriously threatening the flanks of larger units. The Fast Cavalry would need to be at least 15 strong in order to retain its rank after combat, however between the charge and flank bonuses, cancelling enemy rank bonus, and any damage they will do with at least 10 spear attacks, they could be a threat in their own right, or a massive support for a frontal charge from a more “serious” unit. I intend to try this with Goblin Wolf Riders. At 12 points a pop, why not?
  • Clean-up crew – a number of people I know have made sure to field a couple of light Cavalry units as sweepers to clean up straggling fleeing units later in the game. Now that you don’t get points for a fleeing unit at the end of the game, this has become increasingly important.

In conclusion...
I think part of the dismissal of Cavalry in 8th edition has come as a knee-jerk reaction to the power shift from the previous edition. In 7th edition you would find a number of Cavalry-heavy forces, with some players ignoring Infantry entirely. This will not often be the case now; all-Cavalry armies will be something of a rarity. However, there is always a middle ground. Just because it may not be worth making your entire army out of Cavalry does not mean they should be dismissed completely.

There is unquestionably a role for Cavalry in most players’ armies. You may just want a couple of light units to interfere with the enemy and clean up at the end, or you might prefer to go all-out and field a large block or two of knights. All armies need a bit of speed somewhere and this is what all Cavalry can offer.

1 comment:

  1. Great article i'm going to back link this in my next blog update.