The Way of the Horse

By EnemyofJupitor.

Think of the medieval period. What do you first think of? Churches? Longbowmen? Castles?

For most people, the picture in their minds is a knight, sitting atop a beautiful charger in full plate armour with a lance lowered towards the helpless enemy infantry. It is an image that survived through the centuries, right until you're sitting in front of your computer trying to get the blasted things to charge properly.

This guide will hopefully give you a bit of insight into using these dangerous units, adding a new layer of strategy to your game.


The theory

Cavalry come into 4 main groups- heavy, light, missile and special. Heavy are the knights and Mamulks- the big hitters that can dissolve an army into chaos if allowed to flank. These guys usually have a lance to help them in their role. Light cavalry are more mobile, but are still more melee-orientated. Most people use them to chase off our next group, the missile cavalry. These use bows, crossbows or javelins to kill from afar, exploiting their mobility to keep out of trouble. Think of it as a kind of mounted Rock-Paper-Scissors- Heavy cavalry will eat light cavalry for breakfast, which can catch and rout missile cavalry, which can tire out and shoot the heavy cavalry. Easy.

Now, the specialty cavalry are wildcards. These are the oddity units that are usually unique to a faction, and again can be subdivided, this time into melee, missile and both. Elephants are a prime example of the melee subclass, but you can put camel gunners as a special missile cavalry. Units such as Boyar sons and Reiters go in the both group, as they have decent ranged and melee attack. However, all Special cavalry can be used to great effect in the cavalry battle, as well as against the more traditional enemies, the infantry.

The Charge of the Heavy Cavalry

Well, speak of the devil- here comes a unit of infantry now! You quickly order your knights to charge, waiting for the glorious sight of men flying into the air and screaming, impaled on lances. Only... Your cavalry hit the infantry unit with swords in hand, and get none of the special effects you wanted. "Why's this", I hear you cry. Well, settle down and I'll tell you.

The charging mechanics have been slightly tweaked since 350 AD (Rome: Total War, Barbarian Invasion). Instead of automatically charging with the lance or spear, which is called a 'formed charge', sometimes the sword is used to much less effect- called an 'unformed charge'. So, how do you get your heavy cavalry to use the big pointy barber poles?

A number of factors are needed to make a formed charge. For the best charges, you will need to first line up your cavalry against the enemy infantry at a fair distance away to provide the momentum. Then, you will need to order the units at a run. There is a theory among my fellow players that if you put defensive mode on, the cavalry, like infantry units in melee, will keep the formation together. I have not yet noticed a marked difference between switching it on or off, but then again every little helps. Then you have to make sure the cavalry in mid run will not be intercepted, thus stopping the charge, or transferring the charge onto the unfortunate unit that did the blocking. After that, zoom in and watch men fly!

An unformed charge will occur if the unit is spread out before the charge, or is too close or not facing the target. Also, if either the charger or the target moves in a significant direction, the chargers will need to turn, and thus 'drop' their lances.

The Uses of Light Cavalry

Probably the least used, but most easily accessible and cheapest cavalry class are the light cavalry. While not as durable as their heavier counterparts, they also have their ways of use. For instance, if you line up against a multiplayer army of Turks, 9 times out of 10 you'll find your enemy has a lot of missile cavalry. Your heavy cavalry are shot to bits trying to catch them, as well as tiring themselves out. You need a fast mobile unit to catch the things- one that'll still beat them in combat.

Enter the light cavalry. As noted above, they are faster, and lightly armoured cavalrymen, usually with a spear and sword. While their charge isn't to the standard of knights, it is still preferable to use the same tactics to get a formed instead of an unformed charge. However, it isn't always possible with taking down the flightily little missile cavalry, so you may wish to pin them down, or go two pronged on a group of them.

When needed, the light cavalry can still do the basic job of flanking well. However, you shouldn't rely on them as much as knights- they need much more support.

Raiding with Missile Cavalry

All factions will have some kind of this type- even the European factions have the underrated mounted crossbowmen. Basically, these fellas are used for luring and general shooting of the enemy. They also often require the most micromanagement of the cavalry, but you will reap rewards if you can execute a luring of the enemy cavalry away, allowing you free reign.

Missile cavalry are the best type of cavalry to lure with because they don't actually engage the enemy in melee. Thus, they can shoot over the protective meat shield that your enemy could have set up, into the more vulnerable or valuable units. Hence the reason why your foe wishes them dead. Quickly. Methods include shooting the unit you wish to lure, or a more valuable one- either way, the enemy is likely to send some cavalry your way.

Now, this is when your micro-managing skills come to the fore. Basically, you'll need to make the enemy step out of reach of support, then hit them with your big hitters. Perhaps you can put skirmish mode on and hope the enemy hasn't cottoned on. Possibly use the unit as bait, seemingly out of reach for your forces, only for you to turn the table. If you're really good, you can order multiple units on multiple wings to weave a dance on the plains that will end up with your foe making a mistake. Be aware the last one takes a lot of practice, and has the greatest risk.

And then, after your missile cavalry are given free reign by the tying up of the enemy, you can always run them round the back and shoot at the exposed infantry. Or even add their number to the flank or rear charge. Don't be overly wary of sending them in a melee- with proper support and the right enemy, they can hold their own.


Thus ends my guide to cavalry mastery. I hope you found this informative, and don't hesitate to contact me by e-mail or ask on the forums if you don't get or think a certain bit is wrong. Thanks to all that have helped in this, including the brilliant forumers and people I've bugged on MSN for any reason. Have fun, and I'll see you on the battlefield!