Cavalry was, in many ways, King in 7th edition. With superior movement, enhanced strength on the charge and little to no fear of being attacked in return, the only things cavalry feared were unbreakable units and flying monsters.
A typical cavalry battle included a furious charge, most or all of the opposing front rank being wiped out, and thus the opponent already losing the combat before their turn to strike ever arrived.
With the advent of 8th edition, the mindset changed. People dismissed cavalry as chaff, unworthy of being taken. After all, they no longer got to attack first due to charging, their advantage in charge distances diminished, and steadfast meant they can be…and are…drawn into multi-turn slugfests with steadfast infantry. They then can be taken out in wars of attrition.
People who dismiss cavalry out of hand are often simply stuck in 7th edition thinking. They are trying to use cavalry in the same role as it was used in that time frame and thus miss out on a great deal of the strength of cavalry.
Lets start with the movement. The swift stride rule still presents an advantage in charge difference for cavalry. To start with, a typical cavalry base Movement is roughly 3” greater than its foot-slogger counterpart.
Second, rolling 3d6 and choosing the best 2 will typically result in better movement than simply rolling 2d6 and accepting the result. The average result in charge distance for cavalry thus starts with two advantages and, occasional outliers due to atypical dice rolling aside, almost always going to result in more distance on the charge thus allowing them to project their force further.
Example: Take a typical infantryman, say an Empire Greatsword with M4 versus his cavalry counterpart. The battle line having been maintained, they both start 11” away from the enemy.
The infantry needs to roll a 7 on 2 dice, a fairly typical result most players “expect” to make. And they will about 58% of the time. Which means slightly more than 4 in 10 times they will fail.
The cavalry, however, has 3 dice to roll needing to total just 4” on any two to accomplish their charge. (Note that later I will argue the charge may not be a good idea anyway). Even without rolling 3 dice, they would have an 83% chance of accomplishing the charge, and that percentage is only improved by being able to roll 3 and discard 1.
Thus it is vastly easier for the cavalry to drive home the charge due to their better base movement and extra die. However, they are also more likely to be in the position to make the charge already.
Infantry moves over 40% slower, on average, than cavalry. The further they are moving, the larger the gap in range.
Example: The Empire marches their battle line forward for 2 consecutive turns, trying to get at the Dwarf battle line 36” away. The infantry moves 8” away, leaving them still 28” from the Dwarf lines. The cavalry, meanwhile, has advanced 28” which virtually assures them of being able to charge the enemy line now just 8” away.
Obviously there are times this will not be a good approach. Most times this will not be a good approach as unsupported cavalry not called Chaos Knights will have a difficult time taking out a stout infantry block.
But it is a powerful option. It also ensures cavalry has the means to set up flank charges for when the slower-moving infantry DOES get to the enemy battle lines.
Thus we clearly see the blatantly obvious; cavalry still has a massive mobility advantage over infantry.
The problem is, many people still attempted to use cavalry the way it was used in 7th. Get there first, charge in, wipe out the front rank, and expect to see the enemy run. But 8th edition infantry tends to A) stay in place due to being steadfast or else have something like the Crown of Command.
Furthermore, they still get to attack back. On the turn the cavalry charged. This leads people to see cavalry get bogged down, worn down by losing a knight or two a turn while doing no damage, and get seen off.
A change in thinking is in order.
Cavalry still has two massive advantages besides their mobility. First, they often are equipped with lances or spears that give them a nice strength advantage on the charge that tends to lead to inflicting large numbers of casualties.
Second, they are heavily armored which tends to increase their survivability.
The best-armored foot troops typically have a 3+ save and that is limited to a handful of troops such as Chaos Warriors and the increasingly rare Gromril Armor/Shield combo for Dwarf armies.
More typically heavy armor and shield is giving a 4+, and most infantry units have even worse armor. Compare that to the 2+ cavalry routinely achieves. Even against S5 troops they are saving 50% of the wounds inflicted!
So how to use a fast-moving, hard-hitting, rugged unit?
All too often the answer has been to send them unsupported into ranked infantry and be disappointed with the results. The correct answer is to use them in conjunction with your own infantry.
When two infantry units clash, it typically is a war of attrition unless the steadfast unit somehow wins the combat. Most steadfast units either have very high leadership, re-rolls, or both, thus making them very difficult to budge.
Cavalry gives your own unit a way of turning that combat into a decisive win. This works best with armies with inexpensive infantry. Chaos Marauders, Empire State Troops, Brettonian Men at Arms are all fine examples.
First you bring an infantry block of your own that either is already large enough on its own to have the steadfast rule or else is close enough in size that a good round of combat might flip it.
Then you use that mobile, fast moving cavalry to hit the steadfast unit in the flank. Several things are going to happen.
First, you are going to get attacked back. That is the reality of 8th edition. Even your most elite, strike first, hard-hitting units are highly unlikely to do enough damage to one-turn annihilate even Skaven slaves even if they do an unsaved wound with every attack and save every wound done in return.
Second, what you are trying to do is take away their steadfast. Charge too early and you will do massive casualties but not remove enough ranks to keep them from being steadfast. Charge too late and your own unit may have run by now.
But charge at the right moment and your cavalry becomes what it should be designed for; a shock unit that hits so hard the unit that was effectively unbreakable loses steadfast, takes so many casualties that their ensuing break test will require insane courage or close to it, and runs.
Third, by charging at the right moment you are going to keep that juicy strength bonus by being able to charge again.
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