Unsquared Infantry vs. Cavlary

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    Forrest Harris

    The rules seem to give ample modifiers to punish infantry being charged in the flank by cavalry.

    Having said that, we’ve had new players become very skeptical of the rules after crashing their D1 heavy cavalry into an infantry unit’s flank only to have the unsquared infantry miraculously survive and calmly turn to face them in line (albeit disordered). After running through all the modifiers and properly taking note of the infantry’s halved dice to the flank, wild dice (great infantry rolls against horrible cavalry rolls) have produced the unlikely result that an unsquared infantry unit hit in the flank by line cavalry was able to shrug off the attack.

    Shouldn’t unsquared infantry automatically break if they fail to win (i.e. lose or tie) a combat with a heavy cavalry unit, flanked or not? I believe this is the case with artillery.

    Is there an obscure rule we’re not taking into consideration?



    I have found with Black Powder, when something “rare” happens to consider what might have happened rather than the “optics” of what happened.

    Using your example, it is clear that the infantry battalion’s colonel saw the cavalry charging his flank and ordered his unit to face the enemy cavalry and issue fire.  Before the cavalry closed the infantry got off a devasting round of fire causing the charge to disintegrate and the cavalry to recoil.  In other words, think of the outcome as occurring in the course of the turn and not at the end of the turn.  Things are more dynamic than the “I move, you move” format of the game and part of that is captured in the combat resolution.  As you suggest such outcomes are rare, but nothing in battle is certain.

    Garry Wills

    Hello Forrest

    There is very little in the rules that is automatic. This problem is related as much to the break test as to the dice rolls in the close combat round,  in the first move the infantry often has a 58% of passing  (scoring 7 or more) because they are unlikely to suffer excess casualties in the charge. However the infantry don’t have the option to disengage and in their turn will fight the same combat disordered during which they are likely to lose again, this time with excess casualties and disordered. Just two excess casualties reduce the infantry’s chance of success in the break test to 17%, and again they won’t be able to disengage if they stand. Three excess casualties will reduce this further. So the cavalry will win the combat in most cases.

    This stills leaves the question of how you rationalise a rare win by the infantry. For me this comes down to the unspoken and unfashionable time scale represented by a turn. If the move was 1 to 2 minutes then this situation makes no sense, but turns in Black Powder cannot be thought of in this way given the movement distances involved. I think that it is more likely that a turn represents approximately 15 minutes or so and this opens up other possibilities. So in your example, in the rare occasions the infantry win the close combat and forced the cavalry to break off, which they will always do if they lose, then I tend to assume that a very alert infantry officer has luckily seen the cavalry coming and wheeled back a couple of companies to face the cavalry to see them off. This sort of thing is not unheard of in history.

    I talk about this in my video on historical scenarios with Black Powder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZwoGHbx8SE&t=1s&ab_channel=GarryWills

    Another thing that would change this dynamic is just to move the score required to stand in a break test. In Black Powder you need a score of 7 on 2D6, however in Hail Caesar you need to score 8 to stand. I have been experiment with this change in my games as a way of  shortening close combats in the game. In your example the infantry would have just a 42% chance of standing in the first combat and only 8% in the second combat.

    Regards and apologies for the excess geekery



    Forrest Harris

    Much to think about. Thanks, guys.

    invisible officer

    One should not forget that a lot of the effect of cavalry was moral, not physically.  A horse is not happy to run into a horde of humans to run them over.


    We have movies from pre WW I times of attacking horse in manoevres and others from police trying to charge into rioteers.   If the foot men fail to run the horsemen will often have a problem.

    Some Napoleonic sources tell how a horse killed in charge changed into a projectile and broke into a square, something that his living comrades did not, stopping in front of the line. The riders being helpless.


    For a horse the men in single companies are not different from a square.  His nature says:  Avoid them.

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