We can classify cavalry following two criteria: the mass (or armour) and the speciality.
According to their mass, we have: very light, light, medium, heavy and superheavy.
According to their speciality, we have: melee, shock and missile.
Nevertheless, almost all cavalry units have the same point in common: their strongest point is the charge bonus. So to get the most of them we have to make whenever we can clean charges.
And don't forget to use your cavalry to chase the enemies fleeing at the end of the battle! They're free casualties in the enemy's army.
- Make clean charges. In other words, ensure there are no friendly or enemy units between your cavalry and its target when charging.
- Never, ever, make frontal charges against spear units. You can charge them from other directions, but withdraw the unit quick or they'll suffer unnecessary casualties.
- Get the most of the terrain. Downhill charges are much more destructive. On the other hand, uphill charges lose a large part of their power.
Melee cavalry is usually distinguished by the weapon they use. In this way, we can distinguish between two types of melee cavalry: melee cavalry with spears and melee cavalry with swords/axes/maces.
Melee cavalry with spears shines for its flexibility. It's the easiest to use, and as they usually have shields, stand well against enemy shots. Furthermore, they have a strong charge. For these reasons, you can use them for fighting enemy cavalry, for charging infantry or pursuing archers. As examples we have the greek citizen cavalry or the japanse yari cavalry.
The other melee cavalry is more suited for fighting infantry. They usually use swords and perform well in prolonged combat against infantry, but we must still take advantage of their charging power to maximize the performance. An example would be the katana cavalry of Shogun 2.
Let's sum it up. In order to fight against the enemy cavalry, the spear is more suitable; in order to fight against the enemy infantry, the sword is more suitable. However spear cavalry will perform well in both cases, while sword cavalry will only perform well in the second one.
As the name indicates, its main purpose is to charge the enemy. They can be distinguished by their long spears. Well used, shock cavalry can give you the battle.
To maximize the damage they do, once the shock has taken place, don't let them fighting. Unless you foresee that the enemy will flee soon, wait a few seconds and withdraw it. Then charge again.
They're usually more vulnerable to shots than standard cavalry (they usually don't have shields) Have special care with weapons with high armor piercing damage, like crossbows and javelins.
As a general rule, a medium shock cavalry unit will win against a medium infantry unit if they make a clean charge. For that reason, light cavalry is useful for charging against missile units (they are usually light) and superheavy cavalry, well, they can destroy everything. Receiving a charge from a superheavy shock cavalry unit is similar to being hit by a train.
If the charge is downhill or the unit isn't shielded (or you are playing Three Kingdoms) you can add one to the mass of the infantry unit receiving the charge. It means, a medium shock cavalry unit charging downhill can deal heavy damage to a heavy infantry unit.
Being brief, missile cavalry has one function: to annoy. Being less brief it has two: to entertain the enemy's dangerous units and to sorround them to shoot them from behind; don't waste precious ammo on their shields.
Flank the enemy and start shooting at his heavy cavalry or elephants. If the enemy is clever he'll ignore the shots and push the elephants away. If he isn't, he will send his cavalry to chase yours and you won't let him catch'em. Take advantage of it and drag the best of the enemy cavalry to the confines of the map. The Romans did something similar to Antiochus III, who was commanding one of the cavalry wings of his army. While he was obfuscated with the Roman wing his army was being annihilated.
The other use of missile cavalry is to surround the enemy and empty the ammunition bags on his back. And if you run out of ammo... Charge!
Eastern kingdoms and empires have used camels in combat throughout history. We have examples as old as the camel catafracts of the Partian empire to as modern as the beduins who who fired their guns from their camels.
The main advantage camels have is that they are bigger than horses and their smell scares them. On the other hand, they are slower, so their loads are less powerful, which means you have to be careful with frontal charges from enemy cavalry. In addition, a unit frightens enemy horses the same as two (at least in games), so its most appropriate use is to support one's own cavalry when fighting against the enemy's one.
Summing up, combine camels and shock cavalry to have a flank that can easily surpass the enemy's cavalry.
Clean charges and formations
To do as much damage as possible with a charge, it must be clean.. And as a picture is often worth a thousand words, there you have a picture of a clean charge.
The Huns are going to be devastated because the charging power of the sassanid catafracts is far superior. Melee cavalry must be careful when charging against shock cavalry because it can take many casualties on impact. If you can, let your shock cavalry to receive (and give) the first hit and then send melee cavalry to the combat.
All cavalry charges should be like that. Why? Because it maximizes the number of enemy units hit. So we don't have to use cavalry formations? Against infantry, in general no.
When to use cavalry formations?
Wedge formation. It's useful when we're not following the rule of the masses, because it increases the damage done by the charge of our unit and it will be easier for us to withdraw it (with the wedge formation our unit mixes less with the enemy's), because if we don't take it back, we're probably gonna get our asses kicked.
Diamond formation. It's useful when charging enemy cavalry or when we charge against a tangle of cavalry killing each other. It gives two advantages, increases the mass of the unit and its ability to divide the enemy unit (a divided enemy unit is weaker) and increases our unit's defensive ability.
Things you shouldn't do with the cavalry
There are a number of things that, although they may not seem so at first glance, are almost always very bad ideas. Some of them are:
- Uphill loads.
- Throw the cavalry in vanguard without the support of the rest of the army.
- Pending me coming up with more things...