Writing a Wargame – Cavalry

As always for the latest rules and updates please visit the Napoleonic War Game page.


Napoleonic Cavalry had various different roles and names, but could generally be broken down into three distinct groups. These groups were split depending on the size and weight of the horse the cavalry rode.

Due to speed of cavalry and the range of musket fire, infantry would often only manage to discharge one volley from their muskets before the cavalry were upon them. This made them ideally suited for shock tactics.

Light Cavalry

4th French Hussars at the Battle of Friedland 14th June 1807

Light Cavalry included units such as Hussars and Russian Cossacks, Chasseurs à cheval and Chevau-légers. They were lightly armed and theirs role involved reconnaissance, raiding, skirmishing, screening, patrolling and tactical communications. They were also the primary units used in pursuing enemy armies once broken or to screen the retreat of their own army in the case of a loss.

Medium (Line) Cavalry

French Dragoons with a captured Prussian flag at the Battle of Jena.

Medium Cavalry units such as Dragoons and Uhlans originally Dragoons were designed to use their mounts to approach quickly and then fight on foot. However by the Napoleonic Wars this rarely happened (there are exceptions to this, on particular during the Peninsular Campaigns).

Line cavalry were used to cover the flanks of an army and as shock troops to charge the enemy.

Heavy Cavalry

French Cuirassiers at the Battle of Waterloo

The role of heavy cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars was the same as the Line Cavalry, to act as shock troops and charge the enemy troops.

Charges were in the most part carried out against an enemy’s flank with the aim to force them apart through fear and the initial impact of the charge itself. Primarily used to smash holes in the enemy’s battle line and exploit these breakthroughs.

Cavalry Organisation

All cavalry were organised in to squadrons rather than Battalions and these usually contained anything between 50-200 troopers. Light cavalry contained the most, while heavy Cavalry the least. This was due to the costs associated with raising the units. Heavy cavalry horses were the largest (which is why they have the title heavy) and sometimes there was more equipment carried by the troopers themselves such as body armour in the case of Cuirassiers.

To represent their size but combat efficiency on the table top, the strength value will likely have to changed to something closer to a factor of 1:10. This would mean that for every hit inflicted on the cavalry they would lose 10 men instead of 50 when compared to infantry. This would also be an ideal way of representing less casualties from gunfire, due to infantry only being able to fire one volley before cavalry engaged them.


A charge carried out by cavalry very rarely moved faster than a trot as can be seen from the sources I’ve cited below. They also had to work up to the gallop. Units would begin at walking pace, move to a trot and finally if needed the gallop.

On the Battlefield

Cavalry units would act in conjunction with the other arms of the military to attack enemy units. Infantry would advance on the enemy while cannon would cover their advance, cavalry would often be with the advancing troops. This would add to the enemies dilemma on how to respond to such an attack, should they form a firing line against the infantry and risk being over run by cavalry, or should they form square but suffer increased losses from artillery and gunfire.

This is what I would ideally like to represent on the table, for example and infantry attack without supporting would result in an enemy being more stalwart in its defence and also troops would be unable to run down the enemy should they break.


We have an idea of the different units roles, now we need to translate this into the game itself.


We’ve as yet not covered any hand to hand combat within the mechanics of the game itself, but currently I believe combat should be linked to the firing dice, with each 5+ a successful hit against the enemy and likewise from the enemy. These dice may be thrown at the same time as the opposition, with both units taking the relevant amount of damage. (i.e. Unit A attacks unit B in base to base combat, both units roll 6 firing dice. Unit A scores 2 hits at 5+ causing 2 strength damage to unit B, while unit B scores 1 hit against unit A causing 1 strength damage. As a result Unit A withdraws from combat while suffering an additional D3/D6 casualties). In all likeliness this mechanic will need a lot of revision before I’m happy with the way it flows and affects all the units in the game.

Cavalry v Cavalry combat rarely caused as many casualties as cavalry v infantry combat, therefore all combat where units are attempting to hit cavalry units are only scored on a 6+.


Presently, I believe that each unit will have a fatigue value before the game begins. During the course of the battle, depending on different factors, this fatigue may go down or recover after a certain length of time. Thus, troops in a prolonged running battle with the enemy will eventually tire and become less effective. How this will be tracked or presented at present has still not entirely crystallised in my mind.


I mentioned earlier that cavalry would have to build up to the charge. This can be represented in game by having cavalry spend 1 action for the walk, the next a action can then be a trot, which can then be followed by the gallop. In total this would mean three a cavalry unit would have to spend three actions to use a gallop.

To limit the gallop to charging enemy and not for moving across the battlefield, we’ll have to do two things. The first is to add a mechanic for fatigue, while the second would be to limit the gallop within a certain distance of the enemy. This is open for debate at the moment, but considering we have a gallop distance of 27 cm. I’m currently going to rule that cavalry cannot gallop unless within galloping distance of the enemy and a gallop action must end a units move closer to the enemy than when it started.

Also, due to the fact that much of Napoleonic cavalry would not gallop on the charge but instead trot at most, I’m limiting the charge capability for now to light cavalry only.

Shock Tactics

To represent shock tactics in battle, cavalry within 30cm of enemy infantry units cause unrest and therefore unless the enemy unit chooses to reform into square formation they will suffer a +1 morale modifier for all tests while in proximity of cavalry. This also may need further revision once game tests have been carried out.

Light Cavalry – In Game

They were used for reconnaissance, which could be useful in gaming terms. Currently I’m thinking of having a similar system to Blucher where units outside of a certain distance are just represented by a marker. Due to the speed of cavalry this makes them ideally suited to determining enemy forces. We can cover this topic in more detail at a later date. But perhaps light cavalry would have a larger ‘spotting range’?

They can still be used for shock tactics like the medium and heavy Cavalry although they would not be as effective. Therefore we’ll need to show this through our mechanics. Perhaps heavy Cavalry would inflict a +2 morale modifier on nearby units (apart from those in square), while light cavalry and line cavalry would only inflict a +1 modifier.

Also used for skirmishing, these troops were ideal for covering the advance and retreat of formations and scaring away the enemy skirmishers. As such Light Cavalry will be the only cavalry able to use the skirmish formation and any benefits associated with that.

Light cavalry will be the only cavalry type that are able to charge.

Line Cavalry – In Game

Line cavalry would cause the same +1 morale modifier to enemy infantry units while within 30cm as light cavalry, however these units would not be able to skirmish.

The fastest pace that line cavalry would be able use is the ‘trot’, due to keeping their lines dressed for visual effect.

Heavy Cavalry – In Game

Heavy Cavalry would cause +2 morale modifier to enemy infantry units while within 30cm. Heavy Cavalry would also be unable to skirmish or gallop.

Troopers in UnitStrengthCombat/Firing Dice
Cavalry Unit Strength Table


  • Light Cavalry only can use the ‘Gallop’ pace, and only if it has used two actions beforehand in the same turn which include ‘Walk’ and ‘Trot’.
  • Light Cavalry are the only cavalry type that are able to skirmish.
  • All cavalry cause +1 modifier to morale rolls of enemy infantry units within 30cm, apart from Heavy Cavalry who cause a +2 modifier.
  • Combat will be carried out using firing dice, with dice rolls of 5+ counting as a hit against the enemy unit. Hits can only be caused against cavalry on a roll of 6+.
  • Fatigue will come into play, once the mechanic has been established.



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