Conquest: Shock Cavalry and Disruption Cavalry

Units in Conquest have momentum. They’re not slow, per se, but the game accurately simulates the effort involved in lining up masses of angry belligerents and having them march forward in rank and file. That is to say, moving one unit forward is easy. Wheeling, reforming, or moving multiple models in coherent self-supporting formation is hard. If you’re not careful, units get tangled up on each other, traffic jams form, your army blocks its own path and sometimes you just need to spend two entire turns unfucking your battle line before you can meaningfully engage your opponent. If you can get your formation right, though, then your army can engage at its full effect against its optimal targets.

There are two unit types that interact with this process more directly than others. Shock cavalry is entirely reliant on the success of your deployment pattern, ensuring that a key unit is well supported by the surrounding army – whereas disruption cavalry offers you the option to get into the guts of the enemy line and prevent that formation from solidifying. This article will talk about both and when and where to use each.

The Problem of Shock Cavalry

Your faction may have access to shock cavalry – defined as units that do their damage with Impact hits. If you’re the Hundred Kingdoms, you may rely upon it. I would like to take a moment to share your pain if this is the case because shock cavalry is an incredibly hard unit type to effectively use. Notably a lot of what I say here applies equally well to shock units more broadly – defined as units that are much more dangerous on the attack than on the defense – but shock cavalry faces further unique constraints.

Firstly, check the table. Hindering is a common terrain type – lots of people have forest terrain easily to hand, which is often played as Hindering & Obstructing – and it just turns off shock cavalry entirely. Even a small patch of forest on your side can have a huge impact on your Shock Cavalry if your opponent positions behind it and forces you to move half or more of your unit through it to align with them on the charge. You can maneuver around it, but the potential exists for Hindering terrain to be a huge hidden drag on shock cavalry that massively affects your gameplan and doesn’t show up in whiteroom discussions. There are also spells and special rules like Pike Formation or Veterans of the Jotun War that will further disable impact attacks.

Secondly, consider your speed. Shock cavalry is often surprisingly slow – often one inch faster than light infantry. In addition to a lack of speed, shock cavalry almost never has access to the best mobility rule in the game: Fluid Formation. A unit of light infantry with Fluid Formation is far, far more maneuverable than shock cavalry. This means that shock cavalry moves like heavy infantry most of the time, slowly trundling towards the opponent before it makes the same charge as everyone else – unless it move-charges. Do not try to use shock cavalry as quick, reactive flanking units. They go directly into the centre.

Thirdly, consider the Impact. Impact hits are in one sense an opportunity to attack twice in a round, but they’re an extremely weak attack. A baseline Household Knight with Clash 2 Impact 3 is adding one hit per stand to its charge. Most impact hits in most factions are on this level; it’s small chip damage, nothing like getting a full clash. However, it’s possible with some factions to layer enough buffs and artifacts and character support to make a single unit have a legitimately scary Impact attack but you will pay out the nose for this ability.

And fair enough, right? The ability to delete an enemy unit by attacking twice in a turn is a hugely impactful, game changing ability that only the Xhiliarch gets for free and also four times in a single round that they don’t even need to set up a charge for. Sorry, what was I saying? Impact is like Support in that you pay a huge premium for the ability because of its ability to concentrate force before your opponent gets to do anything. It’s a feels-bad moment and has been priced accordingly.

So, the problem. When you’ve sucked up this act of reasonable balance and paid 500 points you can get a shock cavalry deathstar – something like a big unit of Crimson Tower knights or Centaur Avatara. This’ll delete whatever it touches if it gets the full charge+clash perfect turn, but as was previously discussed, shock cav is slow. If you’re setting up for this charge your opponent could very reasonably be in range to either countercharge you if initiative goes wrong, or move+charge, tying you up in close combat and preventing you from using the impact attacks that are key to your entire strategy. Now your 500 points worth of veteran household knights with associated relics are basically Men at Arms and you’re going to lose the game.

Enter the screen

A screen is the cheapest unit you have – the Hundred Kingdoms militia archers at 75 points is the platonic ideal of this. It enters the table first, lined up against an objective, and then your shock cavalry enters directly behind them. Each turn your archers move forwards their maximum speed and your cavalry follows behind them in lockstep. Think of this as a 75 point unit attachment to your shock cavalry unit that guarantees you get the charge.

What your screening unit does is it forces your enemy to commit first. It prevents you from ever losing the start of round initiative roll off and having your game end as a bunch of legionnaires hustle up and bad touch your knights. Your opponent has to charge the archers and spend a turn to kill them. That means they’ll be hung out to dry directly in front of the shock cav that can finally make their perfect back-breaking charge-clash. If they charge the archers but don’t kill them? You can always retreat with the archers, and the retreat will kill them and clear the way for the knight charge. This unit buys you a turn of complete safety against anything that is coming your way, guaranteeing you the alpha strike you will use to potentially turn the entire game.

Screens are at their most essential when paired with shock cavalry. They’re the delivery mechanism – the shock cav is the cruise missile, the screen is the launcher. Still, it is always worth including at least one screening unit in your army no matter the type because this cuts the other way too – if your opponent has a huge shock unit that’ll delete whatever it charges, cowering behind a screen can save you from that. Unless they’re the Xhiliarch and can clash, charge, and then clash again. My idea of an elegant list contains two minimum size units of cheap medium infantry, whatever that means for the faction. Depending on the scenario sometimes they’ll be backfield objective holders, but sometimes they’ll be the screen that protects your key unit from a devastating charge.

The Problem of Disruption Cavalry

The alternate extreme of this intense focus on formation and screens is disruption cavalry. Disruption cavalry is defined as light and speed 9+ – essentially a unit that can be all the way across the board by turn two and fuck up your deployment zone and reinforcement lines. Disruption cavalry can either be game-definingly effective or totally useless so let’s talk about why it works and how to use it.

Firstly, the counters to disruption cavalry. They’re weak against powerful ranged units, first and foremost. Units can’t charge the turn they arrive but they *can* Volley, making a big ranged unit a guarantor of your deployment zone’s sanctity. Likewise an spellcaster can arrive and then destroy a unit with an offensive spell. Disruption cavalry is also very weak against more powerful units with fluid formation who can avoid getting encircled and quickly engage, or units with powerful impact attacks that might be able to reform, charge, and eliminate the disruption cavalry with the impact. These are situations that will make the disruption cavalry feel worthless so if you are including them in your list you need to understand if your opponent has these counters and how you’re going to avoid them.

But if you don’t have to deal with those things, or if you’re able to bait them out, then disruption cavalry can savage a backfield. Many armies will trickle on some light units or early scoring pieces and these are easy pickings. But you can also run deep – slotting yourself into a gap in the formation that a key unit was meant to fit into and forcing them to deploy that unit somewhere else. You can flank-charge a powerful unit and force it to reform to fight you, spending your unit in exchange for slowing down your enemy for three actions (reform, clash, reform) minimum. You can push their army into a traffic jam crisis that might take two entire turns to untangle and that, it must be emphasized, can be straight up enough to win you the game.

If nothing else, disruption cavalry can either be a screen or trade out for your enemy’s screen, thus helping you win that all important charge+clash with your key shock units.

The Hundred Complaints

This article has included a little joking salt. But there’s a real problem behind it that I’ll address explicitly: My experience with the Hundred Kingdoms has made them feel like a situational faction.

The core of the faction is its knights, and the core of knights is impact attacks. Impact attacks can be turned off entirely in a frankly confronting number of ways. In my experience at least 1/3 of the battlefield is a no-go zone for cavalry due to the abundance of Hindering terrain. Of what remains, there are numerous special rules and mechanics that can make a unit explicitly invincible to Impact attacks, from Pike Formation to Lessons of the Jotun War. None of these things you can control. If there’s even one of them in place you need to play an extremely constrained, predictable game, if there are two of them then you’re basically fucked.

I’ll also directly explain why the Xhiliarch is such an enviable unit. His supremacy ability turns his entire warband into shock cavalry for a turn – a warband that includes the terrifying Varangian Guard – without any of the limitations of shock cavalry. They can go right through hindering terrain and destroy what is on the other side, and they don’t have to worry about a move-charge turning off their impact attacks.

I began experimenting with screening specifically because it felt impossible to make headway against the Xhiliarch otherwise. The more I got dunked on by the fluid, unrestrained maneuvers of the Xhiliarch the more tepid a shock cavalry based army started to feel. Proper screening allows you to emulate but a fraction of his power, but that is real power and I have had significant success against other factions as a result.

I won’t say that Hundred Kingdoms is bad or underperforming as a whole, I simply don’t have the data to confirm that. I have had good success with it under the right conditions, and it’s entirely possible to build lists that don’t rely on shock cavalry at all, or relies on a single unit. What I will say is that a large part of the faction’s strength is simply not guaranteed to even work. Perhaps you’ll run into one of the many Impact hard counters, or perhaps the TO will be a bit too generous with the Hindering terrain. It’s a hard problem to balance because the mechanic is an alpha strike and alpha strikes are tricky for any game, so I understand wanting to tone it down. My main point is that the current situation does not feel great, especially in the current situation where Crimson Tower are blocking the path to the Ashen Dawn.

Problems and Answers

These threats create the following pressures that may not be obvious at first:

  1. Have a deployment zone security unit. A spellcaster with a decent offensive spell, a powerful ranged unit, something that can reasonably come on and take 8-12 wounds off a unit of Stryx that has dived deep.
  2. Have an integrated screen for shock units. The risk of having a shock unit losing the initiative roll and getting countercharged is an immense gamble and means your games will frequently turn into coinflips. The way to smooth that out is some cheap bodies between you and your serious units.
  3. Be patient. A shock unit move+charging is frequently anemic compared to the devastating impact of a charge+clash. You’ll lose some top speed moving in close formation behind a screen but you’ll win the fight when it happens.
  4. There is only space for one shock cavalry unit in an army. These units tend to be desperately initiative hungry – either needing to go on the top of the stack or go dead last. In addition, the terrain may dictate that there is only one valid flank to deploy these on. More competition for this slot means you’ll risk a fragile unit getting deleted or entangled in a fight it doesn’t want before it can throw its punch. Also, you run the risk of encountering a battlefield with more Hindering terrain than you can traverse. In a lot of ways, the ideal army composition is one hammer and the rest of your army as anvils.
  5. Disruption requires planning. You need to pre-measure out the danger zones for an enemy deployment zone security unit coming on and deleting you and only risk those strategically. You also need to be able to identify what is a priority target – a unit of militia archers at 75pts might not look like a good trade for a 120 point stryx unit, but if removing them means that their shock cavalry need to continue unscreened up the table, vulnerable to countercharge, then it might be well worth the price.
  6.  I hate the Xhiliarch. I have never hated a tiny resin man so much in my life.


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