Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

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islandranger
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Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by islandranger » April 26th, 2008, 7:49 am

I understand that this is likely to be a contentious topic since the horse units are somewhat of a sacred cow (to use a badly mixed metaphore) but one that I think is worth opening for discussion.

The Problem: Elvish Pillager's summary of strategies for use of the horseman (http://forum.wesnoth.org/viewtopic.php? ... =a&start=0) is thorough and accurate but also highlights the essential problems which many have noticed: horse units have powerful attacks (especially the knight tree) but are extremely weak on defence rendering them less valuable tactically.

The problem is that the combination of low terrain defence value and their vulnerability to pierce and ranged weapons makes horse units a choice target on the battlefield. The biggest problem here is that the highest defence they can have in any terrain is 40% which means that any attack they launch has a high probability of costing them hit points. Related to this is that, once they are low on hit points, there is no place on the map where they can retreat to for a higher defence. Therefore, the only strategy that works to keep a horseman alive is to either send it to a capture villages far away from the enemy, or keep it behind the main lines until a low-hp enemy becomes available as a target. Unfortunately, both strategies relegate the horseman to a secondary combat role on the field.

Horsemen and cavelrymen share the same vulnerabilities but the effect is greater on the horseman since its primary strength comes from the charge attack. While theoretically a horseman can be used as a shock troop, in practice, charging the main body of an enemy is a suicidal move for the unit. A charge attack is only viable if there are no other enemy units nearby that cannot be neutralized by your side before their next turn. If any enemy remain, the AI will most likely target the horse unit in preference to almost any other on the field. This effectively negates the horseman's greatest advantage, its mobility, because any attempt to send a horse unit far to to the front of the battle puts it in danger of being overwhelmed. While horsemen can be used effectively for flanking attacks by sweeping around the front lines to attack the enemy from the side, this only works if the terrain is just right. Any forest or water terrain on the map will bog down the horse unit and render attacks from those hexes even more suicidal than normal. From a campaign point of view horse units also have the problem that, once nurtured and invested, there are many situations in which they are useless to recall: caves, swamps, forests, and mountains. Even hilly terrain does not lend itself to horses since they gain no defensive advantage while their enemies do.

What about the overwhelming effect of the charge attack on enemies? While occasionally successful the charge is not strategically useful in most battles. The problem is that all of the enemy's attack damage is doubled along with the charging unit's attack damage. So while a Grand Knight's attack goes up to 34 x 2, the Orcish Warlord's attack goes up to 30 x 3! Even an Orcish Grunt's attack goes up to 18 x 2, enough to strip away half the Grand Knight's hit points if the probabilities are right. Statistically, the charge attack only offers an advantage when attacking units with low-damage melee attacks. However, any melee unit could be used in the same circumstances to attack the same enemy. Only occasionally does the horseman's charge provide a decisive advantage.

Don't get me wrong. I love the idea of the horse units and continue to use them in campaigns but I find that I am constantly spending tactical time trying to keep them alive long enough for their occasional usefulness to come into play. In the scenarios where I haven't recalled horse units, I rarely notice a major tactical difference in the outcome as a Royal Guard or Halbardier provides the same value as a Grand Knight or Cavalier in most cases.

OK, all that being said what, if anything could be done about it?
Proposed Solutions:

Minor Tweaks - increase the horse units' defence in hills to 50% keeping them at least competative with their enemies. Elminate their vulnerability to pierce attacks. This would reduce their tendency to become pincushions every time an archer gets within range.

Major Changes - alter the charge attack so that the horse unit only takes double damage from enemies wielding piercing weapons (i.e. spears, halbards, etc.) and not from blade or impact weapons. This would better model the nature of a horse charge attack where the only way to practically double the strength of a defensive attack was through a grounded pike or spear. Yes, I know WINR, but still we build Wesnoth units on ideas derived from the real world and it has always seemed odd to me that an orc would be able to brace itself to swing at a charging knight while 14 feet of lance backed by a half-ton of mass thunders towards him. In the real world swordsmen did not stand much chance facing down a charging horse. While it is plausable that they could get an attack in as the horse races by it is hard to imagine how they would gain extra damage on those attacks while trying to dodge out of the way to avoid being skewered.

Thanks for listening.

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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by Velensk » April 26th, 2008, 10:19 am

I can't say that I realy agree with any of this. Wise use of horsemen can keep them alive, even if there are still enemies around when the charging is over. Yes they have low defences, a vunerability to peirce, and no ranged attack, so don't let them use archers on you. Keep in mind they also have high hp and resistance to blade and impact.

Horsemen are very powerfull, they just need to be used in a way that does not kill them, but still puts their tremendouse firepower into effect. This is indeed possible.

Firstly, if you can kill your target then you can move another unit up to cover the horseman, and if you can get it so that the horsemen can kill in one hit, the odds of him killing before he can take retaliation are pretty good against any non-firstrike unit.

Secondly at the wrong ToD many enemeis won't deal huge retalation to them. Consiter how much retaliation the variouse members of the northerners will do at day. The best of them would be grunts that would be something like 9*.75*.70.2, not bad compared to the horseman, and given your choice of targets why would you pick a grunt unless you could kill him in one shot, especialy when you could go for those archers that would be giving you so much trouble later. Especialy since if you can kill the archer, and the grunts try to attack you then he'd be stuck attacking you with about a 5-2, vs your 11-2, so even if you took retaliation grunts just won't be able to finish you off.

Thirdly any time you recruit a horseman you are risking bad luck to a greater extent than with other units. However if luck goes the other way, there are few things more deadly than a lucky horseman. It's a risk vs reward thing. With a horseman you have a very good chance to deal 22 or 25 damage to any one target in the open before it can retaliate, and your odds of dealing 44 or 50 damage which will kill almost anything arn't horrible in most circumstances, and on top of that it's on a very fast unit.

They are too expensive to be left exposed to the sorts of units that are good against them, so you don't want to expose it to those units, but that hardly stops them from being incredibly strong in several match-ups.

As to your two changes:
The 50% defence in hills does not seem like a big deal either way.
The other one takes away the balance to their firepower. Their "tactical vunerability" as you put it, is part of their balance to their speed and power.

As a minor note: the lancer does much more damage than the knight could dream of, and is at about the same lvl as the grandknight in terms of damage potential with lance.
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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by irrevenant » April 26th, 2008, 11:47 am

You haven't explained why this is a problem. Horse units have low defence, but they also have high HP and high movement to offset that disadvantage (and in the case of the Horseman line the ability to inflict an insane amount of damage in one turn).

In the context of their faction they've proven balanced, so what's the problem?

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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by islandranger » April 26th, 2008, 11:58 am

Exactly my point. Its not that the horse units are unbalanced; its that they are TOO balanced.

Everyone agrees that the horse unts can only be used under very specific conditions, and even under those conditions, luck has a big part to play in whether they can survive a round or not.

My observation is that the horse unit effectively becomes a lightweight unit on the tactical board. I may be wrong about this but I think the horse was intended to be a relatively heavyweight unit.

As an experiment, I ran battles between Grand Knights and Orcish Warlords. Over a series of battles I found that it did not matter whether the knights attacked with charge or with sword, the outcomes were the same. The difference was only a matter of how much damage was inflicted in a given round but the total amounts of damage were roughly the same. The charge attack then becomes simply an attack of attrition, rather than one of tactical advantage.

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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by TL » April 26th, 2008, 12:36 pm

islandranger wrote:Unfortunately, both strategies relegate the horseman to a secondary combat role on the field.
Why is this unfortunate?
islandranger wrote:Exactly my point. Its not that the horse units are unbalanced; its that they are TOO balanced.
So... you're suggesting that horsemen should be overpowered?

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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by michchar » April 26th, 2008, 12:41 pm

i just dont get it...why do you want to change the horseman when it is TOO balanced? isnt that what wesnoth is supposed to be? anyway, horsemen can be very useful. if you read the unit guide (horseman) then you realize that you shouldnt send it to attack units with high hp/firststrike/lots of allied units nearby. the point of charge is so that you kill the unit before it kills you.

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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by megane » April 26th, 2008, 1:31 pm

So your whole argument is based on the fact that Great Knights are only of average usefulness against Orcish Warlords - a powerful melee unit? You do know what horses are for, right?
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islandranger
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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by islandranger » April 27th, 2008, 1:47 am

Tactically, the stragglers left over after you've crushed the enemy line are not the biggest challenge in a battle. Almost any unit can be used to take out wounded enemies once the bulk of the force has been dealt with. The real challenge is how to smash the heavy units in the enemy line while not being overwhelmed by the counterstrike. My consternation is that horse units are expensive but do not serve well as heavy units. The vaunted charge could, theoretically, be used to shatter the enemy line but units weaknesses make that tactic impractical if you want to preserve the unit for future fighting.

Higher hit points? Barely. The Grand Knight has 4 more points than the Royal Guard, a dfference which evaporates as soon as it is attacked by a piercing weapon.

Would my proposal make the unit overpowered? Perhaps, but only against certain units. I wouldn't suggest implementing all of my suggested changes. If we modified the charge attack to eliminate the double damage taken when attacking blade or impact weapons then I would say we keep all the defence and resistence stats as they are now. A knight would still be vulnerable in the front line but could, conceivably, be sent against a heavy unit without committing hari kari in the process.

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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by irrevenant » April 27th, 2008, 2:14 am

islandranger wrote:Exactly my point. Its not that the horse units are unbalanced; its that they are TOO balanced.
Probably not a good choice of words - I'll assume you meant "balanced to a very specialised niche".
islandranger wrote:Everyone agrees that the horse units can only be used under very specific conditions, and even under those conditions, luck has a big part to play in whether they can survive a round or not.
Again, I'm not sure why this is a problem. Horsemen (especially at L1) share a similar niche to magi or Dwarvish Thunderguards - they're supporting artillery (albeit melee rather than ranged). Their role is to swoop in and finish off the wounded (something that their high MP makes them ideally suited for, incidentally).
islandranger wrote:As an experiment, I ran battles between Grand Knights and Orcish Warlords.
Individual units aren't balanced against each other, factions are. As noted above, horsemen aren't meant to be a frontline unit so comparing them against a frontline unit is pointless. And even if they were a frontline unit, that's still not as important as how all the units in the faction work in concert.

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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by turin » April 27th, 2008, 2:16 am

islandranger wrote:Tactically, the stragglers left over after you've crushed the enemy line are not the biggest challenge in a battle.
Just because the horseman is used to finish off wounded units does not mean it is used only to kill "stragglers left over after you've crushed the enemy". I find it hard to elaborate on this point because it's just so obvious. :?
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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by Kens_Mom » April 27th, 2008, 2:25 am

Megane is right. If you're using horsemen against healthy melee units, you're doing something wrong.

Notice that charge only works on the attack, not on defense. This means that you can use the ability selectively against units with weak melee attacks. So there really isn't any excuse to be engaging a Warlord with the charge ability.

Personally, I find this much easier to use than the less user-friendly berserk ability.

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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by anakayub » April 27th, 2008, 2:28 am

turin wrote:
islandranger wrote:Tactically, the stragglers left over after you've crushed the enemy line are not the biggest challenge in a battle.
Just because the horseman is used to finish off wounded units does not mean it is used only to kill "stragglers left over after you've crushed the enemy". I find it hard to elaborate on this point because it's just so obvious. :?
Can I help? :hmm:
Horsemen are used to kill units in 1 attack especially following an initial attack by other units, saving you hexes and units to continue your aggressive attack on other units. It's very important especially when you only have 1/2 hexes to kill a unit; they allow you to kill more in 1 turn. Of course there's nothing wrong when you use another unit to soften up a unit from 1 hex first (esp when charging other melee units); it's better than attacking with only 2 units who won't kill. It's quite obvious when thinking about it/using it, just that explaining it in type seems difficult.

Maybe this replay might help, but I'm not very sure. Features a suicidal horseman move (high risk "make or break" move*) and use of horseman to kill with 1/2 unit moves max, allowing further kills and/or positional moves. Generally look at turns 13-17 if I remember correctly. I don't think I played too well, so don't read too much into the other aspects of the game, just the horsemen moves themselves.

*I say so because trying to melee another melee unit can always bite you and not a risk to be taken readily. This was a reason why I did not readily charge my opponent's cavalryman, especially when retal damage could kill me.
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islandranger
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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by islandranger » April 27th, 2008, 3:49 am

turin wrote:
islandranger wrote:Tactically, the stragglers left over after you've crushed the enemy line are not the biggest challenge in a battle.
Just because the horseman is used to finish off wounded units does not mean it is used only to kill "stragglers left over after you've crushed the enemy". I find it hard to elaborate on this point because it's just so obvious. :?
Yes, I understand the point, and I've used that tactic myself. The problem is that the fundamental weaknesses of the horse make even this approach challenging. You move to attack a low HP unit in the line and succeed but even a slayer or crossbowman can do a wicked amount of damage when it is doubled. Once a horseman has been reduced to 50% of its hit points it is effectively out of the fight as far as using the charge attack goes because any attack it launches stands a good chance of either killing it or reducing it so much that any enemy unit can waltz up and finish it off.

Again, my point being that its survivability is so low that it becomes a relatively expensive unit for the amount of utility it provides on the field.

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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by Chris NS » April 27th, 2008, 11:26 am

You move to attack a low HP unit in the line and succeed but even a slayer or crossbowman can do a wicked amount of damage when it is doubled.
It's never meant to be easy for a level 1 unit to kill a level 2 unit. The fact that a horseman can be a even match for an Orcish Slayer or Orcish Assasin under the right condition is a huge plus for a level 1 unit.

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Re: Re-balancing the horse unit to increase survivability

Post by Edward V Riley » April 27th, 2008, 12:06 pm

He does have a valid point about the common sense of the horse unit. Bladed attacks wouldn't be able to deal the double punishment they inflict in Wesnoth in a real life situation. They'd be lucky to be able to manage a swing in the face of a charge, much less their entire attack doubled. On the other hand, spears and pikes would not only halt the charge, but negate most of the effects of it.

What makes sense is that a horse unit charging a bladed unit would force the bladed unit to defend at half the attacks OR half the damage it would normally inflict. On the other hand, spears and pikes would hit at twice the damage, pikes of which were invented just to counter such a charge(in real time war).

The problems with the arguments against seem to be under the impression that a horse unit is just a guy in armor atop a horse...with a lance. The horses, too, were also armored. Seems to me, that the horse units in Wesnoth seem to be modeled after 'light cavalry'. If so, their weapons of choice wouldn't be a lance but a projectile weapon for a hit and run, be it a thrown spear or a curved Mongolian bow, or even just a sword.

DOn't get me wrong, the cavalry unit is just right in those respects and are balanced just right. It's the horsemen units I speak of.

Perhaps what we need to decide is if it's "Heavy Horse"(believe it or not, most heavy horse in real battles were Clydesdales) with the horse also armored, or it's Light cavalry.
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