I wanted to take a look at how this can be achieved by various factions that are limited to slower movement, and what tactics and abilities can deal with cavalry in the game.
Several factions can make use of cavalry, with varying abilities. The key to all cavalry is maneuverability. In Saga, Cavalry move twice as far as infantry in a standard move, L not M (12 inches not 6 inches). This gives them a reach that can literally leave a foot based faction standing. Suddenly, objectives are at risk because the enemy has cavalry.
Traditionally, cavalry has two key functions. First as a screening and skirmishing role. These being light troops that can move quickly ahead of the main body of troops and then to keep the flanks clear from enemy skirmishers once battle is imminent. Examples of these would be Breton javelins or Steppe Nomads.
The second is to make a hard hitting force that can break the enemy and destroy them as they flee. A good example of these are the Normans.
All of the forces below have cavalry with special abilities or a clearly defined use. Other factions may be able to include cavalry, but do not have any special rules above the basic ones such as longer movement and susceptibility to missile weapons.
"Charge!": melee ability - a mounted unit in combat can get 3 or 4 extra attack dice but in return gain another Fatigue at the end of the combat. Great if you are not in fear of being left vulnerable at the end of the fight.
"Terrified": activation ability - if your mounted unit engages an enemy unit in combat the enemy gain one fatigue point immediately. Great for pushing up the enemy fatigue prior to a combat and could tip the fight in your balance.
"Gallop": activation ability - allows a mounted unit to move through friendly troops and get an extra S to the normal L. Great for a swift redirect or to support a flagging unit by moving in front to charge or be charged!
"Stamping": melee ability - mounted unit in combat with unmounted unit can remove one warrior or two levies immediately.
"Pursuit": melee activity - allows a mounted unit to pursue a disengaging enemy unit. Useful to finish it off as it doesn't generate a fatigue.
"Backward!": melee ability - in a fight with no infantry units, your cavalry units can end the fight immediately and make a disengagement move. Useful for a quick escape if you find yourself in a hopeless situation or want to make a feint perhaps.
"Fight!": melee ability - before the melee is resolved one of your engaged units can make a shooting attack. This would be useful in combination with the "Backward!" ability to make perform a kind of parting shot.
"In All Directions": Orders/Reaction - your mounted units can all make a movement as long as it does not end within M of the enemy. A great way of getting your cavalry somewhere else as a reaction to your enemies orders for the cost of two Saga dice.
Mounted Bretons have an extra -1 Armour penalty in combat so they should be relying on their many shooting abilities to destroy and repel the enemy.
The Bretons are very much a hit and ride off faction. They need to target enemy units carefully and use shooting effectively, with no worries about running away to save the day!
This faction has the ability to start units off-table. while off-table they give bonuses to some abilities, when on the table they can arrive on any table edge. A useful faction to outflank the enemy. In particular, the Battle at the Ford mission should be their favourite.
"Flanking Manoeuvre": Activation - This gets Strathclyde cavalry from being off-table to being on the table but not into combat and only one unit per turn.
"Outmaneuvering": Activation - Allows one unit to make a move that can go through friendly units and within S of enemy units in the 2nd or later activation this turn. Useful for supporting a flagging friendly unit or moving past a blocking enemy unit.
"Swiftness": Shooting/Reaction - allows the target of a shooting attack to make a move away from the shooting unit and maybe out of range! Good way to feint an attack, perhaps. Cannot be used for an attack as you can't get within S of an enemy unit.
"Kontos": Activation - affects a non-bow mounted unit of hearthguard. Allows each model in the unit to get a 50% chance of getting an extra hit in combat. Very useful on the offensive.
"Withdrawal": Melee - Allows a mounted unit in combat to disengage a distance of L at the end of the fight, even if they won. A great way to avoid any reprisals! A hit and run tactic.
Note: Byzantine Warlord Hearthguard are mounted and can have spears or bows.
These guys are billed as the most 'shooty' mounted unit in the game. If they can outdo Bretons in that respect they must be good!
"Wild Cats" allows you to reposition a distant unit on the battlefield, basically leaving a table edge and coming on near another table edge, though at the cost of a fatigue. This is a powerful tool for misleading the enemy and repositioning a unit and only costs a common die.
"The Steppes" is a multi-use melee-reaction ability which allows an engaged unit to take fatigue but to then disengage L away from the fight before it is resolved. Live to fight another day!
"Galloping Ghosts" is an encircling shooting activation that is not easy to pull off, but if you do the enemy are severely weakened by being open to a lot of damage by shooting.
"Deadly Plains": Orders - all mounted units get 3 Attack dice in shooting, but at the expense of getting only half dice in Melee. This can be used with "Emptying The Quivers" (Shooting) to make one unit into a VERY deadly unit (until it does at the end of the activation)
"The Arrow Knows the Way" and "Red Skies" both aim (apologies here!) to increase the effectiveness of your shooting.
The Steppe Tribes being mounted adds an inherent fragility but lots of possibilities for fast hit and run tactics. Enemies that do not sufficiently protect themselves will find shooting casualties mounting up.
Blocking the effects of cavalry:
So how do you tackle the power of cavalry as seen in the above examples? Trying to slow down the cavalry, fatigue them to weaken them in combat or avoid any melee bonuses are going to be key to tackling mounted units.
The Pagan Rus have a number of useful abilities. They can use the "Great Winter" ability to slow down movement. This has more of an effect on cavalry than infantry, so should work to slow down any cavalry outflanking tactic. Also, the "Fear of the Dark" ability can be used to target a unit that is M or more away (flanking perhaps) from the rest of the units in the enemy faction. A great way of tacking a rogue unit! "Frozen" stops a unit from making a second or subsequent activation in a turn, so you could use it to shut down outflanking enemy cavalry. Finally, the "Barren Lands" ability reduces the armour value of all mounted units in cavalry or melee, so use it to help your infantry tackle enemy cavalry.
The Jomsvikings can use their "Jomsborg!" ability to move enemy units in the enemy orders phase. In this case, you could move enemy cavalry away from you. This faction also has the "Punishment" ability to possibly cancel activations and the "We are Legends" ability to definitely cancel some enemy activations. This keeps those cavalry away as well!
Rus Princes could use the "Under the Dark Skies" ability to force a unit that is hit in shooting to disengage and move away from the targeted missile unit.
The Anglo-Danes can add fatigue to enemy cavalry (or any unit) on the board with their "Trapped" ability. They can also cancel an enemy activation with their "Intimidation" ability to stop that incoming cavalry move perhaps!
The Irish can use their "Blade of Truth" ability to cancel step 3 of the melee. This takes away any melee abilities, but affects both sides in the fight.
The Welsh "Hit and Run" ability allows a unit within M of an enemy unit to make a move away. This could be enough to take it out of charge range, such as moving into uneven terrain.
Putting missile armed troops, especially levies, into or behind uneven ground can act to keep cavalry from charging them as their move will be reduced to S from L if they try to attack their foe in melee. The missile weapons will add to the threat by allowing some possible "free" attacks before the cavalry can engage them.
For specific defensive positions such as defending a Ford, missile troops have proven effective at reducing numbers prior to a counter attack from a supporting unit nearby. Any ability that allows a supporting unit to pass through those screening troops is going to be a real advantage to stopping cavalry (or any unit).
If you can engage a cavalry unit in combat with a "suicide" force that will leave the cavalry with a fatigue, then hit it with another nearby unit to use the Fatigue to your gain then that tactic will also help, if all else fails.
Generally, putting some missile armed units on the flanks of your force will help against flanking manoeuvres, keeping the cavalry out of the way, unless they really want to come in and engage your levies(!) Check the enemy battleboard to understand the strategy they are thinking of using.
Hopefully, the above thoughts will help with tackling enemy cavalry. Good luck!
As usual, please go to the forums on the link below if you have thoughts on cavalry-beating tactics that you would like to share.... Thank you.