Going around the web and gathering info about units gets you in an avalanche of information that can takes years to sort out.

You can research historic battles but most of them are imbalanced in one way or another and its hard to get usable data.

When people ask me how to accurately compare an archer to a footman i have no idea what to tell em. I've built up an arbitrary comparison over the years and its what I use, but relaying it to others or justifying it to superiors is quite a murky realm.

Anybody know of a source that has simplistic comparisons?

100 shortbow archers are charged by 100 swordsmen without shields or arrow stopping armor.

100 shortbow archers are charged by 100 horsemen without shields or arrow stopping armor.

How many of the melee troops roughly would actually make it to the archer line?

We know that if few reached the line they could break it. And this many times is achieved by surprise or particular tactics or terrain advantages. But what does the data look like when these units started out of range and went at each other at a direct line on a level field.

The basic data is hard to come by. Building on top of is actually way easier as you can scale armor up by tapping many sources that have distilled data on arrow penetration rates for the various armors. Even archer accuracy is easier to come by than this.

This is esentially the core of combat in a game when you strip advanced ai considerations and factors and just have units go at each other when half have 1 range the other half have more than 1 range.

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    The truth is that there's no meaningful way of equating one type of soldier against another because there's so much variation at the individual level. For every historic example that proves one type trumps another and there are just as many counter-examples to prove the opposite. – Steve Bird Oct 6 '16 at 15:50
  • Generally history shows that 100 men with 20ish arrows can take out an equal number without even breaking a sweat - I was till wondering if anybody else has tried to go after such scenarios. – helena4 Oct 6 '16 at 16:14
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    @helena4 If there was a real-world way of evaluating a fixed value of one type against another then it would have been used because it would have been a valuable tool for rulers raising armies. In reality, it was much more complicated - better offense breds better defense which in turn breds better offense, and so on... – KillingTime Oct 6 '16 at 16:33
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    @helena4 What data or facts are you using to support your assertion that "Generally history shows that 100 men with 20ish arrows can take out an equal number without even breaking a sweat". From an a priori basis that seems incorrect and I cannot think of any examples of this being true. – Stuart Allan Oct 6 '16 at 18:38
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this requires speculation; the answer cannot be found through historical sources and methods, and in fact there may be no authoritative answer to this question. – MCW Oct 6 '16 at 23:33

This is essentially the core of combat in a game when you strip advanced ai considerations and factors and just have units go at each other when half have 1 range the other half have more than 1 range.

What you described is Totally Accurate Battle Simulator which is anything BUT a totally accurate battle simulator. It's a joke, but the joke perfectly illustrates why this sort of comparison is useless in reality. The game lets you do exactly what you want, line up 100 poachers (shortbow archers) against 100 swordsmen and let them go at it.

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This isn't how battle works and Totally Accurate Battle Simulator hilariously illustrates why.

No, the core of combat is not numbers or types. It's all the things KorvinStarmast covered. Terrain. Training. Communications. Logistics. Morale. Tactics. All these are far more important than mere numbers and types. Hannibal Barca was able to humiliate the armies of Rome for years not because he had X light cavalry or Y heavy infantry, he was usually outnumbered, but because he outmaneuvered and out-thought the Romans. The Battle of Cannae, still studied today as one of the first examples of a pincer movement, was won by superior tactics.

The game which best encapsulates everything that goes into an ancient battle is probably the Total War series. Unlike many other RTS they model terrain, formation, and morale. Give Total War: Rome or Medieval II: Total War a shot. You'll learn some hard lessons.

For modern combat, there's probably better ones now, but I always liked the Close Combat series. It attempts to model morale, experience, and stamina. It drastically changes your tactics when, for example, your infantry simply refuse to charge a machine gun. Or when you can use suppressing fire to keep the enemy's heads down.

Skallagrim has a good video about all this: The pointless question: "Who would win?" (samurai vs knight, etc).

  • FWIW: That "pointless question" had a whole TV series devoted to it on the History Channel IIRC. I wasn't a fan, but my kids loved the heck out of it. – T.E.D. Oct 6 '16 at 21:33
  • In order to win at Cannae, it helps to have an opponent as incompetent as Vero. :-) Twin pincer moves are rarely achievable, a point which my old Mil History prof used to harp on, before he'd revert to that adage. – KorvinStarmast Oct 6 '16 at 21:34
  • @T.E.D. And we all know how much the "History" Channel has to do with history. :) – Schwern Oct 6 '16 at 21:34
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    @Schwern - I figure they're about one year away from rebranding themselves as "HiSy" – T.E.D. Oct 6 '16 at 21:37
  • Yeah this is fun toy on that matter. – helena4 Oct 7 '16 at 9:44

The comparisons you present are incomplete, to the point that they have little meaning1.

Most battles were not fought on a flat, featureless piece of terrain.

The US Army teaches an analytical method: METT-T, {now METT-TC}. Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops available, Time, and {civilian (non combatant) considerations}. It's a very good template for assessing relative chances for success depending on the situation. Given the troops you have in question, you need to flesh out those factors to weigh relative prospects for each unit to accomplish its mission.

Without the minimum framework of terrain, time, and mission your example question has no meaningful answer. The troops (archers) may not even fight if there is no mission, but instead may flee, withdraw, or otherwise avoid contact. On the other hand, if they are defending their home village, they might fight to the death, use cover, etc.

For a historical example of how critical terrain is, T.E.D. made this point in a comment.

Terrain is crucial. For example compare longbows with heavy cavalry. If the ground is conducive to cavalry charges, the longbows may get off a volley or two before getting overrun. However, if its bad ground for cavalry (eg: a swamp), you get Agincourt; the cavalry is massacred.

An additional example would be the battle at Thermopylae.

1 ... beyond assigning point values for troops for table top miniature games like Chainmail

  • Generally its bad form to edit the content of something you put in quotes. But I figure if the author (in this case me) comes along and edits the edit, that renders it OK. :-) – T.E.D. Oct 6 '16 at 21:43
  • I suppose I could have paraphrased your comment, rather than the quote block, but I thought the quote block was better attribution. Since I can edit any question and answer ... heh... I like your edit. (And I hope you like my choice to use overrun). – KorvinStarmast Oct 6 '16 at 21:52

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