When units move into each other they fight hand-to-hand combat and often several units will be involved in the same combat because they are all touching at some point. Units that initiative the combat by moving into the enemy are described as charging. All stands that touch an enemy stand fight in hand-to-hand combat, including the enemy stands that have been charged as well as stands that have charged.
Combat results are worked out more-or-less like shooting except that both sides fight. Rather than rolling 1 dice per stand the players roll the number of dice for each stand indicated under its Attacks value (often 3 for most troops) plus various modifers. For example, stands that have charged generally roll an extra dice, whereas stands that have enemies attacking them to the side roll one less dice. Total up all the dice for the stands attacking each enemy unit and roll the dice – as with shooting scores of 4, 5 or 6 indicate the target unit has been ‘hit. As with shooting units can be defended or fortified (5+ or 6 to hit) but in most situations combats take place ‘in the open’ and the score needed will be 4 or more. Hits can be saved by the target’s ‘Armour’ roll exactly as for shooting and once these ‘saves’ have been taken the unit suffers the number of hits remaining. For example, 12 Attacks might roll 6 hits of which 2 are saved which results in 4 hits suffered.
Both sides work out their attacks before any casualties are removed – so there is no advantage to rolling first or second – any casualties suffered during the fighting can fight back before they are removed. Once both sides have worked out their Attacks we work out which side has won. Broadly speaking the side which has caused the most hits wins – but it is possible to add bonuses to the results that can mean a unit wins even though it has suffered more hits. The most important bonus comes from supporting stands of infantry – a stand of infantry stood directly behind a fighting stand of infantry adds +1 to the combat result even tough it is not fighting itself. This means a unit of three stands in a line with another unit of three stands stood directly behind will have a +3 bonus even before it strikes a blow. This support bonus can be pivotal in deciding which side wins – the better supported side will often win the fight even if the enemy troops are better fighters or more heavily armoured.
Once the result is worked out the losing side must retreat a distance equal to the difference in combat results. For example, if a unit loses a combat by 4 it retreats 4cm. Big formation divide the difference between them – so if 4 units lost the same combat by 4 they all retreat 1cm. This is important because the further a unit retreats the bigger a bonus any pursuers receive to their Attack dice. A victorious unit can fall back from the combat if it wishes – or the player can pursue the enemy and fight again. Units can fight twice in any combat engagement – if the defeated side retreats in the first round and the victors pursue, then fight a second round of combat straight away. This enables troops to press home their attack and potentially destroy the enemy altogether.
There are some situations where victorious troops cannot pursue or where retreating troops are automatically destroyed. For example, infantry cannot pursue retreating cavalry in most circumstances – this simply reflects the ability of horsemen to avoid combat with foot-sloggers where they are free to move away. Conversely, troops obliged to retreat into enemies or into terrain they cannot enter are destroyed.
If units remain engaged after two rounds of fighting they stay where they are and resume combat in the following turn. This enables other units to join the combat, and it is perfectly possible for combats to last for several turns and to be reinforced repeatedly by both sides. So long as troops remain in combat any hits they have taken accumulate and any casualties are removed at the end of each round. It is necessary to record the number of hits each unit has suffered – and the best way to do this is generally with distinctly coloured dice or separate markers placed next to the units themselves. Once units end combat and are no longer fighting any odd hits they have accumulated are discarded exactly as described for shooting. This is worth remembering because sometimes it is worth falling back from a combat you have won to shed accumulated hits, rather than pressing home your pursuit and losing a whole stand as a result.