It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today we’re going retro, as I showcase one of the classic Star Wars games of the 1980s! Lord Vader may start his landing, because we’re launching an Assault on Hoth!
This game hails from 1988, and was one of a quartet of actual boardgames put out by West End Games while they held the Star Wars licence. Much like Escape from the Death Star, I have vivid memories of trying to play this with my brother but, being four years old at the time, the finer nuances of tabletop wargaming were somewhat beyond me…
Reading through the rulebook now, Assault on Hoth is very clearly a tabletop wargame in the mould of such things as Runewars or Battlelore from Fantasy Flight Games, where each player commands an army (in this case, of cardboard stand-ups) and attempts to secure an objective as they each fight over a hex-based map. There are Imperial units, and there are Rebel units, and the Imperials are trying to storm the Rebels and destroy the shield generator, while the Rebels are just trying to escape from the planet.
The game is played quite simply, in one respect, as activation is taken care of through a deck of Action cards. Over the course of the game, these cards are continually flipped over, and reshuffled, allowing the players to move and/or fire with their units. There are also two Action cards that allow players to draw an Event card; these cards hold the keys to Rebel victory, as there are a number of ‘Transport Away!’ events that, if you accumulate five of them, will win you the game. The other Events are reinforcements for both sides, allowing the war in the tundra to continue.
The Rebel player can also win by wiping out all Imperial units on the board, which I suppose is a useful backup plan, given that you’d otherwise have to just cycle through the Action deck continually, hoping to draw five ‘Transport Away!’ cards.
So, how does combat work? Well, I’m glad you asked.
WEG is of course famous for the Star Wars RPG they published during the 1980s and 90s, which was a d6 system. Most of their other games also leant heavily on the d6, and Assault on Hoth is no different. If an Action card allows you to attack with one of your units, the card will stipulate a Fire Strength, which denotes the amount of Fire Dice you roll. These are specialist d6 dice that feature a Vader helmet on two sides, a lightsaber on another two sides, and blank faces on the remaining two sides. Vader helmets only matter for the Imperial player, and lightsabers only matter for the Rebel player. There is a chart on the board that shows both the Fire Strength of each unit in the game, as well as an armour value for that unit. If the number of successes you rolled on the Fire Dice equals or exceeds the armour of your target, then that unit is destroyed, and removed from the board.
Something that is interesting here, however, is that range can modify your shots. The board is divided up into hexes and ‘macrohexes’, groups of seven hexes that can affect your ability to fire at targets. Basically, you select your target, then count the number of macrohexes between the two units, and reduce the fire strength by that number. For instance, a Heavy Trooper shooting at a Light Trooper two macrohexes away would have his fire strength of 4 reduced by 2, meaning he would only roll 2 fire dice. This is still possible, as a Light Trooper only has an armour value of 1, but there are times when you cannot roll the number of successes to equal your target’s armour.
Terrain also makes a feature, marked out by dark blue patches of rough rocky trenches and the like. If you fire at a unit that is on rough terrain, the fire strength is also reduced by 1.
So we’ve got all the classic hallmarks of a tabletop wargame, from terrain and cover to armour modifiers and even specialty dice. There are also cinematic moments, where the Rebels can fire harpoons at Walkers and the like, and the dramatic reveal of the Luke Skywalker Hero card, where the Rebel player can reveal that Luke was riding in one of the five starting snowpeeders, and thereafter use the Force to aid in his attacks.
However, for all that, the game is very straightforward. The rules actually state that ‘Assault on Hoth is not a complicated game’, which is no doubt meant to be in its favour, though I can imagine that some people might be turned off from that. While there can be an incredible depth to playing the game at first, it can also quickly evolve into a much more mundane, waiting game to see whether you pull that fifth ‘Transports Away!’ event card, of if you manage to park your units in the right place on the map to just pick off any Imperials who happen to wander too close to the Shield Generator.
The main thing this game has going for it, almost thirty years after its initial release, is that it is a wonderfully thematic recreation of the first half hour or so of Empire Strikes Back, and can be tremendous fun for the right pair of Star Wars enthusiasts to sit down and battle for an hour or so!
The game is incredibly expensive on ebay right now, and of the four WEG games, I think has always commanded the higher price on the secondary market. While I always thought Star Warriors was the more popular game, clearly Assault on Hoth has got something going for it after all this time!
It’s worth noting that there was an “expansion” for the game that WEG released through their RPG supplements over the years, that used the Assault on Hoth board game to depict the conflict between the role-playing Rebels and the dread Charon in Otherspace II: Invasion. A new deck of Action and Event cards was provided to depict the conflict, essentially providing a new way to play the game.
Much like Escape from the Death Star, this game is a classic of Star Wars gaming history, and one that is always of interest for me, despite never figuring out how to play it all those decades ago!