Paul Klee, "Tod und Feuer" (1940)
This article is part of my Star Wars Board Game Retrospective. To see other articles in this series and get notified of new ones, check out the Geeklist.
Assault on Hoth and Battle for Endor are both Star Wars-themed hex-and-counter wargames released by West End Games in the late eighties.
Both are built upon the same basic system that uses a randomized action-order deck and relatively simple combat mechanics to present an experience that is much more accessible than West End's other Star Wars hex-and-counter game, Star Warriors.
Due to the similar nature of both games, I'll go through the gameplay of both before concluding with a comparative analysis.
Assault on Hoth: Components and Gameplay
Since Assault on Hoth was intended for a wider audience than a rules-heavy games like Star Warriors, West End put a good deal more effort into its components.
Upon opening the box you'll find a molded insert with chunky custom dice and large standees rather than the flat counters you might expect. One especially neat feature is that these standees have different illustrations corresponding to their front and back sides. The production values are quite good overall considering this is a late '80s non mass-market wargame. The main exception to this is the cards, which are far too flimsy, especially considering how many times you have shuffle them over the course of the game.
Here you can get a better look at the (unfortunately un-mounted) board, which shows the desolate snowscape of Hoth with the Rebel Shield Generator on one side and the Imperial landing zone on the other, with several tunnel exits from the Rebel base and patches of rough terrain between them. Around the border of the map are rules references and spaces to track the status and hit points of the larger individual units - AT-ATs and Snowspeeders.
Off to the side of the board you'll put two shuffled decks of cards: Actions and Events. The deck of Action cards determines the order in which units move and fire, essentially providing a means of randomizing initiative. So for example, a card might say, "AT-STs move" or "Snowspeeders fire. The deck is relatively small, so you'll go through it many times over the course of the game - and once during each cycle, two Action cards that tell you to draw an Event card will be drawn. Within the Event deck are five "Transport Away!" cards, and once all five of them are drawn the Rebel player wins, having successfully evacuated. The Imperial player wins if they manage to destroy the Shield Generator before this happens. Event cards can also provide reinforcements or powerful one-time bonuses to either player.
The Imperial player sets up first, putting their AT-ATs and AT-STs in the deployment zone on their edge of the board and loading their Snowtroopers into the AT-ATs for transport. The Rebel player then sets up their troopers and turrets anywhere else on the board, and their Snowspeeders on their edge. You'll notice that the Rebels have placed most of their troops along the ridge of rough terrain, which will provide them with additional defense.
Troopers can also be placed in the Rebel base box, which is a space that connects to all of the tunnel entrances on the board, allowing Rebel troopers to rapidly reposition themselves over the course of the game. Finally, the Rebel player chooses one Snowspeeder to be piloted by Luke Skywalker. This is done secretly by sliding the Luke card under one of the Snowspeeder spaces on the Rebel side of the map, and remains hidden until Luke uses any of his Force points. Luke has ten Force points that he can use to modify rolls made by or against his Speeder over the course of the game.
1. And now that everything's set up, we're ready to play! The first event gave the Imperials an additional AT-AT, which will make this game significantly tougher for the Rebels. Here the brunt of the Imperial forces bears down on the Rebel forward position. One of the AT-ATs disgorges a squad of snowtroopers to take down the small outpost!
Since the first shots are starting to fly, let's talk about how combat works! It's quite simple, really. Each unit has a firepower rating for offense and an armor rating for defense. When a unit fires at a target, it rolls a number of dice equal to its fire rating, reduced by one die for each macrohex (the thick-bordered groups of 7 hexes) away the target is, and by one die if the target is in cover, with the goal of getting a number of successes (a 5 and up on a D6) equal to or greater than the targets armor rating.
For instance, lets look at the above photo again and say that the Rebel turret were attacking the AT-ST. The Turret has a firepower of 6, and the AT-ST is 2 macrohexes away. The turret would thus roll 4 dice, with the goal of rolling 2 successes, since the AT-ST has an armor rating of 2.
Sometimes range and cover reduce the firepower of a unit so much that it wouldn't be possible to roll enough hits to breach the targets armor - this is called an impossible shot. For instance, the AT-ST in that photo cannot hit the turret because it has a firepower of 4, the turret is 2 macrohexes away, and the turret is in rough terrain, which has a cover rating of 1. Thus the AT-ST would only be able to roll 1 die, making it impossible to match the turrets armor rating of 2.
2. Moving on, the Imperials easily overwhelm the Rebel forlorn hope, while two Snowspeeders on each side move to flank the larger force (unlike in the movie, these pilots aren't dumb enough to fly head on against an enemy that's slow to turn and can only shoot straight ahead). Reserve rebel troops pour out of the tunnels to reinforce the main line.
3. The imperials press forward indomitably. The forward turret managed to take out an AT-ST before being crushed underfoot by a larger walker - AT-ATs are ponderous, but anything that can't move out of their way gets smushed!
One Snowspeeder is down, but the others have turned completely flanked the main force (all units in this game get 5 movement points when activated, but the Snowspeeders simply have more "move" cards in the deck than any other unit, a simple way of showing their speed without any additional rules overhead).
Meanwhile, Rebel turrets have scored several long-range hits on AT-ATs Nos. 1 and 4. AT-ATs and Snowspeeders are the only units in the game that can take multiple hits - if you hit them, you roll 2d6 and check their damage table to see what part of the craft is damaged. Damage can cause them to lose firepower, movement speed, or even be instantly destroyed with a critical hit!
4. Veers orders the walkers to concentrate on the turrets, and good shots take down three out of four of them as the the Imperials near the Rebel lines. This was a decisive moment for the Imperials, as they were able to do this before the turrets had a chance to fire this round.
5. Walkers crash through the line, crushing Rebel troopers underfoot. On the right, out of shot, No. 4 is the first AT-AT to go down, and AT-AT No. 2 has taken damage.
6. The Imperials have broken through the line completely, but at the cost of AT-AT No. 2! Three remain, with varying degrees of damage. On the left, the power grid is successfully taken down - a side objective for the Imperials that means the shield generator will only have an armor rating of 2, rather than 3.
7. The rebel line re-forms, and timely reinforcements arrive in the form of three more snowspeeders and two heavy troopers!
8. The cards are not in the Rebels' favor, however. Before the newly arrived snowspeeders have a chance to fire, Veers plows ahead and aces a long-range shot on the shield generator, winning the game!
Battle for Endor: Components and Gameplay
Battle for Endor uses most of the same mechanics as Assault on Hoth. However, it's a solo game only, and this time Rebels, controlled by the player, are racing against time to destroy the shield generator that defends the Death Star. Once five "cruiser destroyed" cards are drawn from the event deck, it becomes clear that the Rebel cruisers above the forest moon can't repel firepower of the Death Star's magnitude and the Rebel fleet retreats, leaving the Empire victorious. If the Rebels breach the secret entrance to the shield generator and blow up the installation before that happens, the Rebel ships above are free to assault the Death Star and emerge the victors.
The player begins by setting up the Rebel heroes and troopers in the macrohex in the center of the map that contains the entrance to the bunker.
Next, the Imperial forces are randomly spawned in the macrohexes surrounding the bunker macrohex by rolling 1d6 for each unit and placing them in the corresponding macrohex.
Finally, the Rebel player deploys the Ewoks and their catapults in the hexes surrounding the Imperials.
The game then proceeds in much the same way as *Assault on Hoth*, with the player drawing action cards for different units to move or fire and resolving them one at a time. There are some differences, though-
Since this is a solo game, whenever Imperials are activated the player consults the Imperial Tactics chart to determine what Rebel units the Imperials will target and move towards. Each space of the chart has a different targeting priority, and over the course of the game the Empire will shift their focus from hunting Ewoks to eliminating the Rebels to protecting the bunker as "change tactics" cards are drawn from the Event deck.
Another difference is in unit stats, which are highly simplified compared to Assault on Hoth, with the exception of combined fire. Combined fire allows Ewoks in the same macrohex as an Ewok leader and Rebel heroes in the same macrohex as each other to roll their dice together against a single target. This makes taking down AT-STs possible, but somewhat a-thematically makes the heroes pretty useless individually.
Now that we know what we're doing and have set up the game, let's do a little run-through:
1. After the first round of actions, the Imperials have taken heavy casualties. All but one of the speeder bikes were destroyed before they had a chance to activate. Since the combatants start so much closer to each other than in Assault on Hoth, the randomly shuffled action deck can be an even more decisive factor in the outcome of Battle for Endor. You'll also note that the Imperial AI that forces them to focus on Ewoks at first protects the Rebel heroes from being immediately shot like the defenseless fish-in-a-barrel that they are. Unfortunately this "plot armor" makes it quite difficult to house-rule Endor into a balanced 2 player game.
2. The southern band of Ewoks retreats to draw away an AT-ST, while Chewbacca pursues the walker, hoping to capture it (a specific event card has to be drawn to allow him to attempt it). The northern bands of Ewoks continue to trade casualties with the Imperials, and in the center, C-3PO and R2-D2 have reached the bunker to assist in breaching the blast doors.
3. Wicket's band of Ewoks in the northwest have been completely suppressed, and while the northern band fares better, the southern band has to face Speeder Bike reinforcements from the south.
4. R2-D2 succeeds in getting the doors partway open, but the southern band of Ewoks has taken more casualties form the Speeder Bikes and two more AT-STs are on approach from the north!
5. After several more rounds, the Blast doors are open, and all remaining Imperials scramble to get into the bunker, abandoning their walkers.
6. Now it's down to a royal rumble in the bunker box! It's not enough to breach the doors - the Rebels must overcome all remaining Imperials in the bunker and succeed a breach check again to successfully destroy the generator!
7. An influx of Ewoks helps turn the tide...
8. ...and Han succeeds at destroying the generator! Despite the Imperials poor luck in combat this game, this game came down to how the action deck was shuffled. I was one "cruiser destroyed" card away from losing.
Assault on Hoth and Battle for Endor: Analysis
The two games do an excellent job of conveying the feeling of these iconic battles; this is especially true of Assault on Hoth. The AT-AT walkers feel utterly unstoppable as they plod toward the Rebel lines, blowing up and trampling everything in their path. Luke manages amazing dodges and precise strikes through the force, and Snowspeeders can attempt to down walkers with grappling cables.
Battle for Endor is still good, but a little less successful in this regard - the heroes feel especially wimpy compared to the superhuman feats Luke accomplishes in Hoth. Han has trouble downing any Stormtrooper that's not standing directly in front of him, and Chewbacca is similarly ineffective unless either of them are combining fire together with each other or Leia.
The combat system is fun and streamlined, while still offering some interesting turn-to-turn decisions. However, this is overshadowed by the very random overall feeling of gameplay. No matter what you do, you can't escape the randomness of the shuffled action and event decks. In many other games, taking out your opponents' units before they can hit you back is a satisfying outcome that is the result of careful planning and clever tactics - but here, you only have the luck of the action deck to thank. This is especially bad in Battle for Endor, where the close starting positions exacerbate the effect of the random action order in the first round.
The event deck can be even worse in some ways - if the fifth "Transport Away!" card ended up on the bottom in your game of Hoth, the Rebels probably aren't winning this session. The Imperials getting a reinforcement AT-AT with the very first event card is another example from the session above - had it arrived just a few turns later, it most likely would have been useless as it would have been unable to catch up with the rest of the assault force.
In other light wargames, such as Commands & Colors: Ancients, the random elements to some degree fall away with repeated plays as you discover how to mitigate them and set up successful offenses. The more you play Hoth and Endor, however, the more they feel like they play themselves. This is exacerbated by the static terrain layout of the board - there are only so many starting deployments, and eventually you’ll find one that’s close to ideal.
Both thematically and mechanically, Assault on Hoth is the better game. It's genuinely tense and full of fun thematic elements. If you like Star Wars I'd definitely recommend giving it a go once or twice - but unfortunately that's all the plays it has in it. Endor I would pass on altogether.
Thanks again for reading everyone!
Be sure to check out the Geeklist for the Star Wars Board Game Retrospective!
Also, special thanks to Chad Brozik, who let me play and photograph his copy of Assault on Hoth for this review.
- Last edited Fri Dec 8, 2017 1:13 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Mon Dec 4, 2017 7:23 am
A good review, but I'd stand against the assumption that Hoth only has a couple of plays in it. It actually stands up well, especially if played by people who have played before. Strategies shift and the ebb and flow of combat remains interesting.
I've had this since shortly after release and it was a favourite game of our gaming group for quite some time (and one that I know certain embers of that group still occasionally go back to). I've kept my copy through hell and high water and have gotten 'round to playing with my son (although to keep it fair, I play a pretty straightforward game against him whilst he develops his own ideas).
Endor though, you're right on the nose with that one. I dare say that if I saw it again I'd re-acquire it for old-times' sake, but it wouldn't be likely to make it to the table.