September 29, 2014 by crew
Last week, we rolled out Part One of “Make the Game Your Own: Star Wars Ground Minis” (I would call it “Episode I” but I don’t want to risk being compared to The Phantom Menace). In Part One, I shared some work our group has done with old game packs of Star Wars PocketModels, converting the original trading card game into a battlefield miniatures game.
Now it’s time to review how well the game actually worked. Never shying from a challenge, we leapt in with both feet and tried what has to be the best ground battle in the Star Wars saga: The Battle of Hoth. If our game could handle that, we knew it could handle almost anything.
The Battle for Hoth Begins!
In testing our Battle of Hoth, we used a methodology familiar to die-hard, rivet-counting, grouchy old historical grognards like me. Simply put, we test our scenario designs extensively with strictly historical moves, “re-enacting” the battle a few times to see if the game system recreates something close to the historical result. After all, Hoth can be a “historical” game just like Gettysburg or Waterloo, it just draws on a different history we all share. We set up the movie battle as closely as we could, using only units, tactics, and objectives that appeared in the actual scene. We let the game run its course, and if it came out close to the way the movie did, we knew we had a winner.
The game was built with twenty “build stars” on a side. For the Rebellion, this worked out to four Echo Base laser turrets (two stars each), eight snowspeeders (one star each), and four units of Tauntaun Scouts (one star each). Of course there were no Tauntauns in the actual Battle of Hoth, but this game includes no pure “infantry” units so we used these to approximate all those Norwegian Army extras that appeared as Rebel ground troops in Episode V.
The Imperial army had three AT-AT walkers (four stars each) and four AT-ST scout walkers (two stars each). Both sides also had six “build stars” in reserve units. Reserves had to be deployed back in each side’s respective reserve zone, and could not be activated until either an equivalent value of first-line units had been destroyed, or by the playing of certain combat cards that allowed early reserve activation. For reserves, the Rebels took two more snowspeeders and four Tauntaun scouts, and the Imperials took one more AT-AT and one more AT-ST.
The objectives were simple. As the Imperial commander, General Veers (played by myself) had eight turns to advance to within gunnery range of the Echo Base power generator and destroy it. My opponent (playing General Rieekan) had to prevent Imperial victory. If that shield generator had even one hit left on it at the end of Turn 8, the Rebel evacuation from Hoth is considered a success and the battle is a rebel victory.
To kick off each turn, a random poker chip was pulled from a bag, as Warren discussed in a recent episode of the Weekender. Each activation allowed the player to move and fire up to five “build stars” of units. Right away this produced a great little tactical nuance, since Imperial AT-ATs are four stars and AT-STs are two stars. Thus, the Imperials could never activate the full five stars’ worth of units, perhaps a symptom of their rigid command structure. With their smaller, faster units and more independent and motivated commanders, the Rebels would always have the option of activating the full five stars’ worth of units.
The Imperials lined up their walkers and began their advance, shaking the snow with the weight of their steel march. Weapons range was only twelve inches, so it would be at least one full turn before they could apply effective fire on rebel positions. The Rebels, however, made the mistake of flying their snowspeeders out to meet the walkers (just like they did in the movie), even while the rest of the Rebel ground units were still out of range. Thus, the speeders were left alone against the full weight of Imperial firepower. Predictably, the speeders were largely slaughtered by the walkers while doing little damage in return.
All was not lost, however. Because of the disadvantages mentioned above, the Imperials weren’t moving nearly as we quickly as they would like. Rebel losses were quickly replaced from their reserves, with new snowspeeders flying out from Echo Base. One AT-ST is destroyed, and then the Rebels played the “Luke Skywalker” card in a snowspeeder attack on a slightly damaged AT-AT. This card doubles the damage rolled on the attack, which then proved to be a pretty sweet roll in its own right. Just like that, Luke had wrecked an Imperial AT-AT, perhaps just as he did in the movie.
Only when the Imperial walkers came within range of the Echo Base laser turrets, however, did they start to suffer appreciable damage. Quickly the walkers made the eradication of these turrets a priority. But surviving snowspeeders and arriving reserves started wearing down the smaller AT-STs as well. Even the Tauntaun scouts got into the mix. Although they can do no damage themselves (without the use of a combat card), they can combine with other units as part of a five-star “fire group” and add their accuracy bonus to other units with greater damage factors. Thus, it’s like the Rebel infantry is “spotting” or “marking targets” for bigger guns. Quickly we began to see tactical synergies in the combination of units and battle cards, how to divide and combine firepower values, all combined with the unpredictability of dice and the opposing player playing his own battle cards in defence.
The sheer weight of Imperial firepower and armour, however, made their advance as inexorable as it was slow. The Rebels kept falling back, trying to keep themselves between the Imperials and the power generator. Finally the Imperials played the “General Veers” card, and the last AT-AT unleashed a barrage of cannon fire at the power generator. Although heavily damaged, the generator survived! The Rebels struck back with a card they’d just drawn, the infamous “Tow Cable” card, where players can emulate the famous scene of tripping up an AT-AT’s legs. By now, the Rebels had no snowspeeders left, but then one of their Tauntaun scouts met all the legal prerequisites and conditions listed on the card. So did the scouts have a tripwire strung out ahead of the walker, or did they dig a hole, or did they just have a crazed Tauntaun on an overdose of energy drinks . . . running in circles around the AT-AT’s legs trailing a spool of cable? We leave it to your imagination.
The Rebels then drew another activation chip and launched another attack, playing the “Chewbacca” card (any “5” or “6” result on a dice roll does extra damage). The Imperials counter-played with a “Wampa Ice Creature” card, which basically equates to a free attack on any enemy unit under a certain size. So we basically had Chewbacca and a Wampa slugging it out in the snow (now there’s a pay-per-view I would buy in a heartbeat), but the two titans basically cancelled each other out.
Finally, the Imperials dropped another round of fire on the Rebel shield generator, scoring just enough damage to finally destroy it on the second-to-last activation on the last turn. Ironically, it was the little AT-STs that won the day, not the lumbering AT-ATs. The shield generator blew up and Hoth was laid bare to the fleet of star destroyers orbiting overhead. The game was chalked up as the narrowest of possible Imperial victories, much like the original Battle of Hoth in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Of course, not all of our playtests have gone quite so well. In another Hoth game, we speculated about possible peripheral engagements fought in parallel with the main battle. In one, one of the actual Imperial landing sites (guarded by a reserve regiment equipped with older Clone Wars-era equipment) came under counterattack by Rebel snowspeeders and B-wing assault starfighters. This game showed us the danger of putting an all-ground force up against an all-flying force, even when the points are balanced. The Rebels simply flew over the Imperial AT-AP and AT-TE walkers and biker scout troops, taking respectable casualties but promptly blowing up the two Imperial landing ships (the objective) and winning the game by the end of Turn Four. So clearly we still have some work to do.
So what do you think, Star Wars fans? Post any questions, comments, or suggestions below. As we’ve said, this is a work in progress and any recommendations would be welcome.
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"...did they just have a crazed Tauntaun on an overdose of energy drinks?"
"So we basically had Chewbacca and a Wampa slugging it out in the snow..."