Tsukuda Hobby’s Hoth is a 1982 design from Atsutoshi Okada, who was prolific during the heyday of Japanese wargames in the 1980s. Okada designed a host of mech fighting games based on the hit manga TV series Mobile Suit: Gundam. You can check out my brief look at his 1981 design, Fortress here.
Having only played a few of Okada’s games, my impression is that he favored simplicity and flavor above all else. The turn sequence of his games tends to follow the usual trend. Each turn consist of “innings” where one player moves all of his pieces, then attacks, then the opponent does the same. Hoth is no exception.
That simple snappy sequence makes this game very easy to digest. A full game can usually be played in under two hours once you have the rules mastered. The English rules version is under 20 pages but even that’s misleading since so much of the text is given over to diagrams, charts, and examples of play. It’s definitely a beer and pretzels game. Since Hoth is based on a battle set in the Star Wars universe, that makes a great deal of sense.
The board is mounted on four pieces that show the barren surface of the planet. The only real terrain are the trenches, the power generators, and the base entrances. Everything else is just blank white sterility.
The counters are simple representations of infantry squads, blaster cannons, laser cannons, scout walkers, and snowspeeders. In an interesting twist, each AT-AT snow walker units actually consist of six counters. One long counter represents the body while four smaller ones represent each leg and a sixth counter is used for the head.
When it comes time to move the AT-AT unit, the player shifts the two hind leg counters two hexes forward and the body and head counter one hex in the same direction. The head can be rotated in its hex to shift the walker’s field of fire.
Infantry counters represent squads of either snowtroopers or rebel infantry. To beef these up, there are heavy weapons units that you can stack with them to give your guys a slim chance against the scout walkers (if you’re playing the rebels) or the snowspeeders (if you’re the Empire). Of course, you can load up three infantry/heavy units into your AT-ATs if you don’t want to force them to march over the frozen tundra to their goal.
The Rebels also get both blaster and laser cannon units to deal with the biggies. One strange design choice is that both types of units have the exact same stats in terms of firepower and endurance. As a designer, I’ve always believed that different units in a game should have different stats, even if the difference is slight. I would think this is incredibly easy to justify in a game set in a fictional universe. On the other hand, maybe Okada was just dedicated to making things as simple as possible.
One neat thing: there’s a Luke Skywalker counter with special abilities to take out an AT-AT. Basically, the player designates a snowspeeder at the start of the game that Luke is piloting. If it’s shot down, the Rebel player rolls to see if Luke survives the crash. If so, he can try and take out enemy units, including AT-ATs.
Odds and Ends
Many other counters are included with the game, but are not used or even mentioned in the rules. These just seem like extra components. There are a bunch of pilot counters, a ton of extra AT-AT and snow walker counters, and more than enough infantry counters provided. It’s more than a little bizarre and I wonder if Tsukuda Hobby rushed the game out the door before Okada had a chance to incorporate these units in his rules.
The game has one playable scenario. This is the Battle of Hoth as shown in the movie The Empire Strikes Back. The Empire must infiltrate 10 infantry units into Echo Base on the opposite side of the map. The power generator must be destroyed (five hits is enough to do this) as well. The Rebel player wins if they can prevent this for 15 rounds.
Combat is simple but deadly. There is no LOS mechanic here. If something is on the board and within the fire range and arc of the firing unit, it can be hit. The attacking player rolls 1d6 and compares the result to a chart corresponding the firing unit and its range to the target. A hit is scored by rolling under or equal to a certain number. To determine damage, another d6 is rolled and the result is checked on a chart based on the target type. When a unit takes a number of damage points equal to its endurance, it is destroyed.
Rest assured, the snowspeeders can use tow cables to try and bring down the walkers. Once the harpoon fires, the movement rules for snowspeeders suddenly change in order to allow for this maneuver to happen. It’s a bit clunky, but it works.
Here’s yet another couple of oddities. The turn track counter goes up to 16 even though the scenario length is only 15 turns. The hit capacity of an AT-AT walker is 15 but the hit track goes up to 20. I can’t fault Okada here – these are not design choices. But all these little things hint at problems and inconsistencies on the production side.
So where does Hoth sit in the pantheon of Japanese wargaming?
Well, it’s a fun and fast game, but there really wasn’t anything revolutionary about it, even back in 1982. In terms of mechanics, its pretty much the same as the other wargames that Tsukuda Hobby was pumping out at this time. The only really unique thing here is the theme. Hoth came from one of the two big Hollywood studio licenses (the other being “Star Trek“) that were made into games in Japan. What makes it notable is that it is the first hex and counter wargames set in the Star Wars universe, and remained the only one until West End Games published Assault on Hoth in 1988.
So if you are a die-hard Star Wars fan and a wargame collector, then this is not a bad choice at all. It certainly ticks most of the boxes in terms of capturing the feel of the movie. The simplicity and game length lend it well to introductory gamers or a family gaming night.
If you’re looking for something with a bit more depth, you’d be better off with Assault on Hoth from WEG. I also recommend checking out the various miniatures games that have come out in recent years (Star Wars Miniatures, Legions, etc.). These games tend to play out just as quickly as Tsukuda Hobby’s 1982 offering. They also have more unique mechanics that offer more than the standard UGO/IGO mechanic.