Imperial Assault: Return to Hoth
Well, let’s continue on with coverage on Imperial Assault shall we? Next up is the Return to Hoth expansion.
The Rebels' base on Hoth has been discovered by the Empire! As Imperial walkers descend to the surface and the last transports flee, a few heroes of the Rebellion step forward to protect a colony of refugees. Little do they know that their heroic actions will eventually lead them back to the very place from which they fled: Hoth!
This expansions campaign is set in 3 A.B.Y, shortly after the events of the Empire Strikes Back. I don’t want to spoil too much, but you as the Rebels somehow find yourselves back on the ice planet of Hoth. Hoth comes with three solid mid-range heroes. They're not as powerful as the best heroes in the core set (eg Gideon, Diala, Fenn), but are better than the weak ones in Twin Shadows. For the skirmish game, however, they are pretty ineffective.
The first hero is Loku Kanoloa. Loku is a sniper who also makes crates cheaper to collect, and as such he fulfils a similar role to Mak in the core set. He is built around his two recon tokens, which he can use to mark hostile figures. Any such marked figure then takes extra damage when any friendly figure attacks, so unlike Mak, Loku boosts the whole team. He is particularly useful in missions where you have to defeat a specific boss figure as he has a skill that allows figures with recon tokens to be targeted even if other figures block line of sight, making it much harder for the imperial player to hide that key figure. In the skirmish game Loku can be pretty much ignored. Granted, maybe someone who is more into Skirmish than my gaming group could maybe use him well.
MHD-19 is the most interesting of the new heroes. He is a medical droid modeled after the medical droid that helped Luke in Empire, and as such he focuses more on healing the rest of the team than he does on taking down hostile figures. My favorite skill of his is Bacta Radiator, which heals all nearby friendly figures (including himself) at the start of the round for one strain and one health. Many of his other skills also focus on healing heroes, making it that much more difficult for the imperial player to wound heroes. Verena Talos is a front-line hero who benefits from being adjacent to hostile units, getting free attacks and evades (surge cancel) on defence. She is incredibly fun to play, filling a similar role to Gaarkhan and Biv but in a vastly different manner.
As for the hero packs that were released, (that you can buy separately unfortunately) this expansion finally brings Leia Organa into the game. Leia is a fantastic unit in the Campaign or Skirmish mode. She works particularly well with Luke Skywalker (core version) in skirmish by recycling Son of Skywalker and giving him extra attacks. It is worth having them be teamed up together for some deadly combos.
The 2nd pack are the Echo Base Troopers. This ally can be won in the first mission, so getting the figures is particularly useful. (The tokens can be immersion killers) These guys are akin to the Rebel troopers in the core set so there is nothing too extravagant here.
Return to Hoth comes with a nice variety of Imperial and Mercenary units. The effectiveness of the units depends on whether you are playing campaign or skirmish, but there are good units for both. You get one regular and one elite squad of 3 snowtroopers each. These are unsurprisingly similar to stormtroopers. Compared to stormtroopers, they cost one point more, have one more health each, can heal Trooper units, can move quickly through blue spaces, but do less damage due to the lack of reroll and surge for pierce instead of damage. In the campaign game, having one squad is useful (especially in missions with lots of blue terrain) due to their mobility and healing abilities, but stormtroopers are still generally better at wounding heroes. For skirmish, they're pretty much inferior to regular stormtroopers, though there are few situations where you may want them - first, obviously, if you already have your two squads of elite stormtroopers, and second, because the elites (which are the ones you'll want for skirmish) have surge for focus they work well on maps with shootable doors as they can get focused before meeting the enemy.
The SCM-2 Repulsor Tank is an overgrown E-Web turret, and it fills the same role. It's great in a campaign, especially if you get Armored Division from Sorin's agenda deck, allowing you to deploy it for seven threat. Get that and you will be using it in pretty much every outdoor mission. As such, as an Imperial player, this is my favorite campaign unit from Hoth. I honestly would rank it higher than the AT-ST from the core set. For skirmish, it suffers from the same problem as the E-Web - it is too hard to maneuver and doesn't have enough health when it does get into the action. It is marginally better paired with Sorin and Advanced Com System but is still not really viable. The HK Assassin Droid is easily the best unit in the box for skirmish. Hoth comes with one elite and one regular squad of 2x Assassin Droids. They hit hard, from awfully long range, and are not scared of white dice due to their ability to force the defender to reroll. They are great units for campaign too, but not as good, as the heroes tend to quickly catch them, at which point they go down quickly. The Wampa is another unit that works well in campaign but is weak in skirmish. You get one regular and one elite wampa. They have a lot of health and hit ridiculously hard (two red dice with an innate +1/2 damage), but they are SLOW! Three speed and a large figure makes them hard to move. Their Hunger ability lets them move a little faster if hostile figures are not close and they can ignore blue spaces so at least aren't slowed by water. This is where the difference between campaign and skirmish becomes clear. In campaign the Imperial player can usually wait for the heroes to come to him and/or deploy units on top of the heroes, whereas in skirmish it is your responsibility to bring your units to where they need to be. As such, they are just too slow in skirmish to be viable to use well. The Hoth expansion comes with two Imperial classes. Like the heroes, neither are as powerful as those in the core set, but they are both better than the weaker classes in Twin Shadows Of the two decks, Armored Onslaught is my preferred option, as it is the most fun to play (for the Imperial player), and probably also the more powerful of the two. Mortar is the star of the deck, allowing you to throw a grenade every single round. It is especially brutal if you can throw one in your first activation while most of the heroes are still clustered around the entrance. Precision Training deck feels weaker, and I got stomped as the Imperial player initially, losing my first five missions. Then I got Find the Weakness, which gives all your figures Pierce 1 on every attack. That is nuts and allowed me to turn the campaign around. Just make sure you remember to use it.
The Imperial players also get two ally packs with this expansion as well. The first is the bounty hunter Dengar. Dengar is great in campaign, but terrible in skirmish. He can potentially stun, bleed and weaken a hero in a single attack, making them waste a whole turn. But he has low health and does not do much damage, so is poor in skirmish where conditions are less effective, and it is mostly on health. Dengar is personally my least favorite of the bounty hunters in the game due to his skill set.
General Sorin is the main villain of the Hoth campaign. Ironically, he’s only OK in the campaign and OK in skirmish, though for skirmish he does need Advanced Com System to be viable and works best in missions with shootable doors. You would think that the main villain in the campaign would be a better unit. Sadly, that is not the case.
The Return to Hoth campaign is more fun than the core campaign if you ask me. It is the same length as the core, but the missions are more interesting and varied and the balance is tilted more towards the heroes than the core campaign, making for a more balanced experience. It is a little more complex than the core campaign too, so may not make the best learning experience for new players who are getting introduced or are learning the game. But for players with a couple of missions under their belts it is superior.
When this expansion first came out, I was very keen on this one. In fact, I would go on about how great this expansion was and how much I believed it was the best of all the Imperial Assault content. However, that viewpoint would change a few expansions later. But we will get to that. Overall, I still highly recommend this expansion for your Imperial Assault collection. It will give you so many great stories and adventures for you to experience in a galaxy far, far away…