The Russians strike West and the clock tolls for Hindenburg’s Hour! Game Review
Hindenburg’s Hour: The Tannenberg Campaign, 1914 Game Review Publisher: Dr. Richter Konflictsimulationen \ Gesellschaft für historische simulationen (Society for historical simulations), Designer: Benjamin Richter Price $29.95
Passed Inspection: Solitaire game. Compact game with die cut counters. Small table footprint that is perfect for small spaces or as a travel companion. Fast playing game that models the high-level decision making by the German Eighth Army in the Tannenberg campaign. Nice map that captures the feel of the period while still overlaid with a hex grid for movement.
Failed Basic: Could have used a spare small plastic bag in which to store the counters, once punched out.
Good things do come in small packages! Dr. Benjamin Richter has produced a compact, elegant game that covers the Russian invasion of East Prussia in 1914. While the main armies of Germany, Britain and France clashed in the West, a single German army fended off an invasion by two numerically superior, though less capable Russian armies. The German plan is to protect Konigsberg and buy time for the western armies to win and march east. To do so, The German Eight Army under Hindenburg and Luddendorf would wage a campaign of mobile warfare that would become the model for how a small force could defeat a more numerous invader.
At first glance, Hindenburg’s Hour reminds you of the classic microgames from the early days of Steve Jackson Games. Slightly larger than the classic microgames, Hindenburg’s Hour is printed on an A4 sheet folded in half. A small single counter sheet containing 25 pre-cut multi-color counters is included depicting the units of the combatants and a handful of status markers. The staple bound rule book runs a total of 11 pages.
The game has straight forward mechanics. Each of the Russian armies move and attack sequentially, then the Germans react by moving and attacking with their four (4) corps. This is an interesting approach as the ponderous Russian bear lumbers forward swatting at all in it’s way, while the nimble German corps dance around and conduct pin-point attacks designed to disrupt and delay the Russian advance.
The Russian ‘bot’ sticks to pre-defined movement options for each Army. The amount of movement is controlled by a die roll but that die roll is modified by the number of impaired units in each army. A spoiling attack can delay the Russian advance by a day or two. It does a nice job of modeling the chaos and confusion that accompanied the Russian invasion.
Combat by the Russians is a general offensive that includes all German units in the path of each Russian Army. Units will generally retreat away from the enemy but if all retreat options are cut off, the unit is eliminated. Combat is short and sweet with the outcome being heavily influenced by the ratio of corps involved between the Russians and Germans. The Germans appear to have an advantage as they can target their offensive with scalpel-sharp focus while the Russians will fight all German forces in their path.
With determining the winner and loser handled by a quick die roll, the real activity is in determining how disrupted each side becomes as a result of the battle. You may ‘lose’ the battle and fall back, but ‘win’ the disruption dice rolls and stop and offensive in its tracks. All of this fighting is great, but it rarely kills units. To do that you’ll need to march your troops into position and cut the Russian supply lines. Do this effectively and the starving Russian armies will surrender en masse emulating the historical Battle of Tannenberg.
The game has a simple strategy to envision, but it is a challenging tactical puzzle to execute. While the stated objective is to successfully protect and defend Konigsberg from the advancing Russians, you can’t win without dismembering those invading Russian armies. By which, you have to eliminate substantially more Russian Corps than German Corps you lose. The good news is that it’s relatively hard to lose a German Corps.
But how to win? Defending Konigsberg is easy enough, but that alone won’t win you the game. You’ll be tempted to wage a delaying action on the frontiers. You can do so easily – however, you can’t win unless you eliminate Russian units. The Germans need to ‘cut out’ Russian Corps so they hopefully are isolated from their supply lines and surrender to the Germans, thereby being removed from play.
Isolating a Russian Corp requires a pincer attack to drive holes in the Russian line. It’s harder than it sounds as adjacent units tend to pull back and cover each other’s flanks. You have to create the conditions that push units into positions that either cause them to fold due to an inability to retreat or lack of supply. You’ll need to concentrate your forces to disrupt, surround and isolate the Russian units.
So how does it play? In a word – quick! Once you understand the rules, the game can be played to a conclusion in about an hour. Russian movement must follow structured boundaries which makes for a ponderous advance on a broad front. The Russian turn segments go by quickly thanks to the AI engine. You’ll spend more of your time each turn on the German movement and combats.
The Germans (i.e. YOU) must combine using subtle shifts of corps with the occasional forced march dash to target their attacks against specific Russian corps. This is where the ability to shift units by rail within Prussia is a key operational advantage. Once in position, you have to hit the disrupted Corps hard and force them back. Doing this breaks up the Russian line, slowing the advance and hopefully creating gaps between Russian corps which the Germans can use to surround the Russians and force them into out of supply scenario.
While the rulebook is thin, you need to read it carefully as you must learn the unique requirements and restrictions regarding movement and combat of both the Germans and the Russians. There is much similarity in the mechanics, but each side has characteristics the reflect both their operational abilities and handicaps that make the campaign unique.
The game provides a fairly historical result. While the Russians are attempting a grand envelopment from the East and the South, the Germans are simultaneously reaching for an envelopment within the envelopment as they try to defeat each Russian army in detail before either reaches Konigsberg.
It sounds like a formidable task, but the Germans have much going for them – superior tactical skills, operational intelligence, better supply and the advantages of interior lines. For such a small game, it gives a feel for a very small German army facing envelopment by two large forces. You’ll have to allow for the rash actions of one of your subordinate commanders. Historically, the German 1st Corp was prone to ignoring its orders and striking out in ways that complicated the broader attacks of the army.
The game puts the player into the position of the German army commander on the Russian Front in August 1914. Your immediate goal is to delay the Russian advance on Konigsberg. But your ultimate goal is to eliminate as many Russian units as possible. You’ll have to carefully plan your attacks so that you can place he Russian units in positions that first slow their advance and then eliminate them. With only your four (4) army corps to implement your counteroffensive, you’ll have to plan carefully and act quickly.
The geography of the Masurian Lakes is well represented through the map. The terrain shapes the decision making by the player that emulates his historical counterparts. For example, the Germans can cut out some of First Armies units, but it’s tough. Getting around the First Army’s flanks is not easy matter, especially whiles fighting on the frontier beyond the well-developed supply network within Prussia.
The Russian Second Army is an easier target as most of the fighting happens with Prussia without some of the maneuver restrictions imposed by the game on operating on the Russian frontier. These constraints drive a historical result as fighting within Prussia leads to the conditions for effective cutting out of the Russian Corps. The second playthrough of the game saw a large envelopment happen right at Tannenberg, doing a good job of simulating a historical result.
Hindenburg’s Hour is an excellent choice to present as a solitaire game. The factors conspiring against the Russians – poor supply, broken radio codes and superior German aerial reconnaissance lend themselves to the solitaire game format.
Unlike some solitaire games, Hindenburg’s Hour does require that you exercise thought and make decisions as to where to commit your troops. The game will certainly provide replay value for several games. The unpredictable nature of the German 1st Corp and Russian armies will provide a degree of uncertainty that should help keep each game experience fresh.
A fear with many games is that it is possible that once you can crack the mechanism that knocks out the Russian units you’ll wonder if you are really ‘thinking’ through the exercise or are you just solving a puzzle with the same key each game? If that’s the case the game might become stale with repeated playing. Happily, I can say that this was not my experience.
Dr. Richter has crafted a compact game that will provide insights into the opening days of World War I on Prussian frontier. If you have little to no experience with this period, you’ll learn a fair bit about the geography and military campaigns of this historic military campaign.
Armchair General Rating: 94%
Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 = low solitaire, 5 = perfect for solo play)
Ray Garbee has been a gamer for the past four decades, Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond but his passion remains ACW naval gaming. Currently, Ray works as a business analyst in the IT field while continuing to design tabletop games. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of defunct hobby magazines. When not busy gaming, Ray enjoys working on his model railroad, hiking and sport shooting at the local range.