Larry Harris may be the most successful wargame designer ever in terms of sales. While industry pioneers such as Charles Roberts and Jim Dunnigan racked up some impressive sales numbers in the hobby's Golden Age in the 60s and 70s, and many designers have been more prolific than Harris, he is the author of Axis & Allies, which may be the single most recognizable wargame tot he general public outside of Risk.
Besides designing the original Axis & Allies more than 20 years ago, and a Revised edition and a soon-to-arrive Anniversary edition, Harris has also designed a whole series of games based on the A&A system. Each of these titles, A&A: Europe; A&A: Pacific; A&A: D-Day; A&A: Battle of the Bulge and A&A: Guadalcanal adds new twists to the game system. (And the D-Day, Bulge and Guadalcanal titles could also be considered tributes to the old AH games of those names). The Axis & Allies: Miniatures and A&A: War at Sea games use the name, but are from a different design team.
Of all of them, though, Harris says "Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal is a very special game to me."
In his designers notes he tells of his father, who served on Guadalcanal. "Guadalcanal is a place where Japanese warships and planes bombarded my father's position."
Harris explains that he considers game design to be an "artistic interpretation of the historical battles they represent." A very different point of view from the operations research inspired approach of Dunnigan, but just as valid, I think.
"I, for one, have learned much about the struggle for the Solomon Islands while designing this game. This has been a personal voyage of discovery as well. Being better informed, I walk away from this project even more proud of my father than I was before," Harris writes.
These notes (the most extensive and personal to appear in any A&A title) struck a chord with me as well. Wargamers are disproportionately made up of Boomers, and for most Boomers World War II was their father's war. When I was growing up my best friend's father was also a veteran of the fighting on Guadalcanal, and when we brought a copy of the old Avalon Hill title into the house it prompted some extra interest. He never spoke much about his time there, but he did talk a little bit about what it was like -- jungle, hearing "washing machine Charlie" fly overhead and the heat.
My own dad was a little too young for World War II, but he served in Korea, which came so stunningly soon after the bigger war and shared its technology and tragedy, although not its fame.
Between those two wars, though, they shaped not just the generation that fought in them, but also their children. I think that interest in the historical wargame hobby is due, in large part, to World War II's effect on Boomers. It was omnipresent in the culture, with movies, TV shows, comics and books all treating the subject, not just games.
It wasn't until Vietnam was well along that some cross currents appeared, and the generation following the Boomers had a different outlook on things -- being rather more attracted to fantasy wars where Good could battle Evil instead of the messy real kind of war.
Boomers, in contrast, were heirs to the legacy of The Good War with its real-life heroes and villains.