War strategy game rolls onBy Mark Sullivan, Globe Correspondent | June 6, 2004
HAMILTON -- A son's tribute to his infantryman father has led to countless rainy afternoons spent around dining-room tables refighting World War II from Europe to the Pacific.
Game designer Larry Harris of Hamilton says his father Lawrence Sr.'s wartime service inspired his creation of Axis & Allies. The World War II-themed board game is perhaps the most popular military strategy game of its type and has just been released in a commemorative D-day anniversary edition.
Lawrence Harris Sr., an Army sergeant from New London, Conn., served four years on the front lines in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and the Philippines, said his son, who has preserved his father's wartime diary and an oral history of his recollections.
Harris Sr. survived malaria and dysentery, an exploding grenade, and a bombing run that killed soldiers on his left and right. He narrowly missed being killed by a land mine that claimed the company commander walking ahead of him.
Remarkably, he was never injured. ''Statistically, he should have been killed three times," said his son, himself a Vietnam-era Army veteran who served with the 82d Airborne and at NATO headquarters in Paris.
The elder Harris is now 82 and living in Virginia. A photo of him as a smiling young GI in New Guinea in 1942 is on the box of the Axis & Allies CD-ROM version, next to a Churchill quote: ''I like a man who grins when he fights."
The 56-year-old game designer was interviewed recently in his basement ''War Room" where he works amid battalions of tiny tanks and army men, miniature pirate ships, the odd French poilu helmet, and shelves stacked with games he helped develop over the years for Milton Bradley, Mattel, and Parker Brothers.
Nearly 2 million copies of Axis & Allies have been sold since Milton Bradley began marketing the game 20 years ago, while a proliferation of clubs and Internet sites are devoted to the game one enthusiast describes as ''Risk on steroids."
The classic version of A&A is set in 1942 and pits two to five players competing as the Allied Powers (United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union) against the Axis (Germany and Japan).
Now a special D-day edition of Axis & Allies has been released by Hasbro subsidiary Wizards of the Coast to coincide with today's 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.
Axis & Allies combines ''rock-paper-scissors design with subtleties that are out of this world," says Constantine Hantzopoulos, 38, a senior producer of interactive games at Atari in Beverly. Hantzopoulos invites four to 10 friends from the electronic game industry to his Belmont home each Sunday to play board games. He has been a keen player of A&A since his college days at UMass, when, he said, he ''flunked a few classes" due to Axis & Allies marathons.
In his career as a game designer, Harris has worked on Trivial Pursuit, Risk, and Monopoly, and has created games set in the Roman Empire and aboard pirate ships. Miniature galleons and boarding parties from the latter turned a tabletop in his workshop recently into a battle set off the Spanish Main.
Yet his favorite game remains the one that sprang from a lifelong fascination with World War II, dating to his early days as a self-described military brat.
His father made a career in Army intelligence, and Harris, born in Connecticut, lived in various places as a youngster, spending three years in Iran in the early 1960s before graduating from high school in Virginia and volunteering for the Army in 1965.
Harris has lived on the North Shore since moving to Swampscott when he took a job with Parker Brothers in Beverly 1989. He moved eight years ago to Hamilton. His wife, Katherine, teaches at Beverly High School.
It is happenstance that the game designer should live in Hamilton, which was once the home of General George S. Patton. On May 15, a ceremony was held in Hamilton to rededicate the Liberty Road Milestones, popularly known as the Patton Pillars, at the entrance to Patton Park.
Among the dignitaries taking part was the vice-mayor of the French town of St. Mere Eglise, famously liberated by the 82d Airborne in the D-day invasion. After the ceremony, Harris chatted in French with the official from the Normandy town where American paratroopers had made history. Harris gave the vice-mayor a copy of Axis & Allies.
Nearby, a group of older men, veterans of the Yankee Division, posed in garrison caps for a photo in front of the Sherman tank that sits as a monument in Patton Park.
Harris considered the scene. ''The greatest generation," he said.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
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