Weird War Games: The Sushi-Jalapeno War

By Joe Fonseca 17 Jan 2019 1

New Year’s morning, 2:35AM. Most of the revellers have gone home, my wife is contentedly snoozing on the couch and most of my friends have gone to bed. Only two of us are left awake and alert. I knew this would happen and planned accordingly. I reach into a once hidden plastic bag and revealed what would be, by nature of the timing, both the best and worst wargaming experience of 2019: Xeno Games’ 1994’s Sushi-Jalapeño War. Few of my group enjoy war games and none but my lone awake friend would be up for tackling something as obscure, weird and as it turns out, completely incoherent as this ‘comedy’-sci-fi adventure. It involves a joint invasion of Mexico by Japan and a South American Union from the west, and American and Free Texas from the east. Also, there are nukes.

After plopping the box down and taking off the lid, we immediately noticed that the poster-paper map had to be folded oddly at one end to even fit. Combined with the literal printer paper components, we knew we were in for something special. I had picked this up at a gaming store a few years ago for a couple bucks, and it had sat on my shelf, earning it’s keep by drawing visitor’s eyes with it’s G.I. Joe box art and ridiculous title. But recently it’s been calling to me, begging to be played, begging to have its story told. I relented, and oh boy what a mess.

SJW 1

Here it is in all its glory, set up for turn one. Japan’s tiny foothold in the west will soon butt up against the might of Texas while the US forces try to cut directly to Mexico City.

The background is wacky, but definitely tongue in cheek. After a late 2000s financial crash, the West coast of the US succeeds and so does Texas. Oddly enough, this prompts Quebec to succeed from Canada (To no-one's surprise, this was published in Quebec). By 2019, tensions over Japan’s claims to the Pacific (yikes) leads to a diplomatic incident with Mexico. Japan and their South American allies invade, and the US and Texas respond to stake their own claim. A world class narrative this is not, but it sets the scene well for the insanity of the game. It’s also a window into its own time. The Quebec separation referendum was only one year later in 1995, and Japan’s economic partnerships with South American nations were growing. Neat tidbits, but there is nothing serious about the game. Some event cards reference millions of lawyers from seceded California lobbying the UN or the diversion of US forces to the Quebec/Canada border, setting it in its world and throwing out the odd bad joke.

The rules… Oh boy. We knew we were in for a treat when the first page mentions an electronic warfare step in the turn order but find no reference to it throughout the booklet. Secondly the movement costs for different units are radically different in the written rules and in the reference chart. Lastly, there is an entire system of building initiative for nukes that is referenced throughout without actually being explained. We later looked this all up on boardgamegeek.com and the consensus (though uncorroborated) is that the rules and map went through a dramatic change between submission and release, leaving things very, very confused. Despite this, we pressed on, adding house rules as we went.

SJW 3

The American buildup east of Mexico City is literally unassailable at this point, thus my drive west.

The basic mechanic, rolling two dice to get a total of command point per faction per turn, is hampered by the high cost of unit actions (regardless of which set of costs you use). For example, a moderately sized attack of 1 tank and 2 APCs costs 9 command points. 3 for the tank, 2 each for the APCs, and 2 to attack an enemy controlled territory. Out of a max of 12 (14 if we interpreted/made up correct initiative rules), these steep costs mean the war grinds to a halt if enough force is concentrated in a territory. The answer to this conundrum is the nuclear option. Tactical nukes fired into adjacent territories succeed on a single unopposed die role, wipe out everything in the territory and remove any victory points there. After the nuke ‘guts’ chart got to the point where we could drop them regularly, Mexico turned into an unfortunate smoking crater. It was the only way to make progress as we literally couldn’t roll large enough command points to attack hardpoints.

SJW 4

Oh the humanity! All sides have been dramatically reduced, some by Mexican freedom fighters, some by opposing forces, most by nukes (the black mushroom clouds).

The final turn allows for one faction, chosen at random, to violate the ceasefire that ends the game and move one unit one space. This allowed one of my few remaining South American infantry units to shuffle through the fallout and claim Mexico City, one of the last victory point cities. The final score was 5-3 for the American forces commanded by my buddy. We were more impressed that we actually finished the game, and that it only took a couple of hours. What a way to start 2019!

In the end, we both had a great time trying to work out and play this mess. Trying to divine the original intent and house ruling it all led to the creation of a wonderful, yet terrible Frankenstein’s Monster. It was beautiful and unique to us, but probably a terrifying abomination to onlookers. It turned out to be fun though, and isn’t that really all that matters? I’ve reached out to the publisher hoping to get any clarification on this game’s rules or the story of its creation. If I get anything back, I’ll be sure to update. Happy wargaming in the new year!

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