A look at rules, narrative, and a time capsule of 1994
By Joe Fonseca. Originally Published on ‘OveractiveAcademic’ in 2019
Sushi-Jalapeno War: What is this and why am I here?
Last January I undertook a strange assignment for wargamer.com, playing and writing a ‘Weird Wargames’ feature on Xeno Games’ 1994 release, Sushi-Jalapeno War. What started as a playthrough of a crazy game with crazy rules and crazy background would become something of a personal quest for myself and a friend.
I had found Sushi-Jalapeno War the year beforeon a dusty shelf at the back of a Calgary hobby shop. It stopped me in my tracks with its garish box art, offensive title, and undeniably cheap price tag. I was still just dabbling in board wargames and I had really no idea what was good or bad at the time. I had a hunch about Sushi-Jalapeno War though. I mean, look at it.
Bringing it home and checking online brought me few answers. The little discussion I could find revolved around its unplayability and a few requests from collectors looking for it. I was convinced that I had something ‘interesting’ at least. And that was it. The blindingly 90’s GI JOE-style box sat on my office shelf earning its keep as a conversation piece for my colleagues or any students that wandered in for office hours. I knew I’d have to play it someday, but as someone just getting started wargaming with card and paper, I knew better than to stumble blindly into that minefield as my first attempt.
By winter 2018 I had been writing for wargamer.com for a few months and was on the prowl for a new feature topic. Then, like the rumblings of some Jumanji demon, Sushi-Jalapeno War called to me. I decided, or was compelled to decide, that it was finally time to crack the rulebook and figure out how to play.
Turns out, it is actually unplayable. The rulebook before me was filled with so many internal contradictions, references to rules that were never explained, reference charts with competing values for the same things, and spelling and grammatical errors that made what rules that were there difficult to parse. The only thing that remained coherent was the timeline at the back describing the narrative for the game. I’ll return to that in a moment.
The mind-bending rules didn’t stop me of course. My friend and willing victim took the dive with me and, as planned, we set up Sushi-Jalapeno War at 2:00am on New Years Day. We’re party animals, I know. But we had a good time adding and changing rules on the fly to be able to push pieces around the table for a couple hours. It was, of course, the best wargame we’d played all year. I wrote the wargamer.com piece, I’m pretty sure people liked it, and I shelved Sushi-Jalapeno War, thinking it would sit there forever.
Except of course I couldn’t put it away forever…the beating of that infernal Jumanji demon returned…to us both.
The fictive start of the Sushi-Jalapeno War was November 19, 2019. Funnily enough, we managed to play the game in the year it was actually set, totally by accident. But then we got to thinking. What if we played it again, say in 323 days? Well then, we’d be the only people in the world, we wagered, to fight the Sushi-Jalapeno War on the day that the Sushi-Jalapeno War erupted. It’s kind of like watching Back to the Future on October 21, 2015, only somehow nerdier.
So, we decided that’s what we would do, though we’d make sure there was actually a game to play this time.
The New and Improved Rules (Now actually playable!
So here we are. I’ve written, and my friend has edited, proofread, and fixed, a total rewrite of the Sushi-Jalapeno War rulebook from the ground up. It tries to keep the spirit of the original rules, where I could figure out what they were. This includes fleshing out the Electronic Warfare step, consolidates the Nuclear Attacks into one readable chart, clearing up the Command Point and cost issues, and generally creating a playable and completable game within the designated 2 hours. I can’t say it’s perfect, because it isn’t, but it represents what I feel is the best attempt at playing Sushi-Jalapeno War as the designer intended.
Here’s the Boardgamegeek.com link to the Sushi-Jalapeno Wars page where the new rules are available:
The Game’s Ridiculous (and historically interesting) Narrative
Sushi-Jalapeno War’s wonky premise is literally the only thing keeping it around. Even with our fixed rules, it’s a fairly standard 90’s area control wargame with variable action points. You push miniatures around a map, roll dice, add modifiers, and blow things up with tactical nukes.
It’s setting says more about the time in which it was written than anything, and acts as a sort of time capsule for bad 90’s jokes, racist characterizations, and worries about the future. This is all contained in the ‘Brief History Outline’ section at the end of the rulebook. I thought It’d be fun to point out some of the more interesting stops in the timeline to talk about. Remember, this was released in 1994, in America.
South American Union Forms consisting of every nation is South and Central
- While obviously quite the feat, Brazil, as a regional economic powerhouse, was promoting the idea of a united South America throughout the 1990s. This would develop after 2004 into the intergovernmental regional organization, the Union of South American Nations.
Wall Street Crashes leading to the collapse of the US Government.
- Another Wall Street Crash in the 2000s seems to be a popular trope in the 1990s, but luckily for us the 2008 Financial Crisis didn’t lead to a collapsed and separated USA.
California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Hawaii, and Alaska form the Pacific
Coast Conference after a year of internal instability and strife in the USA.
- This leads to several Event Cards in the game to reference the 20 million lawyers of the PCC suing different game factions or pushing for UN involvement in the war. Har Har.
Texas secedes from the Union and forms its own republic.
- I mean, of course.
Quebec secedes from Canada, prompting a showdown between Canada and France’s
- Canadians who were around then can tell you all about the Quebec separation referendum of 1995 and what it meant for the integrity of Canada. With a vote of 50.58% to stay and 49.42% to leave, it remained a contentious issue for Quebec and Canadian politics for some time. Though the separation issue has died down for many in the 2010s, it was a key talking point when the game was released.
- France’s ability or desire to defend a free Quebec here is probably only to set up a conflict for a future game and probably only marginally traced to French President Charles de Gaulle’s 1967 speech in Montreal where he exclaimed, “Vive le Quebec Libre!” (Long Live Free Quebec) which served to embolden those seeking separatism and to harm French-Canada relations for some time.
New US Government is established and order is restored
- Well we need the fourth player in the game to be a still powerful US.
Mexico claims the Pacific Ocean seizing numerous Japanese Fishing Boats
After months of Negotiations Fail, Mexico executes hundreds of Japanese
Japan, along with their ally the SAU, declare war on Mexico
- This touches off the conflict of the game (in which Mexico as a state plays no part, I must mention) and points to the growing economic ties between Japan and South America during the 1980s and Japan’s still monumental growth as an economic power. While Japan’s financial crisis of the ‘Lost Decade’ was already being felt by 1994, it makes some sense that a game designed during the early 1990s would still hold onto the idea of Japan as a rising economic power that seemed unable to be stopped.
The US and Texas invade Mexico on the pretext of saving Mexico from Japanese
There you have it, the complete and utterly ridiculous time capsule of Sushi-Jalapeno War’s narrative. I expect several shlocky novellas and at least one Tabletop RPG to be developed now. Get to it everyone.
Really it was meant to be ridiculous, but the way the timeline develops does shed some light onto some of the more fascinating issues of the early 1990s. Should we be displeased at what is frankly an insensitive and racist depiction of South American, Mexican, and Japanese peoples made for a jokey wargame in 1994? We can be, but probably shouldn’t be. It is enough to recognize that it is beyond rediuclous now and that the proposed sequels should proably not get the green light (little danger there.) The game is probably best preserved as a historical artifact. I know it’ll be sitting on a shelf in my office from now on, continuing to earn its keep as a conversation starter, a lesson in material history, and a window into the wacky world of 1994.
To all those who have a copy, dig it up, try out our new rules, and join that special group of those who played Sushi-Jalapeno War on the day it actually happened. If the original designer of Sushi-Jalapeno War is out there (I’ve tried looking for you!) Please let me know how close I came with my revision. I know publishing games can be…difficult…for designers who are beholden to a publisher.
Thanks for reading,