One week from Japan: Fujiyama board game

It’s been a full week since we got home from Japan. I still feel like I’m in catch-up mode a bit, because I’ve been concentrating the past few days on copying material off my private wiki as a safety precaution before upgrading it. Which hasn’t given me a lot of spare time to catch up on other things. I think I’m going to have to let Irregular Webcomic! go on a brief hiatus until I get this sorted – maybe a week or two.

That’s what I was doing most of today. I also went for another run, but didn’t manage as quick a time as yesterday. I think my muscles were still recovering a bit from yesterday after three weeks with no hard exercise.

My wife and I went on a long walk with Scully over lunch, to the Italian bakery. It’s about the longest walk we do with any regularity, clocking in at just under 6 km return. I had a slice of pizza there, and a special pastry of the day, it was a mandarin and ricotta danish-like thing. On the way back through the closer shopping area I picked up a couple of the limited edition spiced caramel apple scones from another bakery. I’ll try one of those for dessert later tonight.

This afternoon my wife and I tried playing one of the board games I got in Japan. The first one is Fujiyama.

Fujiyama board game

Each player starts with an empty board and the goal of the game is to fill it with hexagonal tiles in such a way as to maximise points by forming complete forests (triangles of the same colour) and groups of animals. The forests come in four seasons: spring (pink: flowers), summer (green: deciduous and evergreen trees), autumn (brown: chestnuts, mushrooms, grapes), and winter (blue: snowflakes). Each completed forest scores points in a different manner depending on its season, while mixed forests score zero. You also score points for groups of animals, more for groups of more different animals. The tiles are acquired by choosing which ones to give to your opponent/s and them choosing which tile to use – if they choose the one you gave them, they give you an animal to place. If they don’t choose the tile you gave them, you don’t get the animal. So there’s quite a strong incentive to give your opponents tiles that they can actually use.

It plays in 20 minutes or so, and there’s plenty of strategy going on. I look forward to playing this with my friends at one of our board game nights.

New content today:

OMG this flu

I checked and apparently my symptoms are consistent with a particularly nasty strain of flu going around Sydney at the moment. It is utterly miserable. Today was the worst day yet – it just seems to get worse every passing day. A few days ago I’d been feeling relatively okay in the mornings and deteriorating later in the day. But today I’ve been feeling messed up all day. barely got any sleep again last night, up with constantly blocked and dripping nose and coughing.

I was thinking it would be bad if I cancelled a whole week of Outschool classes and was feeling better by Tuesday or Wednesday – I could be teaching kids later in the week. But now I’m starting to feel like I won’t even be in fit shape to teach a class on Sunday.

I marked another couple of university assessment reports and videos. It turns out the Beatles break-up team did in fact submit two separate reports. I had to ask the professor to send me the other one. The two halves of the team seem to have worked almost completely independently, because even though they started with the same project idea, they went completely different directions with it and used different datasets.

But in good news, I got some new roleplaying games! I was thinking about the store credit I still have at the game shop, and what to spend it on, and decided to look at some recent games that have been well received, and also browse through what else they had available that struck my fancy. I ordered them by email, and my wife was in the city so I messaged her and she dropped in to the game shop to pick them up on her way home.

I decided to get:

  • The One Ring RPG – the third of the four roleplaying games based on the works of Tolkien.
  • Blades in the Dark – a heist-based game set in a fantastic Victorian era city, acclaimed because of its innovative mechanics.
  • Monster of the Week – a game using the other recent acclaimed “Powered by the Apocalypse” mechanics, reproducing an X-Files/Buffy style monster hunt in the modern day.
  • Mörk Borg – a real outlier; an award-winning dark, gritty, fantasy game inspired by heavy metal.

The last one, Mörk Borg, has made a real name for itself recently, so it was the first one I cracked open. It’s a short book, and… flipping through it is an experience. The graphic design is all over the place – it feels like your brain is being ripped out as you read it. But it works. The text is dark and disgusting and strangely compelling. The PCs in this game are not heroes. They’re doomed to die, as is everyone in this bleak world, and soon! When starting a campaign the GM basically sets up a world-destroying apocalypse that will end the game at some random time in the future. And unlike heroic games, the PCs can’t do anything about it – the world will end. Their only job is to make their short lives more comfortable for themselves at the expense of everyone else. It sounds awful, but you can’t take your eyes off it. I’m not sure if I’ll ever run this game, but it’s definitely one for aficionados of RPGs to absorb and mine for dark ideas.

How dark? Let me just say that I think what I have is the Mörk Borg of flus.

New content today:

Ninja Grandma, and a ninja flu

I did a second playtest of the Ninja Grandma board game design with my wife today, after iterating on the first design and changing some of the rules. I went for a modular bard instead of a fixed one, and changed from worker placement to a movement mechanic, which increases interaction and strategic decisions.

Ninja Grandma board game playtest

The potions are now more powerful, so it’s worth making them, and there are also poisons. And animal costumes so you can disguise your ninjas as other animals. It might be a bit too much, as this iteration required a lot more analysis to decide on a move. But such is the nature of design!

In other news, I had a bad sore throat yesterday. I was able to do my classes on Zoom, but by the end of the fourth one my voice was breaking and I couldn’t have done another one. I had real trouble sleeping overnight and am very tired today, and feeling some other symptoms of what I think is the flu. Hopefully it’s not COVID again, since I had that only a bit over a month ago! I’ve cancelled all my Outschool classes for tomorrow, because I really don’t think I’ll be better, and I need to provide 24 hours’ notice.

Hopefully tonight I’ll be tired enough to fall asleep and sleep through the night.

New content today:

A new board game: Applejack

It’s fortnightly in-person games night, but only three people could make it in person tonight, so we decided to convert it to an online event, which has allowed a couple of others to join in. We’re playing a new game in Board Game Arena called Applejack.

It’s pretty quick to learn and get into, but has a lot of choices to make and possible strategies to try to win. Each player has an orchard and is trying to collect hexagonal tiles to make contiguous regions of different varieties of apples. The larger the regions the more points you score. But there are also beehives, and matching those along the edges of the tiles gives you points too, so you need to weigh up and prioritise either the apples or the beehives. The tiles are selected from a common board and there’s chances to take tiles that other players want as well, so that’s another wrinkle. We’ve played a few games and are enjoying it.

The weather is getting wintry. Last night on the news the weather presenter said that the day felt “brutally cold”. Now, remember we’re a subtropical city… the maximum temperature was 17°C.

At lunch I took Scully for a walk past the fish & chip shop, where I grabbed some lunch, and we ate sitting on the bench in the park overlooking the harbour. Although cold, it was clear and sunny – a very nice day actually.

New content today:

Ninja revision and advertising ethics

First task today was writing the week’s new ethics lesson, on the topic of advertising. That was fairly easy since I did this topic a couple of years ago when I first started the classes, and none of those kids are still enrolled, so I mostly copied the old lesson, just revising a few of the questions.

Then I spent a fair bit of time revising the Ninja Grandma board game for the kids in the Creative Thinking class. I still have some work to do on that and hope to finish it tonight.

I took Scully for a big walk over to the bakery for lunch. I had her in her doggie backpack for the walk there (she walks all the way back by herself – it’s a fair distance for a little dog). We passed a woman on the street going the other way, and as she drew level and passed me, she must have noticed Scully. She said, “Hi Scully,” and kept walking, without saying a word to me! I didn’t recognise her, but presumably she’s another local dog owner and we may have interacted briefly at some point (or she knows my wife).

I’ll keep it brief because I want to get back to the game design and try to send it to the kids before bedtime.

New content today:

Revising the ninja game

This morning I had lesson 5 in the Creative Thinking/Game Design course with the kids. We went over our playtesting notes for the Ninja Grandma game. The kids had some cool ideas, including changing the ninja castle from a fixed board to a variable layout using tiles for each room, and making the layout matter by having the ninjas move from room to room, rather than be placed anywhere. Now I need to revise the game and send it back to them for another round of playtesting before the final lesson next Sunday.

I did a bit more comics work, assembling Irregular Webcomic! strips for the coming week. And tonight was three more ethics classes. And … wow, where did the day go?

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A pleasant Saturday for… housecleaning

What it says on the tin. It was a reasonably nice day, not too chilly. There were storms hanging off the coast all day, quite intense looking, but they failed to track inland over us so we had fine conditions, until just a few minutes ago when rain began hitting – but it’s after dinner and we’re comfy inside.

I did a big round of housecleaning: vacuuming, dusting, getting into some areas that I don’t do very often. Changing the damp absorbers in the closets and storage cupboards. Cleaning the bathroom and shower. And giving Scully a bath too!

In between I worked on some new Darths & Droids comics. And I played a playtest game of Ninja Grandma with my wife – this is the game I’m working on developing with the kids in the current Creative Thinking/Game Design course. In this first version every player has a team of 4 ninjas: a dragon, a panda, a tiger, and a penguin. The penguin was the idea of one of the kids. They visit various areas of Grandma’s ninja training castle to level up in skills, make sneaky potions to affect enemy ninjas, and smear peanut butter on floors to make them slippery so enemy ninjas can’t perform as well. There was plenty happening in the test game, but no clear goal to work towards, as I haven’t decided yet how to win the game! Probably the most important part, but I’m going to let the kids come up with ideas for that as part of the class.

We felt like something a bit different for dinner tonight, so we took Scully for a walk and passed by the nearest supermarket to grab a pack of corn chips and make nachos. Yum!

New content today:

Games night and Coronation Day

Yesterday I was busy with 4 ethics classes, and squeezing in a 2.5k run, as well as picking up Scully from my wife’s work and taking her out for lunch. Well, my lunch, anyway. We went to my favourite Italian bakery and I had a slice of pizza, and they had a special chocolate-orange snail pastry – i.e. pain aux raisins, only no raisins, and with chocolate and candied orange. I like chocolate and orange together, so I had to try it, and it was delicious.

In the evening was in-person games night at a friend’s place. I took my new game—Brew—hoping to play it. But we had five players, and it only supports up to four. So we played a couple of other games instead.

Factory Funner, which involves building whimsical factories by connecting supplies, machines, and storage vats together with pipes. Each turn you add a machine and try to reconnect your pipes to make sure everything keeps working. It costs money to connect pipes, and the machines give you money, so the goal is accumulate the most. It was fun and puzzling.

Factory Funner

And then I wanted to get home early because I had to be up early today, so I asked for a short game. We started Lovecraft Letter, a Cthulhu-mythos themed variant of Love Letter (which we’ve played many times before). It adds some cool new features. But one of them is that you can either win the game sane, or insane. To win sane, you need to collect two sane tokens, to win insane you need to collect three insane tokens (they are a bit easier to get). Unfortunately for my desire to leave early, we ended up with each of five players collecting multiple tokens, taking over ten rounds for someone to actually collect enough to win. But it was a lot of fun!

This morning I got up early to drive my wife to the Surry Hills Market, where she was doing another stall to sell her dog bandanas. She wanted to get there at 7am! On the way home I drove along Crown Street in the city – appropriate for today being the coronation of King Charles III. Back home, I took Scully for a walk, cleaned the bathroom/shower, and worked on some Darths & Droids comics.

This evening we want out for dinner to an Indian restaurant. This one is about 3 km walk away, which was pleasant in the cool evening air. I had a house specialty dish I hadn’t tried before: almond pumpkin lamb, which was really nice. Here’s a bit of a view walking towards the restaurant:

Late autumn evening walk

New content yesterday:

New content today:

Game design convergence – grandma ninjas!

Sunday morning 10am – lesson 3 in my current iteration of my Creative Thinking & Game Design course. The students and I went through the potential themes for board games that we brainstormed last week, narrowing it down to a list of eight. After some constructive criticism of each idea, it came to picking the one theme that we will work on.

Student 1 picked his favourite. Student 2 picked hers, which was different. I asked for second preferences, and both picked other different things, so now we had four different options with no overlap!

To break the deadlock I suggested how about we combine the two favourite ideas, which were:

  • Ninjas – a ninja training course where we try to become the best ninja
  • Grandma’s evil mansion – a quest to find things in the mansion to defeat the evil grandma

So I said what about a ninja grandma? And both kids went, “YEAH!” So that’s the theme of our game. We’re not sure what the ninja grandma does yet – maybe players can be ninja grandkids and the grandma is training you or sending you on missions. Or maybe each player can be a different competing ninja grandma, training their own group of ninjas. We’ll figure that out next week.

Today’s weather was surprisingly nice, after the forecast 60 mm of rain bypassed Sydney and dumped on other parts of the state.

New content today:

Tomb of the Serpent Kings, session 3

Not much to report today: grocery shopping, four ethics classes, made pasta for dinner, baked sourdough, played online board games with friends for our weekly games night. But I thought I’d take the opportunity to report on this:

Last Friday we played the third session of the Tomb of the Serpent Lords adventure that I’ve been running, using old school Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules. If you need a recap, the first two sessions are here:


Back in the village, Notgandalf used Detect Magic to determine that the stone eggs, snake carving, and wavy dagger were magical. The group traded away the other valuable items for 390gp, sharing 65gp to each participating adventurer.

Ratter slowly recovered from his encounter with the monster-girl, regaining his lost constitution. But it took several days and he took the opportunity to hone his thievery skills by hanging out with the village thugs. Volrak was still not done with his atonement, so also would miss the next expedition the the tomb.

The group rested for three days. Notgandalf suffered the effect of a curse on his magical ring, taking poison damage on one of the rest days. With Volrak still doing penance in the church, another young cleric stepped up to join the party:

Brother Leonardo – cleric, 4 Strength, 15 Wisdom, 5 Charisma. Mace and sling.

Trying to kill the basilisk

Convinced that the giant lizard chained in the pillared hall was a basilisk, Notgandalf was determined to retrieve the silver disc from the lightning trap room. He avoided the floor plate trigger and tried to remove the silver plate from the wall. It seemed harmless, so he pried it loose with a dagger and took it. The party returned to the eastern end of the lizard chamber via the chasm walkway. There, Notgandalf taunted the beast with a torch and waved the shiny reflective disc in an attempt to get it to see its own reflection. Unfortunately this failed.

They decided to explore down the stairs to the south-east, finding a square room with similar stone tiles to the ones covering the pit trap they’d pushed the jelly-skeleton into. Poking the tiles with a 10-foot pole revealed the pit trap. Avoiding it by walking around the edge, they proceeded to another room, containing a sloped pit full of fire, with some charred bones and streaks of molten gold at the bottom. They skirted this and entered a room to the south, a domed chamber with four doors. The southern door was heavy iron and locked.

Fungus goblin lair

The western door was smashed open. Beyond was a passage and room with more natural, less worked stone walls, and an angry small humanoid trying to push them back with a broom while chittering in an unknown language. The party tried to push their way past, but the creature yelled loudly and two reinforcements arrived, brandishing pointed sticks. Others were ready to fall back, but Brother Leonardo loosed a sling stone, hitting one right between the eyes and dropping it to the filthy floor! The other reinforcement fled back the way it had come. The party forced the creature with the broom to come with them at swordpoint as they pushed deeper into the natural caverns.

They came across a stinking chamber carpeted in muck and filth, with horrible fungoid growths, sickly plants, and other weird things apparently planted in the mulch: fingers, hands, sheep legs, sword hilts, etc. The stench was incredible. The party were reluctant to step into this mess. While hesitating, a group of six of the goblins charged to repel the invaders! Entering combat, the party took a few hits with pointy sticks and pitchforks. Garamond took a hit and retreated to avoid more damage. Notgandalf charged in and poked a goblin with the fang-like nail of his cursed finger, causing the goblin to clutch its throat and die horribly, foaming at the mouth. The group vanquished the six attackers, leaving their hostage gibbering. Leonardo healed Garamond.

Notgandalf cast Detect Magic to scry the room for any magical items. He located buried beneath the filth a silver ring, set with a semi-precious stone patterned like an eye. They found the north passage connected to the second entrance that Garamond had found on the previous expedition.

The south passage took them through an empty room—a filthy sort of bed chamber—and then into a throne room, where more of the goblins were paying respects to an effigy made of mud and sticks, sitting atop a crude chair, crowned by a headpiece made of sticks and bent cutlery. Edging around the room with their hostage, the party exited to the west. A passage led south to a room that stank even worse than the previous mulch room. They avoided this and proceeded through a room carpeted with live beetles and cockroaches. North from here they found the passage blocked by a huge vertical cylinder of stone.

The dwarves suggested the stone cylinder might rotate around a vertical axis and pulled it clockwise, revealing an opening in the stone large enough for a person to stand in. Nogge volunteered to step in while the others rotated the cylinder around a full rotation anti-clockwise, so Nogge could report back. Nogge returned, having been stabbed and wounded by a spear trap on the western side, saying that the way around on the eastern side was safe, and led to a passage that continued north. Leonardo tried to heal Nogge, but beseeching his god for an extra spell failed!

One at a time the party used the cylinder door to proceed into the north passage. They noticed a stone idol carved into an alcove as the cylinder rotated to the east.


The passage led up stairs to connect to the area Garamond had explored west of the basilisk chamber. Notgandalf used the opportunity to try to deal with the monster again, hiding around a corner, taunting it with a torch, and holding the silver disc to try to reflect its gaze. The monster noisily approached with hisses and the slithering clank of chain… and then silence fell.

Notgandalf: “Did it work?”
Brigette: “So… who wants to look?”

Brigette used the silver disc to look around the corner and see if the basilisk was still alive.

Brigette: Actually, it’s okay whether or not the mirror reflects the gaze attack. If it does reflect the attack, then it’s probably turned itself to stone so you’re safe. On the other hand, if the mirror doesn’t reflect the attack, and it’s alive, its reflection shouldn’t turn you to stone.

It turned out the basilisk had indeed been turned to stone. They noted the head harness and blinders, and a thick leather collar, as well as the heavy chains leading up to the ceiling, invisible in the darkness above, with the odd chittering of bats. Having a good look around the chamber for any treasure, they noted nothing but broken pieces of “statues”, as well as extremely realistic stone bats, huge spiders, and a few of the fungus goblins.

Exploring the passage west revealed two doors, one intricately carved with multiple snakes, and a gap matching the shape and size of the stone snake found in the monster-girl room. Brigette replaced the snake and the party watched as the stone snakes animated and slithered into the door frame, revealing a portal to a magnificent throne room, lined with red stone, dusty tapestries, and eight palm-sized mirrors mounted on wooden frames, surrounding a heavy stone, wood, and gold throne. Notgandalf sat on the throne and was overcome with feelings of powerlust and ambition. Refusing to get off the throne, Brigette, Drashi, and Leonardo lifted the rear and tipped him out. They determined the throne would take three people to carry, and decided to come back to retrieve it before leaving the tomb for the day.

The northern door opened to reveal a chamber lit with eerie purple light, the stone ceiling and walls carved to look like the inside of a snake’s ribcage. A thousand various smells assaulted their noses: herbs, spices, acids, yeasts, flowers, etc. Standing before them was Xiximanter, a shrivelled, desiccated human torso and head with snake fangs, atop a skeletal snake tail. His sunken eye sockets glowed with red pinpricks of light. He greeted the party, asking which was to be his new apprentice.

Notgandalf: “Seems like a reasonable gentleman.”

The party conversed with Xiximanter, determining that he was seeking a new apprentice, as well as ingredients such as elf ears (looking at Garamond) and dwarf beards (looking at Drashi and Brigette) for his potions. The party asked if Xiximanter had any potion that could reverse magical ageing of 9 years, and he replied that he did not, but he did have something else that might be of use. Xiximanter ushered them into the adjoining room, full of equipment and storage jars full of weird ingredients. Another door led to what Xiximanter said was his laboratory. Xiximanter often referred to “the priests above”, making the party suspect he had no idea that all of the serpent people in the complex were long dead. They even suspected that Xiximanter might not know himself that he was undead. They debated telling him, but decided better of it.

Notgandalf asked if Xiximanter could remove his cursed ring. Xiximanter exclaimed, “Where did you get that?!” and cast a spell and removed the ring, returning Notgandalf’s finger to normal. Xiximanter kept the ring…

Nogge: “You have fewer snake parts than when you came in.”

Eventually the party decided that getting away without angering Xiximanter was the best course of action, and they made excuses, saying they would return later. Their persuasiveness convinced Xiximanter to let them leave. They immediately jammed the door shut with iron spikes, grabbed the throne, and fled the dungeon back to Neensford.

Loose ends

The party returned a few days alter after healing and resting, to check a final location: the locked iron door south of the domed chamber. Not having found any key, they used tools brought with them to laboriously pry the door open, revealing a room full of treasure! Piles of coins, rolled silk tapestries, a small chest full of jewels, and two fine swords – one sword detected as magical. They also quickly checked the walkway in the cavern, finding it blocked to the north and south. They grabbed all the treasure and raced back to town.

At Neensford, Notgandalf decided to try on the magical ring with the eye-gem. When he put it on his left hand, his left eyeball fell out! But he could still see through it! It also turned hard as stone. Putting the eyeball back into the socket, it reattached and he could remove the ring.

Significant character moments

  • Brigette – Arguing it was safe to look at the basilisk in the mirror and then trying it.
  • Brother Leonardo – Deciding to lead the attack against the fungus goblins and killing one outright with his first sling stone.
  • Drashi – Getting offended at Xiximanter wanting to use his beard in a potion.
  • Garamond – Getting hit, retreating from combat to use bow.
  • Nogge – Going first through the rotating cylinder door and getting stabbed by the spear trap.
  • Notgandalf – Stoning the basilisk with its reflection. Getting cursed ring removed by Xiximanter.

New content today: