Boost Your Professional Skills via Games

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were looking for opportunities to get more strategic, focus on communication skills, improve your ability to collaborate, or just stretch your capacity to think critically?  Well I have the answer for you: pick up gaming.

Let’s pause for a second and provide some background: I was born the same year the NES was released in North America – so my entire childhood was littered with video games.  I speak quite often about how much video gaming has influenced my life.  I find them to be one of the best ways to unleash creativity, have a universe where failure is safe, and there is always an opportunity for growth and challenge.

With all that context you may think this post is about video games and how they can assist with growing out the aforementioned skills.  And that’s where I’ll add a little bit of intrigue: this post is actually dedicated to tabletop games.

For the past two years I’ve picked up an awesome hobby – tabletop gaming.  Not your traditional Monopoly or Game of Life – but games centered around strategy and cooperation.  I’ve taken to playing them with friends, family, and colleagues as a way to connect and learn.  And along the way I’ve come across a few of my favorites that serve as great growth tools.

Do I have you intrigued?  Hopefully!  Now on to a list of recommendations.  And the best part?  All but one of these can be played with 2 players.  I often play games with my husband as a way to switch off my brain from the hum of everyday life and into the deep and rich problems and mechanics that arise during game play.

First up – Jaipur

Jaipur is only a 2 player game that centers around trading and selling goods.  The main mechanics here are knowing when to sell, when to hold, and how to manipulate the market.  There are camel cards that get put in place that when returned cause new goods to appear.

Why you should play: It is a great way to understand value at a particular moment in time.  From being first to market, to waiting until you have several of a specific good to sell, to driving changes in the market by forcing your opponent’s hand.  It helps unlock the necessity to anticipate next steps.  It shows how you can have control over certain aspects (say all the camels to prevent variety in the market), but how that may put you at a disadvantage when trying to sell goods.

It’s a great game that is played in a max of 3 rounds and probably 30 minutes.  The variety and novelty of what happens makes this a fun to repeat game.


Hanabi is a collaborative game that plays anywhere from 2 to 5 people.  The basic premise is that you and your friends are absentminded fireworks makers and have mixed up all the fireworks (numeric sets 1 to 5 of 5 different colors).  Similar to Indian Poker you have a number of cards (3 or 4) facing away from you.  That is to say – you don’t know your hand, but your friends do.  Through a series of sharing information and discarding/drawing cards everyone is trying to put down cards in order from 1 to 5 for particular colors.  If you play a card too soon then the fireworks could go off early and there’s only so much information to share before the start of the fireworks show.

This is a great game to learn about collaboration and communication.  When you’re sharing information you give either color or numeric information to someone about their hand.  This can be interpreted several different ways and it’s up to the entire team to communicate effectively and adjust to interpretation style.  It also forces you to make choices.  My husband and I recently played and got dealt a bunch of single-high value cards that couldn’t be played until the end.  We had to concede as a team that those targets weren’t realistic to go after and were the only way we could end up having a decent fireworks display.

Lost Cities

This is another exclusively two player game.  This is also a set building game where you’re going on exploration missions to different natural wonders.  Your goal is to fill out sets in numeric order (1 to 10) by color.  There’s a baseline cost to going on a mission, so you’ll have to be wise about going off on a mission.  There are also cards you can play (before the numbers) that let you double, triple, or quadruple your wager on successfully going on the exploration.  You and your opponent take turns drawing from a pool of known cards or from a deck.  Several tactics can unfold here.  You can build into a color early, or completely change paths once you see what the other person is discarding.  It’s also a juggling act to decide how much to wager to end up making money.


This one plays well with a widespread number of players.  The key mechanic here is that you’re a bean farmer with 2 fields to plant beans.  The order in which you receive cards is crucial and can’t be changed.  It’s up to you to work together with your fellow farmers at the bean market to not uproot your fields too early and ruin a good harvest.  This is a rapid fire trading game where getting on someone’s good side is critical and you’ll immediately see the downfall of holding on to cards for the “perfect deal.”  But of course you have to balance out your friendliness with the knowledge that if you share too many high value beans the other farmers may win.  There’s always action on the table and you have to voice your offer quickly to remain part of the conversation.

The Grizzled

The Grizzled is a somewhat melancholy game centered around World War I.  You’re on a squad and trying to successfully fulfill missions before all morale is lost.  You’ll do this by dodging too many threats and offering support to your team.  You’ll even make speeches to encourage your comrades.  This game offers lots of opportunities to understand when and how to be a team player to keep morale high and everyone successful.  The theme is a bit morose, but adds context to the intention behind each player’s actions.

The Resistance

Sadly this requires a minimum of 5 people to play, but is totally worth it.  As the box mentions it is a game of deduction and deception.  You’ll be dealt a secret role and are either fighting for victory or sabotage.  I played this one with 8 other colleagues recently and pure awesomeness was the result.  You’ll get the chance to pick teams for missions, vote on how much you trust each other, and ultimately fight for success or defeat.  You will get insight into crowd politics and how individuals handle situations of mistrust and lack of information.  My recent 9 player game divulged into using a white board to help with deductions!

Next time you’re in need of beefing up your soft skills or detaching from work and want to do it in a productive and fun manner – consider tabletop gaming.  Whether you’re looking for team building exercises or safe environments to test how people work together – tabletop games offer it all.  And in particular – collaborative tabletop games.  With most games there’s always an element of putting yourself first, but you will really start to understand how individuals like to contribute to team mechanics.

Makeover Monday 2017 – Week 3 Trump Tweets

**Update (1/20/17) : The original data set had a date formatting snafu resulting in 1307 tweets at the 12:00-12:59 PM (UTC time) hour to be displayed as 00:00-00:59 (aka 12 AM hour).  This affected 4.3% of the original data set visualization and has been corrected.  I have also added a footnote denoting the visualization is in EST.  This affects the shape of the data in both the 4 AM – 8 AM and 4 PM – 8 PM sections.

Rolling right along into week 3’s Makeover Monday.  The data set this week: Donald Trump’s tweets.  The original Buzzfeed viz and article accompanying this analyzed Trump’s retweet activity since his announcement of running for president.  The final viz ended up being what I would best describe as bubble charts of the top users he retweeted during this time:

What’s interesting is that the actual article goes into significant depth on how their team systematically reviewed the tweets.  It’a a bummer that the additional analysis done couldn’t be synthesized into visual form.

My take on the makeover this week was driven completely by the underlying data available.  The TDE provided had the following fields:

Two things stuck out to me with the data.  First: the username being retweeted wasn’t included; second: the entire tweet text was included.  Having full text available just screams for some sort of text analysis.  I got committed at that point to doing something with the text.

My initial idea was to do some sort of sentiment analysis.  Recently I had installed both R-Studio and Python on my PC to try integration with Tableau.  I’d had success with R-Studio (mind you after watching a brief YouTube video), but I hadn’t gotten Python to cooperate (my effort in assisting in this cooperation = 2 out of 10).  I figured since I had both available maybe I should make an attempt.  After marinating on the concept I didn’t feel comfortable adding more sentiment analysis to the fire of American politics.  (On a personal note: I have been politically checked out since the early primaries.)

So instead of doing sentiment analysis, I decided to turn the data more into text mining for mentions and hashtags.  I had done some fiddling with the time component and was digging how the cycle plot/horizon chart were playing out visually.  So it seemed natural to continue on a progression of getting more details out of the bars and times of day.

Note on the time: time is graciously parsed into correct format with the data.  In looking at the original time, I am under the impression it was represented in GMT (+0000).  To adjust for this, I added -5 hours to all of the parsed dates to put it in EST aka Trump time.

So back to text mining.  Post #data16 conference, a colleague of mine was recounting how to use regex to scrub through text.  I walked away from his talk thinking I need to use that next time I have the opportunity.  And what I love about it: NATIVE FUNCTION TO TABLEAU!!  So this was making me sing.  Now I don’t know a ton about regex (lots of notation I have yet to memorize), so I decided to quickly google my way to getting the user handles and hashtags.  These handy results really made this analysis zip along: regexr & regex+twitter.

Everything else came to life pretty quickly.  I knew I wanted to include at least one or two tweets to read through, but I wanted to keep it curated.  I think this was accomplished well and I spent a good deal of time trying out different time combinations just to see what would bubble to the surface.

A final note on aesthetics this week: I’m reading Alberto Cairo’s The Functional Art, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m also participating in his MOOC that starts tomorrow.  I am only 4 chapters in, but Alberto has me taking a few things to heart.  I don’t think it is by coincidence that I decided to push the beauty side of things.  I always strive for elegance, but I strive for it through white space and keeping that “data ink ratio” at a certain point.  But I’m not blind to the different visualizations out there that attract people.  So for once I used a non-white background (yay!).  And I also went for a font that’s well outside of the look of my usual vizzing font.

More than focusing on aesthetics, is of course the function of the viz.  I tried to spend more time thinking about the audience and what they were going to “get” out of it.  I hope that the final product is less of a “visual aid” to my analysis and more of an interactive tool to explore the tweets of the soon to be President.

Full viz available on my Tableau public page.