Blokus Strategy 2 – Bayesian Probabilities

This piece of Blokus strategy deserves its own post.

Let me introduce you to the concept of Bayesian probabilities. The math is pretty heavy, so I will just describe the concept.

In regular probability, you look at the frequency of how often something occurs. This works in playing card games. “What is my chance of drawing a diamond”.

Bayesian probabilities assigns probability based on an states of knowledge or belief. “What is the chance of someone playing in that square, given the other options they have to play”

This is pretty complex, so let me give you an example in Blokus. Suppose there are 4 different places that you are thinking about playing on the board. When you look at each one, the you gather the following information about each option.

  • Option 1: No one else can play on it. It is a perfect fit for your square piece
  • Option 2: All 4 players can play into this space. Once played there, it is isolated, so it won’t get you anywhere else.
  • Option 3: Only you and one other person can play here. The other player needs this space to avoid getting stuck.
  • Option 4: You and 2 others can play here. It leads to one other open space

How do you decide what to do? Bayesian probability tries to assign probabilities to each of beautiful-mindthese sites to decide the probability that you won’t be able to play there later. It seems complex, but your brain is already doing this when you think through where you should play. I’m going to assign probabilities the way my brain naturally thinks about it, without actually calculating probabilities. (No one has time for you to get your whiteboard out and Beautiful Mind the actual probabilities.)

  • Option 1: 0% probability of losing this space before your next turn. Wait for a later turn to play here
  • Option 2: 80% probability of losing this. Potential for this turn
  • Option 3: 90% chance of losing the space. Would really hurt the other player, and you won’t have a chance later
  • Option 4: 85% chance of losing the space. This will give you another play, so if you need the extra space, this may be your best choice.

At this point, you know you will probably lose two of the spaces, so do you want to use the chance to block someone out, or to sneak into extra space? Its up to you, just go in understanding the consequences.

Are there any other techniques you use to figure out where to play? Leave a comment.

Christmas Strategy

Merry Christmas!

I love Christmas time, and especially love Christmas morning. I have always had a hard time sleeping because of all the anticipation for what is to come Christmas morning. There are a few traditions we have adopted in our family to make things great.

  1. Invite someone over Christmas Eve to make the time move quicker for the kids
  2. Bring out all the presents right before bed to build the anticipation
  3. Set a time when people are allowed to wake up
  4. Open Santa presents and stockings
  5. Force everyone to eat breakfast
  6. Open presents systematically
  7. Ensure a good mix of shock value, long term need, and short term fun presents
  8. Focus on your Family

Christmas Eve

When Christmas Eve comes around, kids are usually wired, and can’t wait to go to bed. One year, we tried to make it special by turning out the lights and having dinner by the Christmas tree, but Josh was so stressed that Santa would think we were asleep and come to our house early that we had to stop ten minutes into it.

Having people over, or going to someone’s house really helps in making the time pass. It gives kids something to do while they wait for the magic time to go to bed.

Bring out the presents

This may be counter-intuitive if you actually want your kids to sleep, but for me, the magic of seeing all the presents come out of Mom’s closet and go under the tree makes Christmas great.

The kids may not sleep any better, but it builds up the excitement!

Christmas morning

We have a rule that you can’t come wake us up until 6AM. Part of this is that we need our sleep, but really, this is also established to build the anticipation. I loved being awake with my brothers, just looking at the clock and counting down the minutes.

When we do get up at 6AM, we let everyone open their presents from Santa, and their stockings. This gives them a taste of what’s to come, but then we make them eat some real breakfast. “Real Food, not candy”real-food-not-candy

Then, its time for the presents. When I was growing up, we each opened one present at a time. As you can imagine, with 8 siblings, it took a significant amount of time to get back to your turn. It also really shows if someone else got more presents. (Mom always got the most,)

My wife’s family did the complete opposite. It was more of a free for all. Open your presents whenever you want. Although, this might seem great, Christmas morning is over so fast, that you hardly know what happened.

Mallory and I have taken an in between approach. Everyone picks a present and opens it at the same time. Then everyone picks their next present and they all open at the same time, etc. This has worked well for our family. Anyone else have a different tradition they like?

Present Mix

It is the stressful job of parents to ensure that the presents their kids get make things magical. There are different varieties of presents that will help you with this.

  1. Shock Value Presents: (New Bike, Large Ball, Pogo Stick…)
  2. Long Term Needs/Wants: (Clothes, Games,  Backpacks
  3. Short Term Fun: (Lego’s, Games, Dolls, Nerf Guns..)

To make Christmas last, it is nice to have a mix of everything, so that you can enjoy it now, and enjoy it for months to come.

Focus on Family

Lastly, the most important thing to do on Christmas is to focus on your family and Jesus Christ. Put your phones and laptops away. Take the time to enjoy your children’s company. They are great people, and they just want to be with you. Invest your time in the things that matter most, your family.

 

Career Strategy 2: Job Search

Three things are guaranteed in life: Death, Taxes, and Job Search.

Searching for a job can be stressful. Whether this is your first job, you lost a job, or you are looking for something different, there are a lot of emotions involved. Nothing else is quite like it. You are taking everything great about yourself and sending it to thousands of people hoping one of them will see something good about you and give you a chance.

Below are some tips to help you decrease your stress, and let your confidence shine through.

  1. Figure out what you want
  2. Clean up your Brand
  3. Apply to 5 jobs a day
  4. Reach out to old colleagues
  5. Use multiple methods
  6. Maintain a job pipeline
  7. Do something of value every day
  8. Interview with confidence

What do you want?

Read the post on Career Strategy 1; What do you want to be when you grow up.

Everyone is different. Your ideal role won’t be the same as someone else’s. It helps to ask other people for their opinions, but it is your career in the end, so you have to do what you like.

Clean Up your Brand

You are a brand. You want everything about you to tell the story of your brand. You know what you want to be, so craft everything so that you are seen as the kind of person who would excel at what you are trying to be.

These should all tell the same story about you.

  • LinkedIn Profile
  • Resume
  • Facebook (Yes, your future employee will search for you on Facebook. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a personality. They want to see who you really are, but it should reflect the current you that you are branding yourself)
  • Blogs, websites

Apply to 5 jobs per day

At the beginning, this is really easy. In Step 1 you just learned what you want to do, so you will search for those types of jobs. There will be many available to choose from. Use your best resume and apply. At this point you are playing a numbers game, you just have to get yourself out there.

Later in the process, it will get more difficult to find jobs that match what you like exactly. Keep applying. This will help you to feel productive, and you will discover new things about yourself as you interview.

Reach out to Old Colleagues

With social media, you are connected to many people in and out of your industry. Let people know you are looking, (be careful if you haven’t left your current role yet. You don’t want to put people, including yourself, into uncomfortable situations.). LinkedIn has a feature that allows you to make yourself visible to recruiters so that they know you are interested.

Don’t just ask people for a job. Explain to others what you are looking for and what you are doing to accomplish it. Often people will try to help you. Be humble and listen to any advice, even if you know it isn’t good. Don’t slam the door on people that are doing their best to help you.

Use Multiple Search Methods

Just applying may work well, but you want to round out your approach. It is just like investing. If you have a balanced portfolio of job search methods, you increase your chances of being seen.

Here are some to try

  1. Job search engines: Indeed.com, Monster.com, careerbuilder, LinkedIn.
  2. Reaching out to old colleagues
  3. Direct networking. (LinkedIn search for people)
  4. Get references (ask your current network if they know anyone in this industry, company, etc)

Maintain a Job Pipeline

People will call you for interviews. Don’t stop searching for other jobs at this point. You want to have a pipeline of jobs at the different stages so that if one falls through, you haven’t lost weeks of time. In the end, it only takes one, but until that happens, you need to have jobs in many different stages so you don’t end up starting over with nothing.

Just do something

It can be frustrating when you don’t hear back from people. The process will move slowly at first, and will often tax your patience. It helps to do something of value every day. Read a book, write a blog post, exercise, help out a neighbor or friend, or make cookies. These don’t have to have anything to do with your job search, but will help you to have value in your life.

(Watching Netflix and playing video games don’t count. You can do this for fun, but try to do something that makes you feel productive.)

Interview with Confidence

When you do get interviews, be confident. There is a great Ted talk about power poses. Do a power pose right before the interview for 2 minutes to get your endorphin’s moving, and to project a sense of confidence. You have every right to be confident. They want you there. You just have to validate their opinion.

Good luck!

What strategies have you used in your job search?

Star Wars Epic Duels

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Star Wars…

To avoid any spoilers, I’m going to stop there. But in light of Rogue One, I am strategizing about one of the best Star Wars games ever. Epic Duels! The premise of the game is every Star Wars fan’s dream. You choose any character from a great selection of heroes and pit them in one on one battles against any other.

Have you ever wondered who would win if Boba Fett went head to head with the Emperor? Oh, and Fett has a thermal detonator. What’s not to like about that?boba-fett

To optimize your game play, there are some bonus rules to add to the fun.

  1. Play with 2-4 players
  2. Randomize characters
  3. Start with extra cards.

This game is great, but if you play with more than 4 players, the game can last forever. My favorite way to play is with 2 players. I have each of us randomly select three characters, and we go head to head with each one, best two out of three. This eliminates any advantages from getting one lucky character, and ensures that the games are short, and everyone gets plenty of turns.

The game can also move faster by giving everyone 6-7 cards at the beginning instead of 4. This just gets you into the action a little quicker.

After you’ve set up your ground rules, you are ready to play the game. Here is the strategy:

  1. Choose Obi-Wan Kenobi if you get the choice
  2. Build up your cards before rushing in to attack
  3. Focus on your characters strengths
  4. Only take risks to defeat opponents

Obi-Wan Kenobi

All of the characters are pretty balanced, except for Obi-Wan. The creators made him strong enough that you should always choose him if you get the chance. If you are playing with someone younger or inexperienced, let them play with Obi-Wan, and it is usually enough for them to be able to win.

Card Buildup

Usually, it is in your best interest to draw cards before going into battle. Ensure that you either have an escape plan, or you can defend yourself for a turn or two before getting into range of the other players attacks.

Focus on Strengths

The general categories of characters are the following (can you count as a category if you are the only one in it? #settheory):

  1. Attacker: Anikan, Darth Maul, Luke Skywalker
  2. Defender: Yoda
  3. Ranged: Boba Fett, Jango Fett, Han Solo,
  4. Special: Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine
  5. Balanced: Dooku, Obi-Wan, Mace Windu

Attackers should collect cards until they know they can kill their opponent in 1 or two turns. They have very minimal defense, so if you get stuck in the fight, you won’t make it out.

Defenders/Yoda is very hard to kill, but has a difficult time defeating anyone. He almost always has defense cards, so any chance you have to attack; you’ll have to take it.

yoda

Ranged characters can attack at any time. Target the opponent’s main character, shoot, and run. They usually can’t survive a close on fight, so keep your distance.

Special characters have many cards that work regardless of where you are in relation to the other characters. Stay away from the opponent and use your special cards to whittle down their life points. Save up one or two attack cards to finish them off when they get close.

emperor-palpatine

Balanced characters are great at attacking and defending. The strategy is the same as attackers, but it is easier to get defense and attack cards. You’ll be able to move quicker on your attacks, but still need an exit strategy.

Although there is some luck in your card draws, the fun game play makes this an excellent Star Wars themed game. Unfortunately, it is out of print. You can find it on Ebay for 100 dollars. Well worth the money.

darth-vador

May the force be with you.

Career Strategy 1: What do you want to be when you grow up?

This is the dreaded question. What do you want to be when you grow up? The answer is easy when you are a kid. My kids want to be the following: Author, Illustrator, Video Game Designer, Garbage Man, Pilot, and Batman.

If you have a choice to be Batman, take it. Otherwise; you’ll have to face reality like the rest of us and choose a career. But what is right for you? Here are the steps that will help you to discover what you want to be:

  1. Make a list of things you like to do
  2. Make a list of things you are good at
  3. Make a list of things you don’t like to do
  4. Compare lists
  5. Use a job search engine to look for jobs using your lists as key words
  6. Develop the skills that you are lacking
  7. Continue to discover throughout your career

Lists

Things you like

Start with a list of things you like to do. No one else will look at this list, so write anything down. Specific items will be more useful than general items. Do you like History class? What specifically about history do you like? Do you like to write papers? Do you like digging into the past? Do you like figuring out why people do what they do? Do you just like the teacher?

Dig deep in your topics to figure out exactly what it is you like. This can be hobbies, specific skills, specific activities, or anything.

Things you are good at

Now make a list of all the things you are good at. This will guide you down a path to understand what direction to take.

Keep in mind that if you aren’t good at something, but you like it a lot, you can develop the skill until you can add it to the list of things you are good at.

Things you don’t like

Work necessarily entails doing some things that you don’t like; but, if you hate talking to people, you should not look for careers in sales.

Use this list to really figure out what it is you don’t like. Dig deep on each item and figure out what it is you don’t like about it. Do you hate math? Do you only dislike it because you aren’t great at it? It is OK to dislike things, everyone has different preferences, just be open minded about why you don’t like things. (I sometimes said that I didn’t like painting. I actually love making art, it is just an area that I have to develop.)

All of these lists are fluid, and changing. You aren’t locking yourself into a position, you are just discovering at this point.

Compare Lists

Match up the first two lists. What things are you good at, and also really like to do. There should be a handful of items there that will give you a great starting point on what you want to be when you grow up.

What rose to the top for you? If you don’t like your answers, you can always go back and make a change to your original lists. (Economists have a joke, we always think we are right because if we thought we were wrong, we would just change our opinion so that our new opinion was right.)

Job Search

Open a job search engine. (Indeed, Monster). Use your matching list as search terms. If you haven’t had a ‘real’ job yet, you might not qualify for a lot of jobs, but you don’t worry about that yet. You should notice a pattern. A lot of jobs with the skills you are good at can be categorized into a few different buckets.

I don’t know what your buckets are, but try to figure out the patterns. If the same job title keeps showing up, it could be an indication for you.

Open up the jobs, and see what other skills are required. Straight out of High School, or College, you may not be able to get your dream job at the perfect company. That is OK. Figure out what skills it is going to take to get that job.  Start a new list of these skills. This is where you need to focus your efforts so that you can get that dream job.

Check back with your list of dislikes and make sure that there aren’t glaring dislikes on the jobs you are targeting. There may be one or two, and you may just have to deal with them as you prepare for your dream job. Just go in with your eyes wide open.

Skill Development

If you are still in school, start taking classes or participating in activities that will develop the skills you are lacking.

If you are working, try adding additional activities to your current job that will give you the experiences you need to land your next dream job.

Discover

Don’t stop discovering. Once you have your dream job, your career isn’t over. We all change and develop as we grow up. Keep adapting your lists as you grow, and always be looking out for your dream.

 

You are the strategy officer for your career. Make it great.

Carcassonne Strategy

Carcassonne is a great game to play with children. Each turn, they only have to make one decision, and you can easily guide them to make decent choices. They enjoy matching up the roads, cities and fields and making a world.

Here is the strategy:

  1. Field Early, and Field Late
  2. Share the cities
  3. Plan your exit strategy
  4. Plan for cloisters
  5. Finish strong

Field Early, Field Late

Very early on in the game, the first time you draw a non-city tile, you want to put a farmer into the field. Field control gets you so many points at the end of the game, you want to get a guy in early, so that the cities get built around him.

After you have one guy in the field, you want to wait before playing any other farmers. You don’t want to run out of guys, so wait until the game is getting towards the end before playing more.

When the game is nearing the end. (3-5 turns left). Start playing in fields strategically. You know at that point where the cities are, and can often sneak one more farmer into the field.

You may have to start a little earlier if opponents start first.

(Carcassone teaches kids that good farmers lie around in the fields all day, (grin))

Share the Cities

The best way to handle cities is to allow someone else to sneak into your city, or to sneak into someone else’s. When you share the city, the other player has the incentive to help you build it.

Try to build one city with one opponent, and one city with another opponent. Then you have people working for you, and even if you share the points, you are getting double the cities.

Right before the city is almost completed, you should consider sneaking a guy in and stealing all the points, but this will put a target on your back.

Plan your Exit Strategy

exit-buddy

(Do you have an exit strategy?)

Each time you play one of your men. Think about how you plan to get the guy back. Will it be a small city for quick points? Will it be one of your large cities? Are you planning to leave the guy in the field for the game?

It is ok to leave guys out the whole game, but you have to manager your guys, so that you don’t run out. I always like to keep one guy in reserve just in case you pull a cloister tile.

Cloister Tiles

Always play on cloisters. They are the most guaranteed points in the game. Playing with kidsI will slip all of the cloister tiles into the stack that they draw from before the game starts. This gives them just a little advantage.

(Side note: when we play with the kids, we modify the game so that you don’t have farmers. It makes their decisions easier.)

End Game

At the end, you have to be very aware of everyone’s farmers. This is the point that can make or break your victory. Often you can steal one or two cities away in the last couple of turns.

 

That’s it! Do you have a recommendation for game modifications for kids? What is your Carcassone strategy?

 

 

Playing Games for Christmas

Games are a great present for Christmas. A brand new game can bring energy to the house, and will create great memories. When I was about eight, my family got Hero Quest for Christmas. (Super nerdy, I know. Check out the classic early nineties design).

hero-quest

Every day, right after lunch, my brothers and I sat around the table with our dad and played one quest. I still remember the quest when an invincible ghost appeared. It could only be defeated by a certain sword. I had it! As an eight year old, I loved the feeling of working together to a common goal: defeating our dad.

How do you create these moments in your home? Here is what you should do.

  1. Pick the right game
    1. Fits your Christmas crew
    2. Long enough
    3. Replayability
    4. Full participation
  2. Plan time
  3. Prevent fights with food

Picking the right game

Choosing the right game can really help. I recommend checking out this Holiday Gift Guide from the BoardGameFamily. Trent lists out 11 different categories that will help you pick something that fits your Christmas crew perfectly.

You’ll need to pick something that gets people together. The game should be longer than 30 minutes, but not so long that people aren’t interested in playing again.

Replay-ability is also key. Some games are really fun, but you don’t really want to play them again right away. Hero Quest was fun because each quest was different. Dominion is another great one. Each play is almost a completely different game. The key here is finding a fun game, that takes long enough, that can be played lots of times over the holiday.

Lastly, it needs to be a game that doesn’t have long turns and that everyone can play through the whole game. (Risk is very fun, but once you are out, you are just sitting around)

Plan time

I can’t stress enough how important it is to set aside specific time every day during the holidays. We did it every day after lunch. It also works well to play to play every night after cleaning up dinner.

The kids (and those of us who are kids at heart) will appreciate looking forward to the time.

Prevent fights with food

Games add a lot to our lives, but they also can add some tense moments. When someone clobbers you in Blokus, (LINK), or eliminates you early in Bang, you have to have a positive attitude, and it really helps if there are snacks around.

What other ideas do you have to make game playing a part of the holidays?