Futures Explorer: A Gaming Approach to Longer Term Strategy Development

By Eric Boye

At Sparks Grove, our Futures practice approaches business challenges with a wide lens, helping clients explore possibilities in a way which aims to push beyond baseline assumptions and industry norms to give clients an entirely new vantage point.

Futures research is not an exercise in prediction; it’s based on exploration, signals, and context.

We investigate the boundaries of what may be possible through scenarios of the years to come by examining emerging discontinuities, uncovering weak signals, and adjacent impacts. Futures projects often lead to transformative recommendations such as new business strategies, the need for capability development, reimagined customer and employee experiences, brand strategy, and others.

To help organizations visualize their new business strategy, our Futures team developed a workshop tool in the form of a board game, which we call Futures Explorer. The game has multiple use cases, including pressure testing business strategy with internal and external stakeholders to generate immediate feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of a plan. Futures Explorer was inspired by the work of John Sweeney and his collaborators at the European Commission’s science and technology service. The original game is called the Scenario Explorer System (SES).

Futures Explorer game instructions and player cards.


Futures Explorer establishes an organization (in this case our client) at the center, then players make strategic, public-facing moves during the game. Colleagues assume the role of key stakeholders (e.g., competitors, customers, governments, partners) and make corresponding moves. After each round we facilitate a conversation to discuss surprises and reactions to the moves that were made.


Playing the game in real time against colleagues who represent stakeholders allows a business to quickly uncover gaps in their strategy, blind spots in their thinking, and see new opportunities before executing the plan in the field.

Tokens are used to signal which moves had positive or negative impact on the players’ respective business strategies.


Recently, we utilized the game to help a client present their new strategic roadmap to their Board of Directors. Short of leading the Board through an entire Futures workshop, we believed more than a slide presentation was needed to bring the ideas to life. The Futures Explorer game allowed the Board of Directors to experience first-hand how the future may unfold and informed a pointed discussion about strategic direction.


The Board gained a new sense of urgency about the company’s strategic direction and quickly approved the executive management team’s recommendations.

Players pause after each round to discuss the plays made and new landscape opportunities before deciding on their next strategic play.

Futures Explorer is one of many tools that our Futures practice utilizes to help solve client problems. To learn more about Futures Explorer and the many other ways our team of experts can help you inspire new thinking and bring the future of your business to life, visit http://northhighland.com/services/experience-design/futures or contact us at futures@sparksgrove.com.