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Forced Analogy


Object of Play

We understand things by grouping them with other things of similar type and function.  An airplane is similar to a helicopter; they’re both flying things. Both are more similar to a bird, which is also a flying thing, than any of those things are to an earthworm, which is a crawling and tunneling thing. The Forced Analogy game breaks these hard-wired categories and allows us to see things from a different angle, opening new possibilities in problem solving and idea generation.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

15 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

Participants set up the exercise by generating a random list of things—animals, objects, or people. Write these items on individual index cards. For each item, write some of its qualities or attributes—for example, “An airplane flies through the air, moves along predefined routes, and has an autopilot feature.” Likewise, an oak tree would be noted for its branching structure, its deep roots, and its ability to grow from a very small seed.  Participants shuffle the cards and distribute them randomly. They then use the cards to develop analogies to the problem or issue at hand, asking:

• How is this problem similar to [random object]?

• How would I solve this problem with [random object]?

Participants may also work through one analogy as a group, as in “How would we use a paper clip to solve our data integration problem?”


A truly random list of objects will push the boundaries of the group’s mindset and create new perspectives. If needed, this list can be created in advance of the game itself by an unbiased nonparticipant.

The source of the Forced Analogy game is unknown.

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Graphic Jam


Object of Play

Words become more challenging to visualize as they become less literal. For example, the words computer and necktie offer immediate imagery. But the words strategy and justice are more abstract and lend themselves to broader visual interpretations. Graphic Jam is an all-purpose visualization game that you can conduct before many other games as a warm-up, but it’s also a useful game in itself. Visualizing abstract concepts supports logo development, presentation design, website design, metaphor development for e-learning, and so on. It exercises the visual part of our cortex—which accounts for 75% of our sensory neurons—and turns on parts of our minds that don’t get much action in a typical business setting. Why does that matter? Because business is getting more complex.  Being able to use your mind’s eye to see and show problems—and solutions—will be a sought-after skill.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Establish a large, flat, white display area for this game. Give all players access to sticky notes and index cards.

2. Ask them to take 1–2 minutes to write words on the index cards that they have difficulty conceptualizing and drawing, like “quality” or “teamwork.” Ask for one word or phrase per index card.

3. Gather all of the contributions, shuffle them, and then draw one card and read it aloud to the group. Tape it up in the white space.

4. Ask the players to reflect on the word and draw a visual representation of it on a sticky note so that it can be posted on the wall. Give them 2–3 minutes to do so.

5. Have the players approach the white space and post their sticky note under the index card with the related word.

6. Repeat steps 3–5 until all or most of the words have been read aloud. If you draw repeat words or synonyms of previously drawn words, draw again until you get a fresh concept.

7. By the end of the game, you’ll have a gallery space of visualized concepts. Ask the group to spend time looking at how others interpreted the words.

8. Referring to the sticky notes, lead a group discussion by asking what certain images mean and how the artist related that image to the word that was read aloud. Ask players to discuss which words were easier to visualize than others and why. Close by asking them how they might see visualization skills applied in their daily life and work.


It is highly likely that the words the players contribute to this game will be on the abstract end of the spectrum. Note that the amount of time you’ll need for this game depends on the number of players, the number of words each player generates, and the complexity of the word concepts. Use your best judgment on how long to spend conducting a Graphic Jam session. And when you decide it’s time to call it quits, ask the group if there are any burning concepts they’d like to see visualized. If so, take a few more minutes with the group to tackle them. When the game is over, give the players a chance to converse with each other about the creative processes and techniques they use to conjure ideas and imagery.

The Graphic Jam game inspired by the same-named activity created by Leslie Salmon-Zhu, co-founder of the International Forum of Visual Practitioners.

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Object of Play

Often during meetings we bring together stakeholders who aren’t familiar with each other’s perspectives or aren’t accustomed to listening to each other without offering an immediate response. In some cases, stakeholders may even be meeting for the first time.  In scenarios like these, it’s not surprising that it can be difficult for people to engage in a rich and meaningful conversation. The Fishbowl game is an effective way to activate attention—to prime our natural listening and observing skills so that a more substantive conversation can take place.

Number of Players

Medium to large groups

Duration of Play

40–45 minutes

How to Play

1. Before the meeting, think of a topic that could be served by a group discussion and write down questions associated with it.

2. Find a room with a good amount of open space and clear out anything other than chairs.

3. Create a handout similar to the following:

4. Arrange the chairs in two concentric circles in the room, as shown in the following figure. The inner circle seats the players engaged in conversation; the outer circle seats the players acting as observers.

5. Introduce the game and assign “observer” or “player” status to each person. Give everyone a pen and a handout (but mention that the handout is used only in the observer role). Ask the participants to sit in the circle relative to their assigned role.

6. Announce the topic of the game and ask the players to take 15 minutes to have a discussion around it. Use the questions you generated before the meeting to start the conversation and keep it moving. Make sure the players know that their responsibility is simply to converse in the circle. Make sure the observers know that their role is to pay close attention and to write on the handouts all discussion points and evidence that come out of the conversation.

7. When 15 minutes are up, ask the group to switch seats and switch roles. Then start another 15-minute discussion on the same topic or a different one.

8. After both conversations have completed, ask for volunteers to share the information they gathered and ask them to describe their experiences on the inner versus outer circle.


People are well versed in having conversations; what most of us aren’t used to is listening, observing, and being accountable for our observations. The Fishbowl game, therefore, is about engaging skills that in many of us have become rusty. So, despite the fact that it may look as though the action happens in the players’ conversation, the action in this game happens in the outer circle, with the observers. As the group leader, be clear with the group that this is a listening and observing exercise. If there were a point system (and there is decidedly not), points would be awarded to those who most accurately logged the conversation that took place—not to those who made the most comments in the discussion. Talk to the group about their experience of being silent and paying attention. What was difficult about it? What was easy? How did it affect their perception of the topic and the other players? Use the Fishbowl exercise as a segue to a heightened give-and-take between stakeholders.

The Fishbowl game is based on ideas from the Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, by Sam Kaner et al.

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Spectrum Mapping

Visual thinking school

Object of Play

Spectrum mapping is designed to reveal the diversity of perspectives and options around any given topic and to organize them into a meaningful spectrum. This game gives players an opportunity to express their views without having to assert them vocally or even take ownership of them in front of the group. It’s valuable because it unearths information that plays a role in attitudes and behaviors that otherwise may not be visible.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Before the game begins, brainstorm topics around which you want insight from the group. Write each topic on a sticky note.

2. Introduce Spectrum Mapping by stating that the purpose of the game is to illuminate the team’s range of perspectives and to organize those perspectives into a continuum so that everyone gets a view of it.

3. Post the topic sticky notes in a column in the approximate middle of a space on the wall visible to the players. Ask everyone to silently generate a point-of-view preference option around that topic and write it on a sticky note. They are welcome to offer more than one.

4. Ask the players to come to the wall and post their sticky notes in a horizontal line on either side of the topic. Reassure them that the relationships between the sticky notes aren’t yet of interest. The visual may look like the following figure.

5. Once the sticky notes are posted, work with the group to sort them into a horizontal range of ideas. Sticky notes that express similar perspectives or options should go next to each other. Sticky notes that seem to be outliers should stand alone; they may sometimes end up defining the limits of the range.

6. Continue sorting until the group agrees that the sticky notes are in their appropriate places on the horizontal line.

7. Repeat this process if you have more topics to evaluate.

Once the spectrum for each topic has been laid along the horizon, ask for observations and insights on the lay of the land. Discuss the findings with the group and ask if any perspective or option has been excluded. If so, add it and re-sort as necessary.


Not only does spectrum mapping reveal individual ideas around important topics, but it also tells you how many members of your group have certain types of views and where their endpoints lie. After spectrum mapping, the players are likely to discern a more holistic view of where they stand. In other words, spectrum mapping indicates whether the group tends to lean a certain way—perhaps it’s fiscally conservative, oriented toward growth, or reticent about change. Either way, as a team leader, it’s good to be aware of the group’s natural inclination and openly acknowledge it to enhance future team building, problem solving, and planning.

Assure the players that they’re free to write up honest perspectives and preferences around a topic even if those preferences may be considered outlandish by the other players. Tell them that outlier ideas still make it onto the continuum. This play is about mapping and displaying the spectrum, not evaluating ideas for validity, innovation, or popularity. This game has the effect of letting groups see if their behavior skews too far to one side or whether they’re taking a reasonable approach when a radical one may be better.

The source for the Spectrum Mapping game is unknown.

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Visual Agenda

Object of Play

In a typical meeting, people walk in and are handed a typed sheet of paper that shows them the meeting agenda. It usually includes the date, the meeting topics, and the time allotted for each topic. Sometimes it acknowledges who is presenting or leading the topic. Most participants give this piece of paper about two seconds of their time. The standard approach for making agendas is perfectly fine for quick meetings among people who work together regularly. But for meetings that matter, for meetings that take a good amount of people’s time and attention, and for meetings that bring together people from across disciplines or departments, visual agendas work much better.

When you create a visual agenda, people look it over and linger on it longer. They actually read the desired outcomes and review the steps they’ll take to get there. The energy level rises when participants walk into a room and see a large, colorful, hand-drawn display. People start to talk about it with each other. A visual agenda implies that the day might be interesting; it sends a signal to the group that the meeting matters. Visuals also help participants recall later what the meeting was about.

How to Play

1. Establish a desired outcome(s) for the meeting and craft an agenda that will get the group there. Choose a visual framework that represents the tone or theme of the meeting.

2. Draw the agenda in a nontraditional and creative way on a large sheet of paper or display it using presentation software.


A visual agenda is a gesture to the group that you spent time before you took up theirs. So, take the time to build a good road map to your outcomes. And when drawing or creating the visual agenda, think of metaphors that represent a theme of the meeting. Draw pictures that symbolize the company’s mission or work. If you’re working at a vacation rental company, draw a beach scene with each footstep as a stage of the agenda. Draw a forest scene if you’re working at an environmental organization; a circuit board if you’re with a tech firm.

Brand the agenda in creative ways. If you’ve got copywriting chops, think of interesting phrases to describe each stage of the meeting. And if you have neither copywriter nor artistic instincts, ask someone who plans to attend the meeting to help you. Creating a visual agenda is a small investment in a meeting, but it offers a good ROI.

The Visual Agenda game was inspired by The Grove’s practice of creating visual agendas before meetings.

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Welcome To My World

Overlap Toronto

Object of Play

Many of us make the mistaken assumption that others see what we see and know what we know. No one in the world shares your internal system map of reality. The best way to compare notes, so to speak, is to actually draw an external representation of what you think is happening. Welcome to My World gives players an opportunity to better understand other players’ roles and responsibilities. It helps chip away at silos and introduces the novel idea that we may be seeing only one reality: ours. It helps immensely to show what we see to others so that we can start to share a reality and work on it together.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Give all players access to flip-chart paper, markers, and sticky notes. Ask them to take 30 seconds to write one of their job responsibilities (e.g., create the company newsletter or devise a marketing strategy for Product X) on a sticky note and stick it to their shirt.

2. Have the players wander around the room and pair up with someone whose job responsibility they’re the least familiar with or that they’re curious about. If you have an odd number of players, join them to even it out.

3. In pairs, ask the players to take turns drawing their best representation of how they envision the other person’s workflow around that job duty. They can use simple circles, boxes, and arrows to make flowcharts or they can get creative, but they cannot interview the other player or ask any clarifying questions while they’re drawing.  Give them 5–15 minutes to draw quietly.

4. When the time is up, give each player five minutes to share her drawing with the other person and describe what it means.

5. Then give the pairs 5–10 minutes each to clarify or agree on the realities of each other’s drawing. They should also take time to discuss where the areas of ease, friction, and interactions with others fall in the process. They can elaborate and draw on the other person’s visual at this point, or the original creator of the visual can add content as his partner shares.

6. Ask for volunteers to show their visuals to the larger group and to describe some of their insights and observations.


To be maximally effective, this game has one requirement: the players should represent a range of positions or job responsibilities within an organization. The game rapidly loses its value if all the participants have the same, predictable workflow, like processing an undisputed insurance claim. The idea is to educate each other on the realities of their work duties and to help break down silos across organizational areas. Once the insights start coming out, this game can significantly increase the understanding and appreciation of others’ work. And it can be even more effective when you have players who have to work together but historically have had little insight into—or even patience with—their colleagues’ processes.

Most people feel comfortable drawing basic shapes and workflow-related diagrams since these are common in company life. If, however, players balk at having to draw, tell them they’re welcome to rely only on words, but they’ll miss an opportunity to make a simple picture of someone else’s “world” at work.

The source for the Welcome to My World game is unknown.

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Poster Session

Meshforum 2006

Object of Play
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what would 50 pictures be worth? What if 50 people could present their most passionate ideas to each other—without any long-winded explanation? A poster session accelerates the presentation format by breaking it down, forcing experts to boil up their ideas and then present back to each other via simple images.

Number of Players: 10–100

Duration of Play: 20 minutes to develop posters, an unlimited time to browse

How to Play
The goal of a poster session is to create a set of compelling images that summarize a challenge or topic for further discussion. Creating this set might be an “opening act” which then sets the stage for choosing an idea to pursue, or it might be a way to get indexed on a large topic. The act of creating a poster forces experts and otherwise passionate people to stop and think about the best way to communicate the core concepts of
their material, avoiding the popular and default “show up and throw up.”

To set up, everyone will need ample supplies for creating their poster. Flip charts and markers are sufficient, but consider bringing other school supplies to bear: stickers, magazines for cutting up, and physical objects.
Start the game play by first framing the challenge. In any given large group, you could say the following:

“There are more good ideas in everyone’s heads than there is time to understand and address them. By creating posters that explain the ideas, we’ll have a better idea of what’s out there and what we might work on.”

The participants’ task is to create a poster that explains their topic. There are two constraints:

1. It must be self-explanatory. If you gave it to a person without walking her through it, would she understand?

2. It must be visual. Words and labels are good, but text alone will not be enough to get people’s attention, or help them understand. When creating their poster, participants may be helped by thinking about three kinds of explanation:

Before and After: Describe “why” someone should care in terms of drawing the today and tomorrow of the idea.

System: Describe the “what” of an idea in terms of its parts and their relationships.

Process: Describe the “how” of an idea in terms of a sequence of events.

Give participants 20 minutes to create their posters. When they have finished, create a “gallery” of the images by posting them on the wall. Instead of elaborate presentations, ask the group to circulate and walk the gallery. Some posters will attract and capture more attention than others. From here, it may be worthwhile to have participants dot vote (see Dot Voting) or “vote with their feet” (See Open Space) to decide what ideas to pursue further.

As a variation, the posters may be created in small groups. In this case, it’s important for the group to have decided ahead of time what their topic will be, and to give more time to come to a consensus on what they will draw and how they will draw it.

On a smaller scale, a group may do this around a conference table. A small group of experts may create posters to explain their different points of view to each other at the start of a meeting, to make their models of the world, their vocabulary, and their interests clear and explicit. Twenty minutes spent in this way may save the group from endless discussion later in their process.

The Poster Session game is based on academic poster sessions, in which authors of papers that are not ready for publication share their ideas in an informal, conversational group.

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SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis

Object of Play
In business, it can be easier to have certainty around what we want, but more difficult to understand what’s impeding us in getting it. The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have going for us with respect to a desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next. So, if you need to evaluate your organization or team’s current likelihood of success relative to an objective.

Number of Players: 5–20

Duration of Play: 1–2 hours

How to Play
1. Before the meeting, write the phrase “Desired End State” and draw a picture of what it might look like on a piece of flip-chart paper.

2. Create a separate four-square quadrant using four sheets of flip-chart paper. If you think the complexity of the discussion and the number of players warrants more quadrants, create as many as you’d like.

3. At the top left of the quadrant, write the word “STRENGTHS” and draw a picture depicting that concept. For example, for “STRENGTHS” you might draw a simple picture of someone holding up a car with one hand. (Yes, you’re allowed to exaggerate.) Ask the players to take 5–10 minutes and quietly generate ideas about strengths they have with respect to the desired end state and write them on sticky notes, one idea per sticky note.

4. At the bottom left of the quadrant, write the word “WEAKNESSES” and draw a picture depicting that concept. Ask the players again to take 5–10 minutes to quietly generate ideas about weaknesses around the desired end state and write them on sticky notes.

5. At the top right of the quadrant, write the word “OPPORTUNITIES” and draw a picture. Ask the players to take 5–10 minutes to write ideas about opportunities on sticky notes.

6. At the bottom right of the quadrant, write the word “THREATS” and draw a picture depicting that concept. Ask the players to use this last set of 5–10 minutes to generate ideas about perceived threats and write them on sticky notes.

7. When you sense a lull in sticky-note generation, gather all of the sticky notes and post them on a flat surface that is near the quadrant and is viewable by the players. Be sure to keep the sticky notes in their original groups of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

8. Start with the STRENGTHS group of sticky notes and, with the players’ collaboration, sort the ideas based on their affinity to other ideas. For example, if they produced three sticky notes that say “good sharing of information,” “information transparency,” and “people willing to share data,” cluster those ideas together. Create multiple clusters until you have clustered the majority of the sticky notes. Place outliers separate from the clusters but still in playing range. (At this stage, it’s important to note that if you have a group with five players or less, you can eliminate the sticky-note clustering process and simply write and draw their responses for each category as the players verbalize them. After you’ve gone through each section of the quadrant, players can dot vote.) Repeat the clustering and sorting process for the other categories in this order: WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES, and finally, THREATS.

9. After the sorting and clustering is complete, start a group conversation to create a broad category for each smaller cluster. For example, a category for the cluster from step 8 might be “communication”. As the group makes suggestions and finds agreement on categories, write those categories in the appropriate quadrant.

10. When the players feel comfortable with the categories, ask them to approach the quadrant and dot vote next to two or three categories in each square, indicating that they believe those to be the most relevant for that section. Circle or highlight the information that got the most votes and make a note of it with the group.

11. Summarize the overall findings in conversation with the players and ask them to discuss the implications around the desired end state. Engage the group in a creative exercise wherein they evaluate weaknesses and threats positively, as though their presence is doing them a favor. Ask them thought-provoking
questions, like “What if your competition didn’t exist?” and “How does this threat have the potential to make the organization stronger?”

Optional activity: Lead the group in creating silly slogans for the desired end state. Let them be ridiculous: “Our lamps will light up the world.” The idea is to create humor and excitement around possibilities.

The SWOT Analysis is at its best when the group is unabashed in its provision and analysis of content. The players are less likely to be shy about their strengths, but they may struggle to suggest weaknesses due to sensitivity to other players or to blind spots in their own thinking. Frame the notion of “weakness” to mean something that can be improved upon. Similarly, a “threat” is something that can act as a catalyst for performance improvement. Let the group know that the higher the quality of their contributions, the better they will be able to evaluate what’s on the horizon. You’ll have a good sense that
the game was successful when you hear the group thoughtfully consider the data and express insights they didn’t have before.

This game was inspired by Albert Humphrey’s traditional SWOT Analysis.

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Draw the Problem

Bill Keaggy sketching

Object of Play
On any given day, we prioritize the problems that get our attention. Problems that are vague or misunderstood have a harder time passing our internal tests of what matters and, as a result, go unaddressed and unsolved. Often, meetings that address problem-solving skip this critical step: defining the problem in a way that is not only clear but also compelling enough to make people care about solving it. Running this short drawing exercise at the beginning of a meeting will help get the laptops closed and the participants engaged with their purpose.

Number of Players: Works best with small groups of 6–10 participants

Duration of Play: 20–30 minutes

How to Play
1. Each participant should have a large index card or letter-sized piece of paper. After introducing the topic of the meeting, ask the participants to think about the problem they are here to solve. As they do so, ask them to write a list of items helping to explain the problem. For example, they may think about a “day in the life” of the problem or an item that represents the problem as a whole.

2. After a few minutes of this thinking and reflection, ask the participants to flip over their paper and draw a picture of the problem, as they would explain it to a peer. They may draw a simple diagram or something more metaphorical; there are no prizes or punishments for good or bad artistry. The drawing should simply assist in explaining the problem.

3. When everyone is finished, have the participants post their drawings on the wall and explain them to each other. While the group shares, note any common elements. After the exercise, the group should reflect on the similarities and differences, and work toward a shared understanding of what the problem looks like to each other.

This warm-up does not result in a problem definition that will satisfy an engineer; rather, it engages participants in defining the challenge in a simplified form. It is a first step in bringing a group together under a common purpose, elevating the problem above the noise to become something they care to solve.

The Draw the Problem game is credited to James Macanufo.

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Cover Story


Object of Play
Cover Story is a game about pure imagination. The purpose is to think expansively around an ideal future state for the organization; it’s an exercise in visioning. The object of the game is to suspend all disbelief and envision a future state that is so stellar that it landed your organization on the cover of a well-known magazine. The players must pretend as though this future has already taken place and has been reported by the mainstream media. This game is worth playing because it not only encourages people to “think big,” but also actually plants the seeds for a future that perhaps wasn’t possible before the game was played.

Number of Players: Any

Duration of Play: Depends on the number of players, but a maximum of 90 minutes

How to Play
1. Before the meeting, draw out large-scale templates that include the categories shown on the following image. Your template doesn’t need to look exactly like this one; you can be creative with the central image and the layout. Just be sure to keep the categories intact. The number of templates you create depends on the size of the group. At the most, allow four to six people to work on one template together.

2. Explain the object of the game to the players and define each category on the template:
• “Cover” tells the BIG story of their success.
• “Headlines” convey the substance of the cover story.
• “Sidebars” reveal interesting facets of the cover story.
• “Quotes” can be from anyone as long as they’re related to the story.
• “Brainstorm” is for documenting initial ideas for the cover story.
• “Images” are for supporting the content with illustrations.

3. Break the players into groups of four to six and make sure there are markers and one template for each group. Tell the players that to populate the template they can either select a scribe or write and draw on it together.

4. Ask the players to imagine the best-case scenario for their company and to take that scenario one step further. Request that they spend five quiet minutes imagining their own stories before they work together to agree on one. Give the groups 30–45 minutes to generate this “story of the year” and represent it on their template.

5. Reconvene the breakout groups and ask for volunteers to present their visions first. Give each group 5–10 minutes to share what they imagined was written in the story and the supporting elements.

6. Note any common vision themes and areas of agreement. Ask for observations, insights, and concerns about the future state.

Optional activity: Ask two players to role-play an interview based on the content from their “On the Cover” template, as though the magazine sent a reporter to interview an important character in the story.

This game is about the wildest dream for the organization—that has already happened! So, when you set up this game as the meeting leader, speak about their “successes” with enthusiasm and in the past tense. Encourage the players to use the past tense in their brainstorming and story creation. And don’t let the group go into analysis mode. This game is not about logic, pragmatism, or parameters. Cover Story is an open-ended, creative-thinking exercise, so tell the players to be wary of any “reality checks” from other players. And as the small groups present their visions to the large group, note and discuss any common themes that arise. These themes—however fantastical—are telling, because commonalities reveal shared hopes and also plant seeds for real possibilities. If this play is part of a longer group process, post these visions around the room so that they serve as reference points for continued ideas and inspiration.

This game is based on The Grove Consultants International’s Leaders Guide to Accompany the Cover Story Vision Graphic Guide® ©1996–2010 The Grove.

Online Cover Story

Cover StoryHere is another image of the Cover Story Game. But this one is special – clicking on this image will start an “instant play” game at In this game, there will be a set of light bulb icons that you can drag on your online Cover Story to capture your big ideas. We’ve organized this game so that the regions will capture where you’ve placed each of your awesome ideas.

Keep in mind that that this is a collaborative game. This means that you can invite other players to play. And when they drag something around – you’ll see it in real time!