Long Game

"Our game is a long game. We do not plan for the next year, or the next ten years, or the next budget cycle. We plan for eternity."
Stone of Force Vol. 6, Spore

A Long Game is when any particular Master Plan has a time element, specifically a very long one; reasons for this generally involve some sort of long-term change to a society as a whole that must remain invisible for some reason.

Often overlaps with (and is confused with) Xanatos Gambit. However, a Long Game is distinct because it requires a large amount of time to complete, and does not require the failure contingency that defines a Xanatos Gambit. Elements of Time Abyss are also common. Gambit Roulette may occur if the writer can't justify how the planners pull off such a long term plan.


Anime and Manga
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Father manipulated the policies and alchemic knowledge available to Amestris over the course of five hundred years in order to fulfill his scenario. The tense border relations with other countries, the constant expansion under Bradley, and the deliberate suppression of certain alchemic knowledge were all arranged to create a country-wide alchemic circle that would consume the life energy of its 40 million inhabitants. And Van Hohenheim prepared for almost as long to counter Father's plan after overcoming his initial Heroic B.S.O.D..
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Celestial Being's plan has been building for nearly two centuries by the time the series happens. We only see the tail end of it. All of it was planned out by Aeolia Schenberg prior to his death (he had the good sense to put a quantum supercomputer in charge of it afterward, so it could adjust the scenario as needed).
  • Black Zetsu of Naruto spent centuries manipulating the Senju and Uchiha clans, as well as any texts referring to the Ootsutsuki family in order to bring about his ultimate goal of resurrecting Kaguya. Naruto is pissed at the notion that he claims the credit for so many major historical events.
  • Bleach: Both Big Bads have been playing Long Games to fulfill their plans. Aizen's been playing his for over a hundred years, Yhwach for a thousand at least.

Comic Books
  • In Superman: Red Son, it's revealed at the end that almost everything that happened after the first chapter was part of Luthor's master plan to bring down Superman. Including Superman taking over the Soviet Union, ruling for forty years and bringing nearly the whole world under Soviet control, the USA splintering and heading to the brink of collapse, and an attempted Soviet invasion of Washington DC. All to hit Superman with an Armor-Piercing Question at exactly the right time, and destroy his will to conquer.
  • In Invincible, Robot and Monster Girl were held captive in the Flaxan dimension. Discovering that they now only age a month per several decades that pass, they hatch a long term plan to take over the empire. First they elect to single-handedly rebuild the city that Omni-Man had destroyed, this feat would take place over many Flaxan generations and earn the pair awe at their accomplishment and lifespan. Meanwhile, they would also be clandestinely establishing ties with the slave races and political prisoners of the Flaxans until they establish an army far larger than the Flaxan military. After many generations, the Flaxan royalty would be complacent and then the two heroes would lead an uprising and seize power for themselves. The plan worked.
  • Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog: After gaining a new Chaos Emerald and his full power, this is Mammoth Mogul's current plan; since he's immortal, he can just wait Sonic out. As he explains, after numerous defeats, he's come to realize that no matter what he tries, fate will always intervene and give Sonic the means to beat him, so he's decided to simply limit himself to occasional small assaults until Sonic is either dead or too old to oppose him; when that day comes, then he'll resume his plan to Take Over the World.

  • The Powers Of Harmony: Piro says that since she's an immortal, Celestia does this by default (even using the term), forcing her to be a Chessmaster and treat mortals like pawns. Of course, she's just aiding Harmony's own Long Game to free herself and purify Discord, which has been going on for roughly nine thousand years.
  • Celestia's plans in Diaries of a Madman are being played out over thousands of years. Discord's plan has been going on for millions of years.
  • MLP Next Generation: Know Fear!: While the war with the griffons appears to be a result of recent diplomatic failures, it soon becomes apparent that the griffons have been preparing for the war for a long time. The Pretenders, for instance, have been infiltrating Cloudsdale for three years.
    • The first sequel reveals that the griffons have in fact been planning the conquest of Equestria by force for centuries.
  • Child of the Storm: Doctor Strange has been running one for a long time (Huginn and Muninn use the term at one point), aided by both his longevity and the fact that he's either a time traveler or a seer (or a bit of both). To put this long game in perspective, this story's truly massive Gambit Pileup (see that page for details) is implied to be only a small part of what he's up to.

  • The central premise of The Boys from Brazil (and its source novel) is a Nazi plan to clone Hitler and recreate the environment that made him who he was. It would take at least 30 years before they can be sure they succeeded and the plan's originators would be most likely dead by that point.
  • Ocean's Twelve uses this as a premise. The film's central action is a showdown between Danny Ocean's crew and Francois "Night Fox" Toulour as a competition to steal a Russian Faberge egg. However, Gaspar Le Marque, Toulour's mentor, is the one playing the "long con". An explanation— Le Marque tips off Ocean's crew about the egg's location prior to its arrival at a museum, giving the crew time to steal it and switch it with a fake. Toulour steals the fake and gloats at his seeming victory until Danny and Tess Ocean arrive to tell him the truth. Le Marque has now discredited Toulour, Ocean now has the money needed to repay Terry Benedict from Toulour, and Le Marque reunites with his daughter, Europol agent Isabel Lahiri. Lahiri had been tracking Le Marque and Toulour during her career.
    • He actually set the entire thing in motion when he did not disagree when an acquaintance called Ocean the greatest thief in the world during a conversationwith Le Marque and Toulour. This led to Toulour's need to prove himself to his mentor and set the game in motion with Ocean's crew.
  • Darth Sidious is absolutely into this as well, willing to wait decades to take power over the galaxy. The Clone Wars specifically were this, given that he was willing to wait 10 years for his clone army to be grown.
    • Sidious's breed of Sith as a whole planned like this, stretching back a thousand years. The first of them, Darth Bane, established the Rule of Two after killing off all of the old Sith; there would only be two Sith at any one time: a Master and an Apprentice. The Apprentice would one day grow stronger than their Master and kill them before taking on their own Apprentice, who would in turn grow stronger and kill them, and so on and so forth. The plan was that, by sticking to the shadows and growing stronger whilst the Jedi grew complacent, eventually they would grow strong enough to overthrow the Jedi. And it works.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier reveals that following World War II HYDRA, having infiltrated America's information-gathering network, manipulated policy decisions, sowed war, manipulated history, and staged accidents for anyone deemed a threat to their plans. Their goal was to create a Crapsack World where people would willingly surrender their freedom in exchange for security.
  • Now You See Me reveals at its end that the whole plot was the endgame of a 30 year revenge plan by the Fifth Horseman against the people he holds responsible for his father's death, and his mother getting screwed out of the life insurance.

  • Robert Graves' I, Claudius is based on a combination of this and Direct Line to the Author. According to the story, these are the memoirs of the emperor Claudius, recorded and then buried so that posterity would find them while his wife and stepson wouldn't.
  • In the Foundation series:
    • The Second Foundationers are playing a long game to re-establish the Galactic Empire over the course of a thousand years.
    • R. Daneel Olivaw is playing an even longer game, spanning over twenty thousand years, to secure humanity's future.
  • The Dune universe is rife with this. The Kwisatz Haderach breeding-plan was engineered by the Bene Gesserit sisterhood over countless generations, carefully bringing together bloodlines to produce their messiah. (It didn't work too well.) Later, God-Emperor Leto II manipulates the entire universe, using both his own nigh-immortality and his incredibly accurate prophetic abilities, to basically force humanity to take the big leap, spreading across the galaxy and beyond, instead of just clinging to their core planets... for the purpose of ensuring humanity's future survival. A handful of heavily-populated planets could be destroyed entirely by a powerful enough foe. Thousands of colonized worlds, all across the galaxy... would be a lot harder. Thus, humanity's survival was ensured, against the coming storm of an alien invasion that the author didn't finish writing before he died.
  • E. E. “Doc” Smith's Lensman series. When the Eddorians first enter our universe, the Arisians devise a two billion year long breeding plan to create a group of beings (the Lensmen of the Galactic Patrol) who will be able to destroy them. Talk about taking the long view.
  • In the Kitty Norville books some older vampires do this. They actually call it the Long Game.
  • Honor Harrington: The Mesan Alignment's plan to take over the galaxy was set in motion centuries ago.
    • To a lesser degree, King Roger III's plan to prepare Manticore for war with Haven, a plan which takes many decades to complete (indeed, he doesn't even live to see the plan come to fruition due to being assassinated; his daughter sees the plan through in his memory).
    • Also, the Committee For Public Safety's plans to reform the Peoples' Republic of Haven, given that any major changes to the existing system could cause the entire thing to crash to the ground. After several decades of reforms, the plan only pays off around the same time the Committee is overthrown by another coup, and it's left to Admiral Theisman to reap the benefits for Haven.
  • Animorphs: The grand cosmic struggle between the Ellimist and the Crayak. The Andalite-Yeerk war, which has cost millions of lives and includes at least half a dozen species, is but a single, minor chess piece in this game. At one point, we see that the Ellimist has back-up plans in case the Yeerks win, some of which span thousands of years. Doubtless the Crayak has done likewise in case the Yeerks lose.
  • Vernor Vinge's The Children of the Sky: Ravna's overly narrow focus on her Long Game of developing technology to prepare for the arrival of the Blight's fleet, to the exclusion of developing medical technology that would help the humans trapped in the medieval-level Tines World with her, is what ultimately allows Nevil Storherte to paint her as a dangerous lunatic and wrest political control from her. This works mostly because Ravna is the only surviving human to have faced the Blight firsthand, so she knows how dangerous it is; to everyone else, her Long Game simply doesn't make sense.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Winter Fae and White Court vampires love these. The latter, because, in their society, the better, longer and more complicated the "game" is, the more appreciated you are. The former, because it is one of the ways they manipulate the scene, either to their benefit or Reality's.
    • Mab just loves these. And they are so subtle that you probably won't see them coming until much after she wins. To wit:
      • In Grave Peril (book 3), a Red Court vampire gives Lea, Mab's second in command, an athame that corrupts her and nearly corrupts Mab as well. Nine books later, in Changes, her plans come to an end when she not only gets Harry Dresden to accept becoming her Winter Knight, but Harry's actions cause the complete destruction of the Red Court, in revenge of what they nearly caused.
      • In Small Favor (book 10), Nicodemus kidnaps Marcone, a man Mab had vouched for entrance in the Unseelie Accords, and then the Archive. Five books later, in Skin Game, she takes advantage of the fact she owes Nicodemus a favor to loan Harry to him for a job, which ends with Nicodemus being completely humilliated, after being forced to kill his daughter, and his name becoming trash in the supernatural world, all for something it is implied he did not actually want at all.
    • The archangel Uriel tends to play these out of necessity. He is forbidden to directly involve himself except to maintain the Balance Between Good and Evil, so can only act indirectly or with subtlety most of the time. The end of Skin Game reveals that his involvement in the plot had multiple layers, one of which was getting Butters into a position where he could claim and take up one of the Swords of the Cross. When Harry realizes this, he refers to events in Dead Beat, eight books ago and long before Uriel was introduced, when he was at a former Denarian's mercy and was hoping for a Knight of the Cross to save him. Uriel notes that, in the circumstances, it seemed appropriate for Butters, a potential Knight, to be the one who saved him from that event.
  • In Worm the Smiurgh's most devastating ability is not her ability to use Tinker-tech or telekinesis, it's her scream. She sees the future and uses that knowledge to manipulate people's minds so that they'll follow a path she has selected by subtly altering their mood or priorities. The new path will in one way or another lead to another devastating blow for humanity, such as the assassination of a politician or suicide of a scientist.
  • In The Witchlands, Eren and Mathew's plan demanded that the former spend years pretending to be a drunkard, and that they wait until the Truce is almost over before making one of their first moves.

Live-Action TV
  • Babylon 5: The Shadows and Vorlons are doing the same thing as Smith's Eddorians and Arisians.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The trope name was taken from an episode in the first season of the revived show. There, humanity had been unknowingly enslaved by the Mighty Jagrafess who controlled the news. Given his incredible lifespan (and that his secret masters, the Daleks, are functionally immortal) he was able to slowly reshape humanity in his image over many human lifetimes.
      • Even the episode's title is an example... in the context of the episode's original airing, the episode name made no sense. Come the finale when the Jagrafess' bosses are revealed, and suddenly it all made sense.
    • The Seventh Doctor had been playing a number of Long Games, including one that may have begun before the show even began and he'd met the race he was ultimately planning against.
  • Lost: Jacob and his brother, The Man in Black, were engaged in one. The Man in Black wanted to leave the Island, but Jacob, believing him to be inherently evil, would not allow him to. Since they couldn't kill each other for reasons that were never really explained, Jacob dragged possibly thousands of people to the Island and into their struggle over time. The conflict began in what is assumed by fans to be 1AD (or earlier), and didn't end until 2007.
  • Once Upon a Time: Rumplestiltskin appears to have engineered the rise and fall of Cora, and then Regina, not to mention the very existence of Emma, all to lead up to the casting and eventual breaking of the curse that brought everyone to our world.
  • Revolution: Rachel Matheson has apparently been doing this for almost 15 years, keeping Bass Monroe from being able to master the secret of electricity. She discovers it's become a bit of a Deal with the Devil by the time the series starts, and especially when her hand gets forced in "Soul Train".
  • Stargate SG-1: The Aschen enslave planets over the course of hundreds of years. They give the populations advanced medical treatments which cure all ailments and extend lifespans but also cause infertility, bringing the population down to a more easily conquerable number.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In one episode, some genetically enhanced "freaks" claim they've come up with a way to predict the future that gets more accurate, not less, the farther in the future it looks. In one scene, they get incensed over being intruded upon, blurting out, "We're trying to prevent the heat death of the universe!"
  • Supernatural:
    • Ruby pulls one of these. She insinuates herself into the Winchesters' lives and gains Sam's trust over the course of two seasons, all culminating in the start of the Apocalypse in the beginning of season five.
    • Which is just one component of Azazel's plan to ensure Lucifer's release, which has been going on for about thirty years. And it works.

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40,000 is absolutely crawling with this, as one would expect in a universe built on Gambit Roulettes and Rule of Cool. Just to scratch the surface:
    • The C'Tan Deceiver seeded humanity with the Pariah gene to cultivate a weapon against its Warp-using enemies in the far future.
    • The Necrons' going into hibernation for millions of years to wait out what was at first the Enslaver plague, until it was retconned that they were waiting out the Eldar empire. There's a fair chance that what really killed off the dinosaurs were the Necrons.
    • The Emperor spent nearly 30,000 years guiding humanity from behind the scenes, using his knowledge of strategy and technology, as well as his vast psychic powers. It is implied that many historical figures were actually the Emperor in disguise (well, either that or he simply stole their stories to ease his transition to power). If it weren't for the Age of Strife, he probably would've stayed hidden.
    • The Eldar rely on playing the Long Game as a matter of necessity, since they are long lived and are skirting the brink of extinction. Their leadership is composed of psychics who use their powers to predict the future and make adjustments to course of events on the galactic scale to keep events roughly in their favor. How Eldar play the long game is a source of confusion to non-Eldar, since they work apparently at random when they kill, capture, or save certain elements without any credible explanation why. Notably, they are also incredibly callous to other species, being willing to sacrifice a billion human lives to save a dozen Eldar in a century's time. Two particular highlights are engineering the Ethereal caste to unite the Tau (for an as-yet unclear purpose), and working to create the new god Ynnead to take on Slaanesh.
    • This, along with Gambit Roulette, is a standard tactic of Tzeentch and his Greater Daemons.
  • Nicol Bolas's bread and butter, being 25,000 years old, and all.
  • In both White Wolf's old and new World of Darkness, elder vampires tend to play long games— the older the vampire, the longer the game.
    • One of the simpler ones concerns the Giovanni clan's efforts to bring about the Endless Night: active since the 16th century, the plan requires the harvesting of a hundred million departed souls, and has driven the Giovanni to set their hooks into almost every conceivable region of influence - all for the sake of kicking off a world war, just to complete their work.

Video Games
  • The plan of the Reapers in the Mass Effect trilogy is such a Long Game that it involves the cyclical rise and fall of galactic civilizations. Their goal is reproduction. They invade the Milky Way every time that space-faring species' make it to a certain point of technological development, harvesting the knowledge, tech, and biomass of these species to create more Reapers. They then leave the galaxy, making sure to leave enough ruins of the destroyed civilizations that the next ones to follow will develop similar technologies that are easy to counter because of their shared origins. Curiously, the events of the first game only occur because the current cycle was delayed by the Protheans. Sovereign was desperately trying to put things back on track.
    • The eventual reveal of the Reaper's origin in the third game shows that the Catalyst, the AI built by the Leviathans presumably about a billion years ago, was playing the longest game of all. It planned the cycle of extinction, that its creations, the Reapers, perpetuated, as an experiment to see if there was some solution to the organic vs synthetic life struggle that always seemed to occur, that it hadn't considered. As long as the Reapers succeeded, the cycle would continue, but the construction of the Crucible by the organics was unprecedented in any of the previous cycles, which changed the variables of the Catalyst's considerations and gave way to new options for solving the organic/synthetic dilemma.
  • In BioShock, this is stated in an audio diary named The Longest Con by Frank Fontaine. The con in question is his guise of Atlas to eventually gain control of Rapture.
  • In Final Fantasy IX, it's revealed that Garland is playing one of these in his attempt to restore Terra and its people; essentially, he's merged Terra with the planet Gaia, and has been slowly assimilating the souls of Gaia's own reincarnation-cycle. He's also been using his personal Angel of Death, Kuja, to start wars on Gaia so that souls can be siphoned into Terra at acceptable rates. This is a long game that has been running for over five thousand years.
  • Blue Planet: The Shivans and the Vishnans are playing a game so long that's it's been going since before the Vishnans ever evolved as a species (that was several billion years ago, and the Vishnans have become Sufficiently Advanced Aliens since then). Humanity may play some part in their plans, and the conflict is over that, but ultimately, the fate of humankind is a sideshow to the real threat: preventing the "Second Apocalypse".
  • In Xenogears, the ancient superweapon Deus created humanity on the remote planet it crashed on.note  Through a human avatar (Miang), Deus then manipulated the development of civilization for 10,000 years, solely for the purpose of using humans as "parts" to repair itself.

Western Animation
  • One episode of South Park presents the entire 2008 Presidential Election as being a Long Game from both sides in order to pull off a diamond heist. The phrase "Long Game" is used to describe it in-story.
  • In Fairly OddParents School's Out! The Musical, the Pixies have been manipulating Flappy Bob for 37 years - pretty much his entire life - as part of a plan to take over Fairyworld and the Earth. It succeeds, but is ultimately undone after Flappy Bob realizes the Pixies have been using him and turns against them.
  • In the first Futurama movie, Bender plays his own version, the "long con." Emphasis on long. Bender's con lasted thousands of years. For him at least.
  • Played with on Archer. Malory may have carried on an affair with the Italian prime minister for ~35 years just so she could kill him (in an overly elaborate manner) and get away with it.
  • TMNT 2012: The Kraang have been playing a Long Game with Earth and its humans. Apparently, they uplifted apes into an intelligent species millions of years ago and spent the next several million years meddling with human DNA, in order to create a half-Kraang/half-human. For reasons we aren't quite sure of yet, this entity was needed to perfect their mutagen and transform Earth into a new Dimension X. Oh, and April O'Neil happens to be the result of this Long Game.
    • It's worth mentioning that time in Dimension X flows a Year Inside, Hour Outside. So, while millions of years passed here on earth, it's possible that billions of years have passed in their home dimension.
  • Samurai Jack: Sometime during the 50-year Time Skip between seasons 4 and 5, Aku opted to do this after repeatedly losing to Jack. He destroyed every source of time travel on the planet, and then retreated back to his lair, planning to remain there until Jack dies of old age. It backfires; as a side effect of the spell Aku originally used to send Jack to the future, Jack is now biologically immortal.

Real Life
  • The most famous example from history was the Great Game between Britain and Russia that spanned 200 years to determine the fate of central Asia.
  • The term "Playing a long game" is used in finance to refer to focusing on long term gains rather than short term opportunities.
  • Similar phrases are used in organised crime: A "Long Con" is a confidence trick that relies on suckering the mark for an extended period of time, and a "Long Firm" is a business designed to appear legitimate as a cover for criminal activity. Both have obvious similarities with the Long Game noted above.
  • Normally we'd like to steer clear of politics, but there's a clear case where someone has invoked it by name: pundit/blogger Andrew Sullivan famously (and supportively!) believes that Barack Obama's policies are part of a political "long game," and even wrote a Newsweek cover story entitled "Obama's Long Game". Whether this is true is not something we will discuss; we merely point out that Sullivan (and a few others, mostly following him) have invoked the trope in explaining Obama's somewhat peculiar political style.
  • This was a key element of the theories of Karl Marx. Marxist theory holds that the current economic system of capitalism would eventually be supplanted by the working class taking control of the means of production, as part of society's transition into a socialist society, and finally to a communist one. Needless to say, this would not happen overnight.

Alternative Title(s): The Long Game