To be precise, I’m not talking about long-term plans. I’m talking about planning a heist, an assault, a defense. Something more tangible than becoming a king some day or something similar.
I think the key here is to know when to let the players plan things out and when to use another way. There are situations, where you should let the characters plan things out, but not the players. What do I mean with this?
Have you seen the A-Team movie? It wasn’t a big hit, so chances are against it, but there are certain sequencies in it, which I would recommend it for. Namely, their heists. Especially early on, when they hijack a truck. The key is that they have to plan it out meticulously. Every detail has to go right. This is pretty typical for heist movies. They have these great, suspenseful sequencies, where there isn’t much room for mistakes.
The problem with this kind of planning in RPGs is that the PCs can’t really do much planning without the help of the GM, but when they go to put the plan into action, its either quite anticlimatic, if the plan goes off without a problem, or it feels forced, if the plan doesn’t go off, and it seems like the GM used the information he had to stop them. Either way, its not good. Clever players should be rewarded, but at the same time just letting everything work is not fun either.
So, A-Team movie bypasses this by presenting the heist and the planning side by side. You see the the Colonel and others explain what needs to be done, while cutting to the action to show it all happens. Now, I’m not saying this is exactly how you should do it, but its a nice alternate way to do it. Instead, there should be some way to circumvent going through the planning process. Some RPGs do have such mechanics. Players might be able to roll something to gain some resource they can use during the heist or assault, or whatever, instead. When they get into trouble, they just explain how they took this into account and use that resource. Or maybe just roll something when they run into such a situation.
Planning can be fun also, but this kind of approach is much more fluid and the narrative is much better this way.
I can come up with some situations where you might still want to let the players do their planning. First, when they are going into total unknown. They don’t have maps or they are missing some other key piece of information. Then you can let them try to think through how they will approach the situation and what they’ll bring along.
Second, I like giving players a chance to plan out defenses. For example, they are on the run, but cornered and need to make a final, desperate stand. So, just let them use whatever they can find to make whatever fortifications or traps they can think up. Here, letting the bad guys run over the obstacles eventually won’t seem like you took advantage of the knowledge you accrued during the planning and you can let the players feel good about themselves, when their traps work without the narrative weakening.