In the parlance of the con operator, the little game is a class of confidence game which can apply to both the long and short cons.
The defining characteristic of the little game is that the mark (i.e. the victim) is led, through craft or finesse or by his own gullibility, into believing that he can benefit from or take advantage of a special condition (which he often believes is a secret he or only a few people are aware of), and therefore he willingly gives his own money into the hands of the con. The big game, which includes the little game, is the con itself.
A bare bones example of this is a card trick known as Black Gold, the Palatine Pass, The Heat, or any number of other flamboyant names.
The dealer lets the mark examine a deck of legitimate playing cards to his satisfaction, and then the mark is asked to take a card from the deck—but the dealer uses a force (any of a number of methods to force the mark to take a particular card instead of making a truly random selection). The mark believes he is the only one who knows what card he has chosen. The dealer knows better.
The mark looks at the card and the dealer hands the rest of the deck to the mark and asks him to shuffle it well. The dealer then deals the cards out face up until he reaches the mark's card, and then he deals out five extra cards, also face up.
With his thumb on the next card in the deck, the dealer declares, "I will bet you $20 that the next card I turn over will be your card." At this point, since the mark can see his card, face up and in plain sight, he is likely convinced that the bet is a sure thing. If he is sufficiently gullible, he will take the dealer's bet. The dealer and the mark each place $20 on the table.
At this point, the dealer stings. Instead of taking a card from the top of the deck in his hand, he turns over the mark's card, which is face up on the table. The dealer then collects his money from the table and the transaction is concluded.
While this is not a particularly useful con for serious grifters, it does demonstrate the aim of the little game: to create the belief in the mark that he can place his money down on a sure thing, while, in reality, the little game is always under the con's control.
While to many philologists and criminologists the little game represents the quintessence of the confidence game, there are a broad range of confidence games which do not require a little game.