Passive vs. Active “It”
At the end of Betrayal at Game Day, I asked what games had one (or more) of the players in the role of villain—not just opponent, but actual villain. I couldn’t think of any outside of Betrayal at House on the Hill (unless you count playing as the Axis powers in Axis and Allies, but that’s obviously a stretch).
As pointed out, however, there are a good many games that make use of the villain role. Two people mentioned Scotland Yard—I’ve played this one myself several years ago, and remember enjoying it immensely. In it, one of the players takes the role of Mister X, whose task it is to stay hidden find the other players searching for him.
In this case, the villain is playing the role of “it.” If we accept that “it” is a villain, then it’s as classic a game villain as ever there was.
Sometimes being “it” is a passive role, like in Scotland Yard or Ghost in the Graveyard (a game I loved playing as a kid). Sometimes it’s an active role, like being the searcher in Hide and Go Seek, the shark in Sharks and Minnows, or the first kid with the ball in Bombardment (conversely, a game I hated playing as a kid). There’s probably something very important to be said about kids taking on the role of “it” from time to time (not that I can think what that is; my coffee hasn’t kicked in yet).
Perhaps the most passive version of being “it,” I suppose, is Clue. One of the players is the murderer, but even he or she doesn’t know it. They might even end of accusing themselves. J’accuse!
When it comes to active versions of “it,” while I’ve never played the Lord of the Rings board game, I love Battlestar Galactica. In that game, one (or more) of the players starts off as a hidden Cylon agent. They are “it,” but the other players don’t know who these traitors are, at first… at first. Each round, players throw in cards to help accomplish some task, with the traitor throwing intentionally bad cards to try and sabotage their success. It’s a very clever mechanic—not only because it works for the game, but even more so because it fits with the story of Battlestar Galactica so well.
Oddly enough, I hear Edward James Olmos—hero of Battlestar Galactica—has now taken the role of villain in Dexter. So even he has turned as well. J’accuse!