Any video game with intentionally designed pitfalls that can make it Unwinnable by Design will invoke this trope against you if you end up in one, because at such point, any choices you make will inevitably lead to your defeat.
The Nod Prophet Kane is an uncontested master of these, and in Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars and Kane's Wrath pulls of an absolutely staggering one. Short version: the entire Third Tiberium War was orchestrated start-to-finish to bring the Scrin aliens to Earth and allow Kane to steal their technology. Longer version: Knowing there's a summit on a space station where all the Global Defense Initiative leaders will be attending, he raids the GDI treasury to ensure that only the treasury commissioner, who is a Slave to PR, will stay behind to assertain the damages, and thus remain alive when the station and the rest of the GDI leadership is nuked. The treasury commissioner will then be the highest in the chain of command alive and become the leader of GDI, and as a Slave to PR he will want to give the media something to run with - like a decisive victory by Kill SatingThe Brotherhood of Nod's primary temple. So war is on! If Nod wins, great! But Nod is losing so he then sets the temple up with large amounts of Liquid Tiberium and leaves behind only a skeleton crew of fanatics for defense. GDI fires the Kill Sat, and the Liquid Tiberium, set off by the Kill Sat's power, creates a quarter-World-Wrecking Wave - which Kane knows will attract the attention of the alien Scrin, who are on the lookout for such explosions as they normally signal Tiberium having reached the planet's mantle and thus is ready for harvesting. He knows the Scrin will perform their best Alien Invasion to distract from the fact that they only have a harvesting fleet and not an invasion force stationed near Earth, and once that happens he can have GDI and and the Scrin weaken each other and make both of them more vulnerable to Nod while he steals their technology and the two Macguffin. The Scrin, if they want to invade successfully, have to fight GDI, and if GDI doesn't fight back, that's more propaganda for Nod and its Dark Messiah. Either the world's population flocks to him, giving him the numbers and technology to win, or GDI and Scrin duke it out, leaving him able to do all the stealing he wants with surgical covert actions while Playing Both Sides - which is Nod's speciality, especially since they were just claimed 'decisively defeated'.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert: The endings of both sides have Stalin assassinated and Kane going away as a victor and the future ruler of the world.
Master Xehanort from Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep pulls one off. In fact, much of the entire series could be seen as one massive Xanatos Gambit. Master Xehanort attemps to summon Kingdom Hearts and have his assistant, Vanitas, forge the χ-blade with his other half Ventus. If the heroes of the game failed to stop him, Xehanort would have gained control of Kingdom Hearts, and remade the universe with its power. If he lost, as he did, he was completely prepared to steal Terra's body to gain a younger, stronger body than his old, crippled one. Although he didn't expect Terra's will to fight him once more, and Xehanort lost his memory, his plans still resulted in the situation above for his Nobody Xemnas in 358/2 Days, allowed his Heartless, Ansem, to profit from Maleficent's actions (which Master Xehanort originally implanted in her mind ten years previously) in the first game, and as of Dream Drop Distance, allowing all the various versions of Xehanort to team up together to take on Sora and his friends in preparation for a final battle. In Birth by Sleep's secret movie, "Blank Points", Master Xehanort straight-out tells Terra that what happened was "one of many roads (he) could have taken", and that he had others planned out.
In Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, it's revealed that due to the mechanics of time travel, the actions of the various Xehanort incarnations, and essentially the entire plot of the entire series, Xehanort has another major one. He needs 13 Seekers of Darkness, and Seven Lights to make the χ-blade and restart the Keyblade War, so he has made a new Organization XIII (the first having this having been its point, but having failed for numerous reasons in most cases) composed entirely of himself and has set out to fight the Princesses of Heart, necessitating that there be Seven Lights to protect them. No matter how you slice it, the Keyblade War seems inevitable, and even Yen Sid is freaked out.
And on a smaller scale in the same game, Sora is tricked into diving too deep into the dream world and right into their clutches, causing his heart to break due to being unable to handle the darkness. This gives Xehanort the thirteenth vessel he needs for his plans. If he manages to plant a fragment of his heart inside Sora, he has his thirteenth vessel and the good guys are left without one of their strongest heroes. If he fails (which he does), that's okay. He already has twelve vessels and he needs Seven Lights in order to forge the χ-blade anyway.
Xehanort is pretty good at this. His diving into the darkness himself, becoming a free willed Heartless was another one. He tried to control Kingdom Hearts as a Heartless. That failed. He still had his Nobody, which started Organization XIII. When that failed, and both were defeated, he returned to life with all memories intact, to continue his plotting. Worst case (what happened), he learned a lot about his enemies with absolutely no downside.
During the final battle in Kingdom Hearts III, Master Xehanort flat out tells Sora that he plans for every eventuality.
There's one in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Knowing that Mario was heading for the last Crystal Star, the game's Big Bad, Grodus, puts it inside his main base. The gambit plays out one of two ways: if Mario were to successfully take the final Crystal Star, he would return back to Rogueport and open the Thousand-Year Door. On the other hand, if he was beaten, the X-Nauts would take the 6 stars he already had, and open the door themselves. Either way, Grodus now has access to the Shadow Queen, whom he intends to use to Take Over the World. Or so he thinks, as he was Out-Gambitted by Beldam, his supposed Dragon. In reality, it was a ploy by Beldam, as she tricked Grodus into thinking that the Sealed Evil in a Can is beholden to the person who awoke her, when in reality, she is NOT. She also spread rumors of a supposedly great "treasure" behind the titular Thousand-Year Door, when in actuality, the "treasure" is the Shadow Queen, the real Big Bad.
In Disgaea 3, Super Hero Aurum's gambit to fight Mao at full power is one of these: He either obtains more power and rids the world of another 'monster', or obtains a worthy honourable death. This gambit is foiled in one ending and backfires very badly in the Human World one.
Fire Emblem Gaiden: Emperor Rudolf's invasion of Zofia has two profitable outcomes. Either he succeeds and takes over the entire continent or he dies trying by Alm's hand, with the latter option solidifying a Zero-Approval Gambit that would unite Rigel and Zofia without the need of forcing it.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn: Ludveck has a classic 'anticipating one's own failure' type of plan. tries to kill queen Elincia to usurp her power, and willingly goes to prison when he fails. This imprisonment is a signal for his men to pretend to flee the country in a panic, Elincia not being the type to kill a fleeing enemy, and abduct Elincia's childhood friend, Lucia, and hold her ransom for Ludveck's freedom and taking over the throne. Either outcome of the assassination, he wins. As sound as this plan appears, it was foiled by a simple "no" in response to the ransom. Lucia even got to live, because Bastian planned ahead.
The Divine Crusaders War qualifies, due to the simple fact that, no matter who wins, Earth will be protected. If the player fails to defeat the DC, it's implied that the DC will defend Earth when the real threat (it depends on the timeline) arrives. If the player beats the DC, it's leader will mention that the heroes are strong enough to take over the defense of Earth (whether the player is skilled enough is another matter entirely...).
In 2nd Original Generations, Euzeth Gozzo's plan: Should Euzeth be defeated, all of his memories are immediately transferred to another Euzeth in one of the many existing alternate universes. This Euzeth then continues the scheme where the last one left it. This has happened a few times already, which is the reason why he knows so much about the people and events he manipulates to carry out his plan.
In Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, Prince LaCroix runs one of these. You play a fledgling vampire, who, for some reason, is the only agent LaCroix has available and gets sent into dangerous situation after dangerous situation. The kicker comes when you realize LaCroix is actively trying to kill you. Your very existence flouts his own laws, but he can't kill you publicly without seriously pissing off a very large, powerful political sect of Vampires. So instead, he sends you on suicide missions. If you die, he wins, because the symbol of his weakness is gone. If you survive, he wins, by eliminating his enemies and advancing his own agenda. And after all that, it turns out LaCroix is actually a XanatosSucker for Smiling Jack and Caine's Gambit Roulette manipulation of both him and the player character. The plot relies on splitting the game's MacGuffin, which LaCroix really wants, from its key. The MacGuffin itself goes to LaCroix, while the key goes to the Kuei-Jin, his mortal archenemy. The Camarilla and the Kuei-Jin go to war and get weakened over LaCroix's ambitions, and whoever side wins is still weakened and leaves the Anarchs in a stronger position. The MacGuffin's contents aren't all they're cracked up to be...
In Mega Man Zero 4, Dr. Weil's real plan is to shoot Area Zero from space; the Eight Warriors are nothing but a diversion, so that the Resistance is stuck fighting the wrong battle. If the Eight Warriors' individual plans worked (acid rain generators, scorching the earth with an artificial sun, etc.), Area Zero is destroyed, and the Resistance with it; if they all fail, there would still be time for Weil to fire his Kill Sat, leaving Area Zero destroyed, and the Resistance with it. In either case, Weil becomes the undisputed ruler of all humanity by wiping out freedom's last hope. This surprisingly ends up being screwed over by Craft, Weil's Dragon, who destroys Neo Arcadia with the Kill Sat that Weil was planning to use.
Caius of Final Fantasy XIII-2 only wanted to end the cycle of Yeul's premature, future gazing deaths. How does he do that? He plans to destroy Cocoon, ending millions of lives. This would allow Etro's gate to open to let in the souls of the departed, but also let out the time-eating Chaos to devour Gran Pulse, turning it into the timeless Valhalla, where every Yeul can exist. If there's no future, there's nothing for Yeul to see that can kill her. Our heroes, Noel and Serah, ain't having dat, and set out to defeat Cauis. But not to worry, inside Cauis is the heart of Etro. If it were to stop beating, Etro would die (duh), destroying the only thing holding the Chaos back. It was almost foiled when Noel refused to kill him, but Cauis takes Noel's hand and stabs himself. And to top it all off, the secret ending reveals that in a timeless world, Caius is still alive and well, able to see his plan come to fruition. Even better when you realize that Caius's plan still would have eventually succeeded even if he hadn't been in position to force Noel to stab him. If his plans are not thwarted he wins. If you kill him he wins. If you thwart his plans without killing him, he is still The Ageless, meaning that he can keep trying for all eternity until one of the the two conditions for victory are met.
Pulled off masterfully by Ardyn Izunia, the Big Bad of Final Fantasy XV. His goal is to end the royal family line of Lucis once and for all, and due to the fact that Ardyn is cursed with Complete Immortality, only Noctis, the last of the royal family and the ascended Chosen One, armed with the Glaives of Rulers past, wearing the Ring of the Lucii and blessed by both the Crystal and the Six, can kill him. However, since the spell that can kill Ardyn requires a Heroic Sacrifice, Death Is the Only Option for Noctis. So, if Ardyn dies, it's because Noctis completed his ascension and died killing him, putting an end to Ardyn's curse of eternal life and allowing him to rest in peace. If he kills Noctis, he is unstoppable and will rule the world forever, which he is perfectly fine with as well. In either case, he get what he wants the mostthe end of the line of Lucis.
Before the final mission of Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception, Intrepid Reporter Albert Genette notes that Leasath commanding officer Diego Navarro was playing one of these: Although his primary goal of conquering Aurelia fails, he still succeeds in increasing arms exports for the military-industrial complex. You as Gryphus One prevent him from succeeding fully by busting up his Fenrir superfighters before he can profit from selling them off too.
In the original Dawn of War game, Blood Ravens battle the Chaos Marines on Tartarus. However, when the Chaos Forces are seemingly defeated it turns out that Tartarus was in fact a gigantic altar and the blood spilled by all combatants was an offering required to awake the powerful daemonic entity — the only way the daemon could have lost would have been by there not being a war at all, which would only happen by all the factions leaving Chaos alone to turn Tartarus into their own private playground.
[PROTOTYPE]. Cross convinces Mercer to attack the Bloodtox blowers. This doesn't make much sense later on, because the Bloodtox blowers are stated as important, so a Blackwatch agent asking you to attack them seems...odd. Until Mercer is then tasked with escorting the Bloodtox injector into the heart of Manhattan, where the Blackwatch soldiers do an admirable job of ignoring Mercer's presence until after Greene is exposed. It isn't until this happens that the actual Xanatos Gambitbecomes apparent: If Mercer went after the blowers and was killed in the process, Blackwatch eliminates Mercer and maintains the Bloodtox airborne deployment, cleaning Manhattan's surface and leaving things clear for them to use the injector. On the other hand, if Mercer destroys them, he trusts Cross enough to follow his suggestion to go protect the injector, ensuring that Blackwatch's nastiest enemy is on their side for when Greene appears. Either way, Blackwatch wins.
In World of Warcraft, the Lich King has two rather impressive ones. First, he sends a massive army of Death Knights to attack the Argent Dawn's base in the Plaguelands to assassinate Tirion Fordring. If they succeeded, that would be that. If they failed (which he actually anticipated), then they would have at least weakened Fordring significantly, allowing him to waltz in and finish him off. The only reason this doesn't pan out for him is that the Death Knights didn't take kindly to their master's deceit. The second being that he can kill anyone instantly with the "Fury of Frostmourne", and in order to activate the teleporter that allows one to reach him you have to kill all of his generals. If you defeat them and don't face him, he can just just bring them back; if you defeat them and face him then he will just kill you and raise you as his new generals; if you fail then it means the opposition is dead and he has nothing to worry about. This too fails because Tirion's desperate prayers smite the ice block he's trapped in, allowing him to shatter Frostmourne while the Lich King channels.
Warcraft III sees a nice couple of these from the original Lich King, Ner'zhul. In the first - well, regardless of who takes Stratholme, he wins since Arthas winning means his ideal knight's on the road to insane-o-ville and Mal'Ganis winning means the Scourge's army gets bigger and he can rez Aethas- the latter is less ideal but still workable. The second is the more eerie one, since, well, it's Death Knight Arthas who tells Illidan where to get his power-up; Illidan then cheerfully turns his newfound power on the Lich King with intent to smite, weakening both LK and Arthas and setting up the situation that leads to Arthas becoming the new Lich King. While he probably didn't intend to lose mojo at the rate that he did, in the end it all worked out to his benefit.
Yuri from Red Alert II could be seen as this. If the Soviets win, he gets to command the world from behind the throne of the puppet Premier. If the Allies prove victorious, then they have just taken the Soviet army out of the way, spreading their own forces thin in the process, allowing Yuri a good shot at taking charge directly. In the Soviet campaign he is Out-Gambitted by the Thanatos Gambit of his puppet Premier (apparently he is better at mind control than at mind reading) and ends up defeated and executed by the Soviets' most talented field commander when on the brink of victory. Not even a Xanatos Gambit is immune to a Spanner in the Works.
A domination-mesmer in Guild Wars will often employ this. Casting a spell on the enemy that punish the target if he doesn't use a skill can be combined with spells that punish him if he does, or with a build filled with interruption spells. Mostly happens in PvP though, since in PvE enemies will not respond to the punish-if-idle skill, although an AI update did prevent them from killing themselves under a punish-if-not-idle spell.
In Resident Evil, Wesker's plan after the Code VeronicaRetcon. It was revealed that he had been given this special virus that, upon death, would not only resurrect him, but give him super powers to boot and have everyone believing him to be dead, thus providing the perfect cover for his exit from Umbrella, and thus allow him to sell his information to anyone who wished for it. BUT if his original plan (destroy the mansion, kill the remaining STARS members, leave Umbrella, and sell/give information/bio-weapons to Umbrella's competition) had worked out, then he'd still make a profit in the end.
In a minor example from Resident Evil 4, bonus content from the game shows that at one point, Wesker, who's the "shadowy third party" involved in the game's story, passively takes advantage of a Xanatos-Gambit-type situation arising. Though he originally orders Ada to kill Leon, he changes his mind when Leon proves himself to be far more resilient than Wesker originally thought. Wesker then decides to take advantage of Leon's apparent skill and simply let him duke it out with the Big Bad Saddler, since he wants both of them dead anyway. No matter which one loses, he wins (if they kill each other, he wins twice as much).
Legacy of Kain, later games establish a Cerebus Retcon that makes Kain's Sadistic Choice in the first game the result of this. Kain is the last of the guardians of the nine Pillars of Nosgoth, and all guardians including him have been corrupted by evil. Kain can choose to either sacrifice himself, and with all the guardians dead new, pure ones will be chosen by the Pillars, but this will doom the vampires to extinction since Kain is the last of them. On the other hand Kain can use his powers to create a vampire army and conquer the world, but the Pillars will continue to corrupt without proper guardians. It turns out that, as Kain lampshades, "either way, the game is rigged" — the Pillars are holding back a Sealed Evil in a Can that set all this up, because the Pillar guardians have to be vampires in order to do their duties properly. By ensuring that the last corrupted guardian was also the last vampire, either the vampires die out or the Pillars never get proper guardians, and either way the Pillars will lose power and the seal will weaken.
The Metal Gear Solid series is infamous for sticking the hero in lose-lose scenarios where he plays right into the hands of the Big Bad. Ocelot's plan in number four includes no less than three scenarios that will allow him to destroy the Patriots, depending on what Snake does.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne has this in spades with Lucifer powering up the Main Character with the Magatama. Literally every ending will benefit him in some way- you go and make sure any of the three Reasons win, you prove that the product is workable. You leave the Vortex World as it is, you spit on the Great Will's face. You restore the world to as it was before The Conception took place, you spit on the Great Will's face and Lucifer gets a warrior that in due time will fight against Him. You accept the offer to reach him in the Labyrinth of Amala's lowest level, he gets a worthy successor and new general.
The Big Bad of Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal does this when she plays the main character up against the Five. The main character loses, she's rid of one of the more powerful Bhaalspawn with a reputation for Cutting the Knot and the cold war between the Five will eventually lead to them wiping each other out anyway. The main character wins, the Five are dead much faster and the Big Bad now has enough Bhaal essence to ascend directly to Godhood without even having to antagonize the protagonist. Win-win... If not for the fact that the main character learns about this plan and becomes powerful enough to challenge the Big Bad directly as a result.
The Chessmaster who pulls off a series of Xanatos gambits in Tsukihime is Kohaku. First she encourages SHIKI to fight Makihisa— if SHIKI wins, Makihisa is dead, Akiha will become the head of the Tohno family and Shiki will come back to the mansion; if he loses, SHIKI dies and will no longer abuse her to use her synchronizer power. Then she begins to make Shiki think he's a killer through drugs. He will start walking the streets, and either kill SHIKI, or be killed by SHIKI, which will drive Akiha to murder SHIKI since then she will have more power because she doesn't have to keep him alive anymore. If neither of those happen, then there will likely be a showdown between Akiha and SHIKI. SHIKI will try to target Kohaku first to stop her from synchronizing with Akiha, so either Akiha will sacrifice herself to save her, or SHIKI will kill her, which will let her give Hisui's true persona back to her. If Akiha dies, Shiki will finish off SHIKI, and then her revenge will be complete. And she can kill herself to let Shiki live with Hisui. The only problem is when someone else becomes a Spanner in the Works.
Sigma's master plans in Mega Man X 4 and X5 count as this. In the former, he manipulates the Hunters and Repliforce into fighting each other in order to take control over Repliforce's Kill Sat and wipe out whoever won. In X5, his sabotage of Eurasia was a distraction for his true goal: spread the Sigma Virus until it evolved into the Zero Virus, then use it to "revert" Zero back into the weapon of destruction Dr Wily had intended him to be.
GlaDOs did this in Portal. If she had killed you in the final fight, she would have been rid of the morality core and you. However even if you won, she is free of all the mind controlling cores, plus the data from your escape and her "death" furthers the cause of science... And, being a sentient computer program, it wouldn't stop her from coming back for a sequel anyway.
Wheatley: Four-part plan is this. One, no portal surfaces. Two, start the neurotoxin immediately. Three, bomb-proof shields for me, leading directly into number four: bombs. For throwing at you. PART FIVE! BOOBY TRAP THE STALEMATE BUTTON!
In Jak II: Renegade, the Metal Head Leader Kor, disguised as a Cool Old GuyMentor to Kid Jak lets Jak go on missions to weaken the Baron, making his armies have an advantage over the city. If Jak fails and dies, the Metal Heads lose an enemy. If Jak gets the Precursor Stone, then Kor can use his connections with the underground to get hold of it. When the Baron gets the Stone, the Metal Head Leader uses the confusion to imprison Kid Jak at the Metal Head Nest. In the final battle, either the Baron gives him the stone to save the city, or Kor kills him and the Metal Heads search for the Stone. Even if Jak beats the armies to finding it, Kor knows Jak will bring it to the Metal Head Nest to power the huge gun to blow it open. If Jak dies trying to open the nest, Kor gets the stone. When Jak does manage to get inside the nest, only Kor not taking Dark Jak into account prevents him from killing Jak with a single blast and getting the Precursor stone.
This seems to be the whole purpose behind the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. No matter what outcome Jensen chooses, it furthers the plans of the Illuminati at least slightly and advances the agenda of Bob Page and Majestic 12 considerably.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. is a rare case of a subversion. Its revealed that the foundations of The Rebel Alliance were orchestrated by the person the group is dedicated to opposing. If creating this group failed, the planner benefits because they are weaker as individuals. If creating this group succeeded than the planner would know who all his remaining enemies are and be able to wipe them all out at once. Then it backfired because group's founder not only manages to save the rest via Heroic Sacrifice but becomes an inspiring martyr. The first movie demonstrates the plan still worked pretty well regardless.
In SoulCalibur 3's mode "Chronicles of the Sword", Chester pulls off one of these. By enticing the factions to fighting each other, he manages to oust the king of one, taking his place. The truth of the matter is that he would have won, having manipulated much more than just one faction, and managing to deprive you, the main advancing force who is one of the best, of reinforcements and rest from your own king without actually having him outright try to kill you, but because you were such a good fighter, you overcame EVERY enemy that he threw at you to prevent you from becoming a wrench in his plans, and he still manages to take the place of a king despite you being better than expected.
You can actually do this in Fallout: New Vegas, at least in certain endings. If you side with Mr. House (or just yourself), but also have a high enough reputation with the NCR, you can fight most of the Battle of Hoover Dam as though you were allied with them. If your NCR "allies" fail to break through to the Legate's camp, your Securitrons and other assorted allies will still finish off the Legion. If the NCR succeeds, the Securitrons will then be turned on the NCR.
Honorable Mention goes to Vault 11's Katherine "Kate" Stone. After her husband Nate is unfairly targeted by the Justice Block to be elected as Overseer (a one year term that ends with death by gunfire, typically held by the worst ne'er do well the vault can muster that year), she wages a one-person assassination campaign against them. If she had gotten away with it, she could whittle down their numbers until they were no longer the dominant voting block, but by getting caught and revealed as a multiple murderer she becomes the shoe-in candidate for Overseer, which allows her the authority to abolish the election in favor of a lottery, also destroying the power of the Justice Block. Unfortunately, Justice Block's attempts to seize power in spite of the rule change kicks off a total party kill inducing civil war. Nice job breaking it, Kate.
This concept is also associated withi Azura, the Daedric Prince of Dawn and Dusk and the "Lady of Prophecy". As the "Lady of Prophecy", she actively works (mostly) behind the scenes to ensure that her prophecies come to pass. Even if things don't go exactly according to her plans, they still tend to work out in ways that ultimately benefit her. Although she is never overtly deceitful, the way Azura always gets what she desires in the end, and how titanic events always follow her interventions, can be portrayed as disturbing. Behind her veil of benevolence and pleasing female form, there are hints that Azura may be something much more eldritch. She may be a sort of 'cosmic force' of True Neutrality, primarily concerned with maintaining a sort of metaphysical balance in the universe.
Just prior to the events of the game, Ulfric Stormcloak pulls one of these on the then current High King of Skyrim, Torygg. Ulfric challenges Torygg to a duel, using an archaic Nordic tradition. If declined, the Torygg would be shamed and would quickly lose power and influence, allowing Ulfric to step in. Torygg accepted the duel. Ulfric then used the Thu'um in order to ensure victory. Ulfric did not get the throne since many people viewed using the Thu'um in a duel as dishonorable, but he did gain a considerable following for his rebellion.
The Skyrim Civil War itself is one for the Aldmeri Dominion under the leadership of the Thalmor. Their ideal result is for the civil war to drag on for as long as possible, exhausting both sides and weakening them for the inevitable second Great War. A victory for the Stormcloaks would result a further destabilizing of the vestigial 3rd Empire of Tamriel, while an Imperial victory leaves the Thalmor with pawns throughout Skyrim who can continue to advance their agenda. A quick and decisive victory for either side is the least preferable outcome, and is precisely the outcome the Dragonborn can deliver for either side.
The first is in Chapter 10: The Wish Seed. Firstly, he created a myth about an all-powerful wish-granting item under the protection of the Immortal Phoenix atop a great volcano long ago. Then he sends the Underworld Army to attack the Phoenix and 'retrieve' the wish seed, which prompt Palutena and Pit to counter them. By the time the heroes realize that the wish seed was a hoax, it is too late. If they leave the Underworld Army alone they will defeat the Phoenix, leading the humans to believe that the wish seed is now obtainable and triggering mass-warfare to get it. If they defeat the Underworld Army but leave the Phoenix alone, then it will go on a rampage because the Underworld Army provoked it and kill many innocent humans. If Pit defeats both the Underworld Army and the Phoenix, then it will be the same as if he let the Underworld Army kill the Phoenix. No matter how it ends up thousands of people will die and that is more business for Hades.
In the penultimate mission of Saints Row 2, Ultor CEO Dane Vogel pulls off an excellent one: having been threatened by the board of directors with being fired (or worse) if he can't kill the Boss and break the Saints, he anonymously leaks the location of the board's upcoming gala fundraiser to the Boss, then tips off his security men that the Boss is coming. That way, if the Boss gets killed, he gets credit with the board for destroying the last major obstacle to their plan; and if the Boss wipes out the board, Vogel ascends to the chairmanship. Either way, he comes out ahead.
In The Seventh Edition of Dynasty Warriors, The Battle of Mt. Ding Jun is this for Wei and Cao Cao. If they defeat Shu they prevent them from gaining a foothold into Hanzhong, but if Shu wins (which they do in Real Life) then they have stretched their resources too thin and can't send aid to Guan Yu at Fan Castle, especially when Wu takes the side of Wei during it.
Tales of Symphonia has the unusual Xanatos gambit maker of Zelos Wilder. Zelos wants to be free of his Chosen Status, so what does he do? Play Cruxis, the Renegades and Lloyd's group all against each other in their current conflict- each of his actions based on which group he favors more at the time. No matter which group wins in the end, he can grab on and reap the benefits. And if they catch on and take him out? That's fine, because he was a Death Seeker anyway! He ends up becoming less of a jerkass through Character Development and The Power of Friendship, but even that works with his gambit as he still gets what he wants in the end.
A minor one used by Jude in Tales of Xillia. The scenario? Presa has Milla as a hostage. Jude takes the time to quickly survey the area and notices a large monster disguised as part of the cliff. The plan involves Alvin shooting at the monster. What would happen was either: A) The monster wakes up and attacks Presa forcing her to release Milla and flee. At which point they (Jude, Alvin and Milla) can deal with the monster or B) The monster attacks Jude, but this serves as a distraction to allow Alvin to go into Presa's blind spot and promptly knock her out or force her to release Milla where they can then deal with the monster or C) The monster's appearance shocks Presa into releasing Milla anyway. Alvin and Milla are suprised Jude could come up with the plan so quickly.
Izebel pulls a simple one in Tears to Tiara 2 when she intercepts the party on the high seas. She has the Kraken attack the rear of the ship. She and her soldiers then board from the front. If the party did not realized this trap and moved to the rear to deal with the Krakken, they get attacked from the rear and defeated. If they realized this trap and did not move, the entire party would need to be at the ship's front to deal with her superior forces, leaving the Krakken free to sink the ship.
Darth Malgus pulls one during his attempted takeover of the Empire. In the False Emperor flashpoint, if the group facing him is Imperial, he tells them that either outcome will serve his purposes: either he defeats them and remakes the Empire as he sees fit, or they defeat him but still forces the Empire to change. Indeed, in the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion, it's shown that the Empire does seem to be embracing a number of Malgus' views, something that his ghost is surely laughing at.
It's revealed that the Vitatae (aka Valkorian/The Sith Emperor/whatever he's calling himself this week) set up the entire arc of all three games and change. Mandalorian War? Well, either his Mandalorian pawns win against the Republic, or the Jedi and Republic are forced into a Pyrrhic Victory that divides them and leaves them open for a civil war where he can mop up the rest. Bit of a setback with his favorite pawn, Revan? Well, the Republic is still weak and his incarnation of the Sith Empire is merrily rebuilding in secret. Revan and Exile get the idea to kill him? Well, if they succeed, they're only Fighting a Shadow; he can play dead and still keep building the Eternal Empire. But he makes a deal with Scourge and gets one dead Exile and a new chew toy with Revan. He uses his Sith Empire to attack the Republic while embezzling the spoils of the Sith victories into his real project, the Eternal Empire. This keeps the Darths busy with war and internal power games, so they aren't looking too closely at his actions. Sith win over the Republic? Republic win over the Sith? Either way, they're weakened and the Eternal Empire can mop up the pieces. And with his offspring either dead or too batshit crazy to actually rule, he's pretty much assured that there's no one to challenge him while he siphons away all life in the galaxy to become a god.
In Hyrule Warriors, Ganondorf pulls one. Prior to the events of the game, he corrupted Cia, and had her gather three of the four fragments of his spirit, then let her loose to wreck Hyrule. If Cia defeats the heroes, then the forces of good are extinguished, and Ganondorf can take Cia's Triforce to break the final seal on his spirit and overpower Cia to become Hyrule's true ruler. If Link and company defeat Cia, the final seal is broken when Link takes the Master Sword, and Ganondorf can use his full power to get the drop on a then-peaceful Hyrule and take the Triforce anyway.
In Yu-Gi-Oh! Forbidden Memories, Priest Seto enacts one that spans the whole game. He serves Heishin faithfully at first, seizing control of the palace and Egypt as a whole. When the prince returns from the future, however, he goes behind Heishin's back and gives hints about how to overthrow him. His plan is to gain the Millennium Items that Heishin's Mages guard, use the Items to renew a pact with Dark Nite, and rule the worldwhich he only tells you after you collect the Items, defeat Heishin and do his work for him. If the prince failed in his quest, Seto would defeat Heishin and take over himself. If he succeeded in defeating Heishin, he'd take the Items from the prince instead. The only thing Seto didn't count on was losing his duel with the prince and Heishin having seen his treachery coming and staging his defeat.
In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelists of the Roses, Seto needs all sixteen cards there to unleash Manawyddan fab Llyr, but nothing says he has to be in physical possession of them all, so it didn't matter to him which side gathered all the cards. For that matter, it doesn't matter who wins the duel, as he could summon him either way.
Wild Arms 2 features one planned by Irving: He knows that in order to defeat the Kuiper Belt, it is necessary to unite all of the nations in the world. So he funds Odessa, a terrorist organization who plans on taking over the world, knowing that if they succeed, the nations will all fall under their control and therefore be united. He also creates the ARMs, an anti-terrorist organization to fight against his own terrorist group, so they can inspire the world leaders to cooperate if they do succeed in defeating Odessa.
Touhou: Yukari Yakumo has a serious grudge against the Moon and its Space Elves inhabitants, who have dealt her two major defeats: in the first, the youkai armies under her command were repulsed from the Lunar Capital, and in the second, her attempt to force the Lunarians' best strategist and warrior into a feint failed miserably when both Yukari and Remilia's group (who were acting as her decoys) were defeated and sent back to Earth before reaching the Capital. Except not. Despite ostensibly losing both times, she gained more than the Lunarians did - the first time, it didn't matter whether youkai succeeded in conquering the Moon or not. They win, they seize the Moon and its wondrous technology. They lose, they are taught a stern lesson on expansionism. Either way, Yukari has time to complete her true objective - analyzing the barrier the Lunarians use to close the Capital to the outside reality, which certainly came in handy when constructing Gensokyo. And for the second? Well, if the Lunarians think there are only two simultaneous invasions and that Yukari's been defeated, they're not gonna start looking for a third invasion...
In the Conquest Ending of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 and its remake Re;Birth2, the Deity of Sin Arfoire (Hanzashin/Crime God Magiquone in the original), invokes this trope during the final battle. When seeing that Nepgear is holding the cursed sword Gehaburn in her hands, Arfoire has two options. She would either kill Nepgear, who is now the last CPU, and destroy the world like she always has intended to do, or she can die by the hands of Nepgear with the sword that is bathed in blood of all other CPUs and the CPU Candidates, knowing that there are no nations besides Planeptune to exist and that one entity will rule over a peaceful world without strive, without conflict, without competition. This would lead to no advancement and no evolution. The people will become complacent and live their lives in peace, while the world will stagnate and rot. Because of this vision she has, Arfoire has no need to destroy the world, since all lives taken by Gehaburn's blade has caused the world to spiral into oblivion and chaos already. In the end, after Nepgear kills Arfoire with Gehaburn, she is the sole CPU of Gamindustrie, all of her human friends have left her, three of the four Oracles disgust her from the bottom of their heart, and Nepgear's heart is full of sorrow and doubt. While she swears that Arfoire's vision will never become reality, her last words deeply shake Nepgear's heart, and the open ending shows that the world will either fall into chaos or it will not.
Augustine from Infamous Second Son pulls one of these in the final mission. After being cornered by Delsin, she lets him absorb her powers, which is exactly what Delsin wanted. However, Delsin also absorbs her memories and learns about why she formed the DUP. The best scenario would be for Delsin to come around to her reasoning and join her, but Delsin of either alignment refuses. However, now Delsin is stuck with an unfamiliar power set, he needs core relays in order to do anything useful with it, and Augustine decides to display the the full extent of a power she's developed for seven years. Delsin would have been screwed if Eugene wasn't there to help deliver some core relays.
Surprisingly, Wily pulls this off in the first three entries of Mega Man Battle Network, but it only really becomes notable in three. He was revealed to have been The Man Behind the Man of Gospel in three. He would have gotten what he wanted had Gospel succeeded in two, but even if they failed he would have gotten the attention of Bass who became quite integral to his plot to awaken Alpha.