Time Travel, Murder and Chess Finally Come Together in That Time You Killed Me

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Time Travel, Murder and Chess Finally Come Together in <i>That Time You Killed Me</i>

That Time You Killed Me is certainly a hell of a title for a game. It may not give you much of an idea of what’s going on in this quirky two-player title, though, which tries to take the idea of 3D chess and make it something playable and, in this case, easy to extend and change with built-in modules.

That Time You Killed Me (TTYKM) is played on three 4×4 boards that represent the past, present, and future. You and your opponent are time travelers trying to claim credit for inventing time travel, and the only way to end up on top is to murder the other player. (The word “murder” appears more often in the rulebook than in an Agatha Christie novel.) You each start with one token in the same corner of all three boards, and will try to move those around, sometimes spawning new copies of yourself, to squish your opponent’s tokens, either by pushing them into stationary objects (like walls) or by pushing one into another (which kills both of them immediately). You win the game if you’ve eliminated all of your opponent’s tokens from two of the three boards.


There are many catches, of course, as befits time travel stories. (I recommend Connie Willis’ Oxford series if you enjoy time travel fiction, starting with the story “Fire Watch” and the four books set in that universe, including The Doomsday Book.) One is that you can jump a piece from any board to an adjacent board. If you move forward in time, nothing special happens, but if you move backward, you leave a new copy of yourself on the later board. You move your token to the same space on an earlier board—present to past, or future to present—but then a new copy of you spawns on the space you vacated. Your copies are limited, however, so you can easily end up unable to take advantage of this power as the game nears its end. Another is that you can’t create a paradox, which is why you can’t have two of your own tokens in the same space—that’s one way in which your opponent can murder two of your pieces at once.

The base game itself isn’t that unusual-Santorini is a somewhat similar two-player game that does this genre better—but TTYKM comes with modules that add features and new rules to the game, and it appears designer Peter Heyward didn’t intend for anyone to play the base game without them. The first module introduces seeds, shrubs, and trees; you plant a seed on one board, and it yields a shrub in the same space on the next board in time, with a tree on the future board if you planted the seed in the past. You can squish someone against a shrub, but a tree will fall over if it’s pushed, after which it’s an immovable object suitable for squishing. The second module adds statues, which propagate through later timelines, and which you can push or pull on one board to have them move on later boards as well. That means you can push a statue into an empty space on the past board and have the copy of that statue on the future board push an opponent’s token, possibly murdering them. The third module adds elephants with hats, and I won’t spoil the fourth module at all.

The game adds one more level of complexity by forcing you to start your move on a different board each turn. Each player has a focus token that is set next to one board, and after your move, you must shift the focus token to either of the other two boards. Planning a sequence of moves becomes more difficult in this environment—you can think of what you’re going to do, and how your opponent will respond, but then your countermove will have to be on a different board entirely, which might mean it’s not a countermove at all. Of course, you’ll try to set up multiple traps, if you can, but your opponent will too, and you can’t always guess where they’ll shift their focus from turn to turn. That makes TTYKM more chaotic without making it more random, which is its greatest strength. It’s not quite as good as Santorini for two-player chess-like games, but offers something new for fans of this style of game, and the inclusion of the four modules implies that there will be more expansions and variants to come.

Keith Law is the author of The Inside Game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.