Back when we used to be able to casually visit other people in their homes, I’d sometimes come across a lovely little chess set sitting on a table or a shelf. Invariably it would be covered in dust, like a poorly maintained artifact in a rundown local historical society museum. That Time You Killed Me is a new chess-like board game with a charming narrative that deserves to be placed on the table and played all year round. My only major complaint is that I wish it was a bit more elegantly manufactured.
Designed by Peter C. Hayward and published by Pandasaurus Games, the $49.99 abstract strategy game pits two time travelers against one another in a fight to the death across the past, present, and future. The timeline is represented by three different game boards and a collection of white and black pawns. On their turn, each player focuses on one point in time, moving their pawn around or back and forth through the timeline. As a result, they’re able to create additional duplicates of themselves.
Once you’ve duplicated yourself, you can team up against your opponent to press their pawns against the edges of the board, thereby eliminating them from the game. Bear in mind that if you’re ever pushed into your own duplicate, the paradox created will destroy both copies at once. The result is a fast and furious game of cats and mice that plays out in just 15 to 30 minutes — sometimes even less. Its simple rules make it easy to return to without having to refresh yourself with the rulebook. It’s just the thing to leave out on the table or a shelf, playing rounds in passing with a friend or partner throughout the day.
But the scenario that I’ve just described is only one of four main variants that you’ll unlock over the course of play. Every alternative comes sealed inside a little box, each one containing new plastic miniatures, envelopes of cards, and more. That Time You Killed Me isn’t a legacy-style game per se, but it uses the same kind of pacing to slowly add complexity over multiple playthroughs.
Best of all, the climax of the narrative spirals (predictably) out of control, expanding the replay potential significantly by mashing together rules from all of the different variants included in the box, and adding even more on top. It all adds up to one of the most complex two-player games that I’ve played in a long, long time. There are some pacing issues, mind you: Things don’t really pick up mechanically until the fourth or fifth playthrough, but moving quickly to the second and third sets of secret components is an easy way to round off that particular sharp edge.
The trouble, though, is that all the bits feel a little cheap. The pawns themselves are top-heavy, and prone to falling over. Other components are warped and won’t lay flat on the table. Additionally — and this is going to sound completely off the wall, but I don’t want to spoil anything — I just can’t get these little pork pie hats to stay on the elephants’ heads.
Produced differently, I could see placing a copy of That Time You Killed Me somewhere in my home and lavishing attention on it a little bit every day. But as it stands, this feels more like a filler game — something to bring out as a novelty in between other, more substantial experiences. That’s a shame, because the writing and the game itself have a lot more depth than it might appear at first glance. Here’s hoping a deluxe version with remastered components comes out some day.
That Time You Killed Me is available now. The game was reviewed with a pre-release copy provided by Pandasaurus. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.