A two-player boardgame by George Marino, published 1985 by Geo Games
These comments copyright 2000 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated June 21, 2000

Timeline is an interesting abstract game I picked up from the designer in 1988. It's a chess variant with a bizarre twist: time travel.

The components, at least of my edition, are homemade but serviceable. The 22" x 17" board (56 x 43 cm) is printed on thick paper, and has sixteen small (4x4) chessboards printed in a square pattern. (Misleadingly, the four columns are labeled Mon Tue Wed Thurs.) Each player has four chess pieces: two rooks and two bishops. These aren't standard Staunton shapes, but instead are wood blocks: rectangular solids for the rooks and sharpened quarter cylinders for the bishops. Each piece must be of a different color for the game to work, so one side has the "cool" colors: dark blue, light blue, green and black, while the other side has the "warm" colors: red, orange, yellow and white. Finally, the game comes with many chits of each of the eight colors.

The Premise

Wherever your piece moves, it leaves behind a trail of chits. On every space you pass through, place a chit of your color. This is your timeline - it shows the history of your piece's movement. In this game, you are not allowed to revisit your own past. Thus, no piece may ever move onto or through a space which has its own chit. Likewise, you are not allowed to visit the timeline of any of your other pieces. You are allowed to land on an opponent's timeline, however - and in doing so, you capture him in the past!

If you capture a piece in the past, any action he made after that point is nullified. Remove the piece and all chits between your capturing piece and the current position of the captured piece. If somewhere along that line he captured one of your pieces (his chit will be sitting on top of one of your chits, and that line will end), that capture never happened! Return your captured piece to the space where it's timeline ends, and it may move on your next turn.

The Board

The 16 mini-boards are 3d adjacent to each other. That is, you can move between columns and rows with your rooks and bishops. It's a little awkward to see the movement at first, but once you remember that a bishop always moves to a space of the same color, no matter where it is on the board, and a rook's next space is always of the opposite color, it becomes easier to see the moves.

The Play

So you start at opposite corners of the board, rook-bishop-bishop-rook. The "warm" colors move first: move one piece, placing appropriately colored chits in each space it passes through. Your opponent then moves one piece, and play alternates. You may not move to a space with one of your own chits! It's easy to get tangled up and stuck in a dangerous area of the board, so be careful.

You not only have to guard your piece's current position, as in chess, but you have to guard all your timelines, too. You can be captured in the past, remember, and that might release an opponent you had captured yourself. Oddly enough, the space you capture someone on is safe - because you leave their chit under your piece, and they can't land on a space containing their own color chit. Once you leave the space, of course, you can never go back because your own chit is there, too.

Summing Up

I find this a difficult game to master. I've dabbled at it off and on over the past 12 years, never playing often enough to master it. But I'm always drawn back to it - it's a fascinating game. Like chess, there is no luck except in who moves first. But unlike chess, I haven't learned any standard openings or tactical moves.

It's a very cerebral game, of course, yet I find it moves faster than chess. One thing I've yet to try is Knightmare Timeline - I'm not sure I'm ready for it yet!

At any rate, I'll probably dabble with it the rest of my life. It doesn't draw me enough to want to play it all the time, but once a year or so I'll drag it out and get some poor soul to play it with me. We enjoy the game, have fun dissecting our moves and mistakes, then put it away for another year. If abstract games and chess variants are your thing, you might like it more than I do - and I like it when I do play it. It feels more like an unrelated abstract game than a chess variant, to be honest.

You can (as of this date) still get this game from the designer: $20, shipping within the US included. His address can be found at the web page linked in the next paragraph.

If you want to read the rules, nicely illustrated, with examples, the designer has posted them online at The Chess Variant Pages, a cool site in its own right.

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