If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Learn more.

Actual 5D Chess proves that time travel should not be allowed

Horsey to October 2013

Theoretically, I like chess. I learned it at a very young age, and defeated the uncle who taught me, hollowing his soul and cursing myself to a decade with nobody to play it with. That decade probably kept me from being the kind of person who memorises moves and has special names for things from a textbook. In a way, it made me.

5D Chess, on the other hand, makes me feel like that uncle likely did. This is not possible. How. What. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

I have yet to experience a single defeat or victory that I understood. And I don't like it.

The basic idea of 5D Chess is that instead of moving your pieces around as normal, you can (sometimes) send them back in time, to add them to an earlier state that the board was in. It does this not in the Achron way, with its single timeline periodically reordering events and erasing units in an attempt to enforce linear causality.

Instead, whenever a unit goes back in time, a new timeline is formed. This means two boards are now in play, running parallel to each other, and you have to make a move on each of them. You can then move pieces through time again, opening a third timeline, or crossing between the current two.

You might think this makes for some immensely satisfying matches where you and your opponent get embroiled in escalating mindgames and interlinked plots and decoys, only for one of you to pull off a brilliant victory by suddenly moving the piece you sent back in time for no apparent reason 8 moves ago.

What actually happens is that you keep winning games but you have absolutely no idea why. You see this? I'm playing as black here, and I've just won. I didn't question it at first.

Another chess board I have apparently won, even though their king can clearly move away without risk.
"Cuh, pfft, OBVIOUSLY Sin this is Horgden's 9th Upper Galician maneouvre, you amateur. Did you even study chess?"

But then... no. No, this isn't checkmate. They can move their king. And it's not hopeless either. If they move their king to the right, they're fine. I can't even hurt them much on my next turn. Sure, they're clearly on the defensive, and I fancy my chances, but it's still open.

The same chess board as above, with an arrow to mark the safe move for the other player. Sorry, these are really boring images.
An old friend called our playstyle "Erosion Chess". Devastating each other's armies as much as possible is more fun than a rapid technical knockout.

A few games later I think I got why this one was checkmate. After suffering several defeats that were very similar, I learned that you lose the game if you can't make as many moves as there are active timelines. Quite often, if your king only has one escape route, it's all over. This makes a charging queen even more absurdly powerful, and honestly? It's very anticlimactic. I keep being surprised by my own victories.

But it gets weirder than this. When you send a unit back in time, it doesn't move how you'd expect. Say your bishop, which normally moves diagonally, moves to another board. It doesn't go directly to the same physical location, nor does it just transfer its diagonal moves to another board. Instead, each piece has its own new rules on how it moves when going back in time or jumping to another timeline.

It's a fun concept, but what it means in practice is now you have a tonne of new oblique rules to think about, and instead of a single board where you can see every possibility, you now need to scroll around and mentally cross-reference as many boards as there have been turns in the game so far, and potentially multiplied several times if you have several timelines going. And it means that games are often won because now a knight is actively threatening a load of extra squares on a board from six moves ago.

I'll be honest, I kind of hate it. The time travel is one thing, but combining it with the weird physical movement is such a ballache that I just end up playing regular chess instead, doing my best to ignore my opponent's schemes. I am, ironically, like an old European king, idiotically playing pompous games while Napoleon's armies cheat by being competent instead of posh. They didn't understand why they kept losing, and only won kind of by accident, too.

Another chess board, in which I have somehow won even though there's no apparent threat to THREE places the king could escape to.
I stick to one timeline, and only travel in order to chase down and root out fleeing kings. I want a film about this now.

My brain is already an ever shifting Gordian knot of possibilities when I'm not playing chess. I don't need this in my life. But what really gets me is this game:

Again, a hard to describe chess board. Black is in a slightly stronger position, and there are two white kings, neither under threat.
Don't get me wrong, I was still a massive boffin in primary school. If I'd got into chess I'd be insufferable now.

I'm playing as black, right. You might notice that the opponent has two kings - don't worry about that too much. This is the second of two timelines, and their king from the original has fled here. If I capture either of the kings on this board I win. I have a few plans for doing that. I decide to move my pawn on the left to take the white horsey, giving room to bring my castle into play.

The same board as before, but I've moved a pawn on the far left to take a horsey. Neither king is under threat. It says I have now won. It is baffling.
It's probably terrible being extreeeemely good at chess. After a certain point, winning every time must get embarassing.

Oh, that's checkmate. I've won.


When I click on the exclamation mark, a line appears to "explain" that my horsey in the top right corner is... able to take the king in the past? But neither of them has moved for several turns, so why can it do that now but... what?

I hate it when people use castling defensively. Cowards. Send out your king. Outgrow your useless tyrant class. Join us.

For the sake of completeness, here's the other active board. I moved my bishop up a bit, threatening neither king.

Another chess board, this one similar to the last, but white has no kings, and a few minor pieces are in different spots.
I find an unusual trick more satisfying than winning, which probably explains a lot about my life.

WHAT? WHAT? HOW? HOW IN THE EVERLASTING CHRIST WAS THAT A WINNING I mean, uh... ha ha! You see? Foolish challenger! You ignorant peasants should stick to ONE DEE chess, fnaw fnaw. I am very smart.

About the Author

Join the Rock Paper Shotgun supporter program

Sign up today and get access to more articles like these, an ad-free reading experience, free gifts, and help us create more great writing about PC games.

See more information


We love having a friendly, positive and constructive community - you lot are great - and we want to keep it like that. Our main commenting rule is "be excellent to each other". Please see our code of conduct, where you can find out what "be excellent" means. TL;DR? Respect others, think before you post, and be prepared for puns.

More Features

Latest Articles

We've been talking, and we think that you should wear clothes

Total coincidence, but we sell some clothes

Rock Paper Shotgun Merch