I have created a board game based on the epic 'Three Kingdoms' by Luo Guanzhong. I can't call it 'Three Kingdoms' because there are too many games called that. I want to call it Sān Qí 三棋 because it sounds good to English speakers. I have only studied very basic Mandarin. Would Sān Qí 三棋 sound wrong to a Chinese person? Maybe it is a slang or swear word. Maybe it already means something else. Maybe it doesn't make sense. Is it ok to call my game Sān Qí 三棋? If not is 三龙棋 Sān Lóng Qí better? (I have searched for 三棋 and it looks like the only match is for 成三棋 which is the game 'nine mens morris' in English. This seems to show 三棋 is ok, because the combination 三棋 exists, but is still a unique name because I'm not using 成, but I can't be sure.)

3 Answers 3


Without knowing anything about your newly minted board game, a new comer, especially a Chinese or someone having some knowledge of Chinese, would first of all subconsciously form in his mind what your "☰" means or represents. 棋 by itself of course doesn't say much as every board game is a 棋

It could therefore represent the following:-

--- something to do with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, 三國演義, which already exist in "三國志, Sangokushi, lit. "Records of the Three Kingdoms"), a series of turn-based tactical role-playing simulation grand strategy war games. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_of_the_Three_Kingdoms_(video_game_series)

--- or something to do with 乾 "Qián" represented by the three unbroken lines "☰" of the 8 Bagua Trigrams, meaning the Heaven/Firmament 天 "Tiān"

--- or something to do with the Christian Trinity, 三位一体, which may lead to an even greater misunderstanding.

--- or it may be misunderstood to mean a game about "Romantic Triangular Relationships" -- 三角恋

The point being that the #3 has lots of connotations already, carrying diverse baggages.

I am not being negative, but seeing it as I see it.

三棋 itself, though not taken yet, appears too short a name, bearing in mind the "Syllable Theory" that the number of syllables in a word or phrase is critical to its communicative function, like "123", "ABC", "IBM", "CCTV", "CIA", "FBI"

I suppose that's why @Tang Ho says it sounds lazy and undescriptive.

What to put between 三 & 棋?

It is your decision of course. But how about 三義棋 or 三义棋, (simplified), which immediately conjures up the Romance of the Three Kingdoms epic.

I think the simplified form, 三义棋, has better visual appeal.

Finally 三义棋 in alphabet form = SanYiqi = is visually uncomplicated, and easy to remember.

Good Luck.

  • Thanks Wayne. Understanding those many possible meanings is very helpful. From all the comments I think I will use a longer 'official' name but it is ok to stick with 三棋 for English speakers, and maybe it can even be a shorthand for Chinese speakers. I'm looking in Google translate and some web searches for 三义, and I get 'Righteous Three' or a town. Can you clarify what about Romance of the Three Kingdoms this conjures up? Is it the peach garden oath brotherhood of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei? or Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan? or is it another way of saying 'three kingdoms'? Dec 21, 2021 at 8:40
  • When the Chinese talks about 义 or 义气, brotherly loyalty, the oath of sworn brotherhood at the Peach Garden by Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei is used as an idiomatic example. Since 3 persons were involved in this 义气 thing, so 三义 or 三棋 would hopefully automatically conjures up in the minds of people this seminal episode in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, 三國演义, upon which your game is founded. A literal, non-contextual definition of 三义, Righteous Three, is not helpful because people would associate 三义 with 三國演义, as 3 persons were involved and it's about 义, and coincidentally 3 Kingdoms, 三國, as well. Dec 21, 2021 at 11:01
  • I am not Chinese, but I do find 三义棋 intriguing. It suggests a meaning like "three takes on righteousness/duty," which is exactly in keeping with the original meaning of what Romance of the Three Kingdoms is in Chinese 三国演义 ("Three Kingdoms carry out righteousness/their duty). 三棋 just suggests something like "the Three Board Game(s)" and is not even as elegant sounding as "The Board Game of Three" might be in English. 三国棋 also works, but sounds to me either slightly pretentious or slightly boring: "the Board Game about the Three Kingdoms" or "A(nother) Board Game about the Three Kingdoms." Dec 21, 2021 at 15:02
  • @Vegawatcher. Herein lies OP's dilemma. He has to decide who his potential target players are to be. Those who know the Chinese language and the 3 Kingdoms epic well, like yourself, and those who either know a little or not at all. The valid point about keeping it bare bone short and sweet is discussed in other Comments. That argument too has merit. Perhaps that's why OP has decided to have the best of both worlds, namely, a Long and a Short Title. Dec 21, 2021 at 15:28

It is fine to call it "SAN QI" in English, as long as it sounds good

but The Chinese name 三棋 sounds lazy and undescriptive

I don't see anything wrong with 三国棋. If you think 三国 is too common, you can add something to make it more unique, for example, 三国纵横(棋)、三国争霸(棋)、 三国攻略(棋) or 三国战棋

Chinese and English names of a game do not have to be a direct translation of each other Chinese name for "GO" is 圍棋

  • Thanks for a very fast reply and suggestions. I'm worried that 三国棋 will have a copyright issue, or be confused with the computer game. I think I will use one of the longer names in Mandarin and use the shortened SAN QI or maybe Zhàn Qí for English speakers. I will be starting in English with English speakers, but I want to make sure Chinese people will like it. Dec 21, 2021 at 5:09
  • We never call computer games as 棋,
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 21, 2021 at 5:22
  • That is very good to know. Understanding these nuances is exactly why I'm asking here. This forum is great. Dec 21, 2021 at 5:32
  • @BillPascoe I wouldn't recommend any of the longer names because there are countless (pc/mobile) games with similar names and they are usually rip-off games and do not have a good reputation. "三棋" is way better. Maybe it is so simple that nobody uses it as the name of their game. (BTW: I'm from Mainland China.)
    – Betty
    Dec 21, 2021 at 6:07
  • Thanks Betty. I thought 三棋 might work as something extra simple - like an abbreviation that is easy in common speak "Want to play 三棋 tonight?" The tip about there many rip-offs is good to know. I hope like Tang says, that 棋 will make it clear it is a board game. But now there is another comment saying 三棋 might imply lots of other undesirable things. This is getting confusing, but so long as 三棋 is not bad, I can use a longer 'official' name but promote with 三棋 as a shortened form. Dec 21, 2021 at 8:16

很好! I will use 三义棋 as the proper long name, and 三棋 for English speakers (and lazy modern Chinese speakers ;) English speakers are happy saying San Qi and remember it easily. Everyone here seems to think 三义棋 works. The game is more about clever strategy like Kong Ming and Cao Cao, but duelling heroes is part of the game, and it is very much about winning loyalty - so the connotations of the peach garden brotherhood are good. Also, I see that 义气 ('loyalty') in pinyin is 'yìqì' so although it is a different tone, 三义棋 Sān yì qí (Three Righteous Chess), sounds a bit like 三义气 Sān yì qì (Three Loyal) - so it works as a phonetic pun (I guess?) - as well has referencing the 义 character in 三国演义. I wish I understood mandarin a 1000 times better - I love how all those layers of meaning work with just a few characters and syllables. (If anyone is interested 三棋 will appear in kickstarter soon and instructions will be on a website next year. It's played on a 围棋 board with simple pieces but endless strategic possibilities and is designed to capture the spirit of 三国演义.) 谢谢!

  • All the best for your game initiative. Glad to have played a trivial part. In keeping with the "Yi" pun, my contribution is -- 小意事, "Xiǎo yì shì" :) Dec 22, 2021 at 6:25
  • BTW, that 义 word, to non-Chinese speakers seeing it for the first time, seems to have some "mystical" appearance / quality to it. It looks like 2 hands "levitating" an object with some kind of invisible energy. And of course it has 3 strokes. Dec 22, 2021 at 6:47
  • And, 三义 in total has 6 strokes, which in the Hokkien dialect is pronounced "Luck" :) Dec 22, 2021 at 6:59
  • Before I forget, 6 is pronounced in the Cantonese dialect as "Luk" which means "Prosperity" as in the 3 Deities of Chinese mythology, "Fuk Luk Sau", -- "Wealth, Prosperity, Longevity" Dec 22, 2021 at 7:07

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