Traditional Board Games

Traditional Board Games for Three

Nyout publicity photograph
Nyout publicity photograph

Sunday, 12th October 2014

Most traditional board games are for two players. The classics known throughout the West, chess, draughts and backgammon, are all two-player games. Larger groups often turn to modern games for entertainment, but there are plenty of traditional games that will serve too, and can be used as fillers in a regular game night.

Three-player games are more difficult to find than four-player games. There are a number of traditional games that cater specifically for four; those accommodating three are few and far between. For that reason I'll start with the three-player games, and leave four players till next week.

The usual choice for my own gaming group is Chinese Checkers, which accommodates two, three, four or six. When four play we prefer halma, and when two play, grasshopper, all three games being variants of one another.

Kerala is one of few games specifically designed for three. Information about this game is very difficult to obtain. I found it in Botermans' book "The World of Games" from 1989 and Bell's 1969 "Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations", but for the moment it's on my list of potentially modern games passing themselves off as ancient.

The little-known leapfrog game described by H. J. R. Murray plays well with three, or indeed any number of players two or more. A smaller board would probably serve better when only three are playing.

Nyout is another three-player game that my own gaming group likes to play. We often use it to round off the night. Nyout has a very modern-looking twist to its rules. It supports two, three or four players, but the more players there are, the fewer pieces are used by each. This helps to keep some kind of balance in the game, so that its flavour and tactics remain fairly constant no matter how many play.

Two Indian square race games are good for three players. Saturankam and Thaayam each support two, three or four players, and three can play without issues of imbalance.

There are two interesting three-player games not yet covered by this site. The first, called poo, is a mancala game played by almost the same rules as wari. The board starts out with three pieces per hole, and players divide the board up so that two players each take four holes from one end of each row, and the third player has the remaining four holes, two on each row. The rules otherwise proceed as in wari.

The second game is the game of the three kingdoms, and is a variant of xiang qi. Described in Murray's 1913 book "A History of Chess", it adds one extra piece to the array and has a hexagonal board. I hope to add it to the site before long, as I think it deserves more attention.

There are undoubtedly more traditional board games for three, and in time I'll surely add some of them to the site. Next week I'll turn my attention to four-player games.


As a card-player, I've always liked three-player games. Two board games designed specifically for three are my Shoulder to Shoulder (1975) and Bruce Whitehill's Talat (2008). Links:

David Parlett - 13:08, 23/05/2017

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