What would Warhammer without the war be like? What if the green fields of a tabletop ‘battlefield’ were actually an apple orchard, or sheep pen, or a forest full of bugs? Well, there’s a whole online community of wargamers exploring that question, creating pacifist ‘peacegames’ that are delighting hobbyists and their kids alike.
The NonCombatTabletop Discord is home to a community of creative gamers making free, non-violent miniature games. The games have simple descriptive titles, like Applepicking28, Dogwalking28, or Herding28, that tell you exactly what to expect from the game – pick apples! Walk dogs! Herd sheep!
The -28 suffix shows the group’s origin in the Inq28 movement, an online community of hobbyists who explore the fringes of the many Warhammer 40k factions and Warhammer Age of Sigmar armies, creating unique conversions and homebrew games. The scene has a DIY attitude and regularly produces weirdo wargames, like Turnip28 – Napoleonic warfare with a strong emphasis on root vegetables – and Necropolis28 – which can be handily summed up as Warhammer meets Dark Souls.
But how did the ‘war’ get lost from the wargames that the NonCombatTabletop community creates? “In the beginning there was COVID and quarantine-boredom combined with a family packed too long together”, says creator Hydra. Having exhausted every idea to entertain his young family, Hydra’s partner suggested he should paint some miniatures with his older son Lenny, then four years old.
Hydra picked a Folk Rabble kit from Fireforge games to build with his son, a gang of mediaeval peasants armed with farming implements, among them a hayfork. “My son asked me if that was for picking apples (we’d picked a lot the previous autumn) and I thought that this was a good idea”. When Lenny asked what they would do with the models, Hydra told him “we are going to play the apple picking game”.
That design would become ApplePicking28. Hydra says that Lenny contributed so many ideas, the game is “mostly his work”. The four-year old decided the game should be collaborative, and picked the game’s antagonist, a flock of birds that will devour the apple crop if the players aren’t swift enough.
Hydra shared the process of his son designing the game, painting miniatures, and building the board on social media: “I showed him how to remove stuff from the frames and glue models together… a four year old can handle super glue, if you give him a helping hand. He sanded the board, painted, dry-brushed, flocked… Everything your average table-topper would do”.
The photo diary proved popular on Instagram, so Hydra ran a community challenge for people to create their own minis. “A good bunch of insta-famous-people heeded the call. We even had Nicky Grillet (back then working in the GW Studio) making some 40k Applepickers”, Hydra says. Lenny judged the competition: “he decided everybody won, because every entry was amazing in its own way”.
Hydra wrote up the rules and made them available freely online. That might have been the end of the story, were it not for Tara Dillenburger-Keenan, aka ManglingMinis, discovering Applepicking28 “about a year after it came out”. Dillenburger-Keenan says: “after having a go at making a game or two myself, I thought that it would be fun to have a go at the non-combat stuff, simply because it’s an interesting constraint”.
Dillenburger-Keenan’s game was Herding28. “Without wanting to sound too far up my own arse, I think it helped to revitalise interest in Applepicking28/non-combat tabletop games, and a few others started making their own games inspired by the idea”, he says.
Fellow creator Twabbis agrees. “After Mangling Minis posted Herding28 on some of the discords and @Apocrypha_Now got Fishing28 made and posted, I got a fire under my ass and finally typed out Dogwalking28 and got it posted around…”
More games followed. Matt Farmer, creator of Children of the Village, points to cross-pollination into another online community as factor in the growth of the movement. “I think another key moment was Hydra sharing the Applepicking28 rules in the Necropolis28 Discord – it set off a big conversation there about non-combat games”.
The creators initially shared ideas via an Instagram group chat and in other community Discords, but that rapidly became untenable, and they moved to their current home, the NonCombatTabletop Discord. It’s open to the public: you can find the rules for all the games, discover models created by the community, and make your own contributions. It’s also packed with resources to support people who want to create their own games.
The creators are proud of what they’ve created and the mini-movement they’re part of. “It felt pretty apparent to me that nonviolent games like this were something special”, Twabbi says. Dillenburger-Keenan says his hobby time “has exploded into a cacophony of odd little games” since becoming part of the indie gaming scene.
For Hydra, his son remains a massive inspiration. “I know the world is cruel, but the longer I can give him a safe space to grow and develop, with as little violence as possible, the better”.
I’ve tried out Herding28 with my own daughter, using my wargaming scenery and her huge collection of little animals. We had a hoot as she drove a herd of narwhal around a field using a humpback whale – it’s well worth giving it a shot.
With thanks to the members of the NonCombatTabletop Discord for their assistance with this article, and the use of their images.