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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Newbiehammer Army Overview: Tyranids

Back again from the dead to provide you with more awesome tips for emergent Warhammer 40k players. Real life makes fools of us all and so I really must try to get back in the habit of blogging. Anyhoo, I knew when I started these army overviews that sooner or later I was going to need some help eventually, since I'm far from experienced with every army in the game. Luckily for me my facebook friend Mhoram Freeman volunteered to fill in as my resident "bug guy" and write me up a handy guide to playing and playing against the voracious swarms of the Tyranid codex. I've only played against 'nids a handful of times and each time has been an ordeal because the creatures it had were so different from any of the other armies that I didn't know where to start attacking, and before I knew it the beasts were in amongst my lines and ate half my army before I could say "bwuh?" Anyway, I'm going to hand it off to Mhoram and let him explain the ins and outs of playing Tyranids while I get back to my usual debauchery.
In the vast universe of Warhammer 40,000, it's sometimes easy to forget that everything that happens, every race that is encountered, is local to the Milky Way galaxy alone.
Tyranids are the exception.
Tyranids first appeared some two and a half centuries ago. Worlds that had previously been teeming with life were discovered to dead hunks of rock floating in space. The tech-priest monitoring the situation from the heavily fortified world of Tyran dutifully filed his reports, but in an empire as vast as the Imperium, oddities are common and often neglected.
Eventually, a xenos fleet more than a thousand vessels in size appeared in the skies above Tyran and immediately launched an assault. In less than a day, the defensive fleet, defense lasers, and imperial guard regiments defending Tyran were all destroyed.
A suspicious Inquisitor arrived some weeks later to investigate the situation, only to find Tyran to be yet another world reduced to dead rock. The tech-priest at Tyran had cunningly hidden a pict-recording of the attack within the crust of the world itself. Retrieving this, Inquisitor Kryptman was able to learn the full extent of the new horror about to be visited upon the Imperium. This horror he named the Tyranids, for the first world where the Imperium had encountered them.

The Tyranids are the most inhuman of all xenos the Imperium must deal with. Even their weapons and ammunition are individual living entities. They are a numberless horde of beasts whose only goal is to feed, and to grow the hive. They descend upon worlds in their masses and slay every living thing they can find. When victory is certain, the world is stripped of all biomass, and everything – even the Tyranids themselves – is consigned to the digestion pool. The biomass is aborbed back into the hive ships, whereupon it is used to create more Tyranids. Thus, there is no such thing as a pyrrhic victory for a Tyranid force – even their own dead are reused as biomass.

In the lore, Tyranids operate as a series of individual hive fleets. The ships are as alive as any other Tyranid, and as numberless as the battlefield hordes. Due to the fact that Tyranids produce everything, even their ships, from the biomass gathered from the digestion pools, even a handful of surviving hive-ships can produce a full-strength hive fleet eventually if they attack weaker target worlds first. The hive fleets that have invaded so far are but the vanguard of the Tyranid forces, and the threat posed by the Tyranids is so immense that it is estimated the Imperium must increase Imperial Guard conscription rates by at least 500% simply to delay the end.

The final point of lore to mention of that of the Hive Mind. Tyranids do not really have individual minds. They are controlled by the gestalt consciousness of the Hive Mind. The Hive Mind, as its name suggests, does not have a physical form. Rather, it is a monstrous psychic mind that links the individual beasts of the Tyranid hordes together, enabling them to operate with frightening tactical acumen.

Tyranids on the gaming table:

The Tyranids exist in numbers far too great for even the Hive Mind to control each and every creature individually. Thus, certain powerful beasts, termed “synapse creatures”, are used as psychic conduits to relay the will and command of the Hive Mind to the lesser Tyranids. In-game, this is represented by the “instinctive behavior” rules, which cause most lesser Tyranids to either run for cover, or charge recklessly at the nearest enemy, when not within a certain distance of at least one synapse creature.

Tyranid Warriors:
Almost certainly the most common and most important synapse creatures around, Tyranid Warriors have a very good statline and a rather excellent range of choice for both melee and ranged biomorphs (weapons). They come in three forms: the standard Tyranid Warrior is a troops choice, meaning they can be the mainstay of your army, and they come in a brood of 3-9 Warriors. The “Tyranid Prime” is an HQ choice. Though deployed as a lone creature, it can be attached to a brood of other Tyranids, and confers bonuses upon a brood of Warriors if attached to one. It also has a superior statline and weapon selection to the regular Warrior. The third variety is the winged Warrior, named a “Shrike”. The statline is a bit weaker, but Shrikes move faster than other Warriors, thus provided much-needed synapse support to your advance units. They come as a fast attack choice, with the same numbers and biomorph options as regular Warriors.
My preferred methodology for Warriors is to give them all scything talons and deathspitters, with a single heavy weapon for the brood, and use them as midrange fire support, advancing at a steady march to provide synapse for the smaller creatures such as gaunts (more on those later).

Hive Tyrant:
The Hive Tyrant is one of the most powerful individual Tyranids. Being a monstrous creature, it ignores armour saves, which can really mess with armies like Space Marines or Chaos Space Marines, where the armour save matters a lot and every unit lost really hurts. It has one of the best statlines of any unit in the codex, and has access to the best biomorphs and the heaviest weapons. They can be accompanied by up to three Tyrant Guard, and in my opinion always should be. A Hive Tyrant with Tyrant Guard takes a fairly absurd amount of firepower to kill, and nobody is going to want to get into melee combat with that unit. In fact, that unit is nicknamed the “deathstar” for how deadly and unstoppable it is. Even should the enemy manage to kill the Tyrant, that won't make things any easier, as the Tyrant Guard will gain special rules making them even more powerful and promptly rampage through the enemy.
While Hive Tyrants do have access to some VERY excellent ranged biomorphs and have the statline necessary to put them to good use, I personally would never give a Tyrant one of the ranged bioweapons. They're almost purpose-built for melee combat, and on the frontline is where they belong, using their psychic powers to mess the enemy up and their claws and talons to shred everything in reach.
The major downside to using a Tyrant is the heavy points cost. A single Tyrant with no upgrades costs about as much as a full Space Marine tactical squad, and it only gets worse if you add in Tyrant Guard and/or expensive biomorphs, so you'd best be ready to make heavy use of your Tyrant. Personally I usually stick to the cheaper options (no additional cost for using two sets of scything talons, for example) and have the Tyrant target the most points-expensive infantry units or monstrous creatures the enemy has.

These boys are nasty. A rarity among Tyranids, they can operate outside of synapse range with no problem. They're ferocious melee creatures that can tear through even a hardened unit of Space Marines like paper if they can get into charging range. To help them do so, they have the infiltrate special rule, and can also take a mycetic spore (more on those later). They don't have a huge number of biomorph options available, but to be honest, they don't really need them. Finally, they can upgrade one model per brood to a Broodlord, a powerful psychic genestealer with an even more impressive statline.
There are two main methods to using Genestealers that I use, but I'll only suggest one here. It simply involves a couple of small, sacrificial broods of maybe five genestealers each. Infiltrate these broods near important targets and have them move quickly to destroy those targets, then rampage among nearby enemy units until they're inevitably gunned down (because really, nobody will leave genestealers free to run through their lines). This is particularly effective against fragile ranged enemies such as Imperial Guard heavy weapons teams or Eldar rangers and pathfinders.
There are of course plenty of other valid ways of putting your genestealers to use. Just be aware they're one of the most expensive troops choices in the codex.


These are the rank-and-file creatures of the Tyranid swarm. In fluff, the hive mind will often throw Gaunts by the thousand at the enemy simply to expend enemy ammunition before the main assault. This shows impressively in the rules for the Termagant. They're weak and fragile units available in enormous broods for an absolutely tiny expenditure of points. There's even an HQ choice, the Tervigon, which can constantly spawn more Termagants for you in-game, and that can provide an enormous advantage for you as your opponent struggles to contain the ever-growing horde. It's worth adding here that for each brood of termagants in your army list, you can add a Tervigon as a troops choice instead of an HQ choice.
The base weapon of the Termagant is the fleshborer, a fairly weak, short-ranged assault weapon. There are a number of other weapons available, and most of them are quite cheap to use. All have their weaknesses, because a brood this cheap just can't be permitted to have powerful weapons, but in spite of that the sheer volume of firepower that even one or two broods can level means that they'll quickly earn back the points spent on them. If all else fails, they can simply charge into melee and keep a much more expensive and powerful enemy unit tied down for the entire game because it lacks the number of attacks necessary to cut through such huge numbers of gaunts.
The main piece of advice I'll offer here is that if you're going to take termagants in your army, take some warriors and/or tervigons as well for synapse purposes. Termagants become quite useless outside synapse range.

The melee equivalent to termagants. Roughly as cheap and weak, but with melee biomorphs instead of ranged ones. If you can get a brood of hormagaunts into charging range of an enemy unit, that unit will probably die. The sheer number of attacks means that rule of averages will be weighed far in favour of the hormagaunts. Unlike termagants, they won't become entirely useless outside of synapse range, though it's still a good idea to keep them near a synapse creature or two regardless.


These are elite units coming in small broods (1-3). They emit clouds of toxic spores which are lethal to enemies that approach and can help conceal other Tyranids. In-game, this is represented by Tyranid units near venomthropes gaining a significant bonus to their cover saves, or being given a cover save when not already in cover. Enemies within the reach of the spores must also take dangerous terrain tests (they take wounds if they fail). Finally, with a fairly solid statline for a Tyranid creature and poisoned attacks in melee that cause wounds on a roll of 2+, the venomthrope is not only an incredible support beast but a fierce combatant in its own right. Very much worth using, and they can be deployed with mycetic spores as well.


You all know what artillery is, I assume? Right. Now imagine that when artillery shells miss their targets, instead of exploding uselessly, they start rolling around looking for an enemy, and explode upon coming into contact with anything that isn't an ally. That's what a biovore is in a nutshell. They're the only artillery unit available to the Tyranids. Allegedly created from consumed Ork DNA, they hurl spore mines instead of explosive shells. If the spore mine hits an enemy, it explodes impressively and deals out a lot of hurt. If it misses, the spore mines will become a brood under your control, moving around in randomly-determined directions until coming into contact with any non-Tyranid unit, at which point they explode violently. Oh, and they're hurled 3 at a time in a barrage. These things can cause serious hurt to enemy infantry and light vehicles.
Spore mines can also be taken as an individual choice, though there's really no need when you can produce them in-game like this. Biovores are quite weak in melee combat, so keep them back from the front lines, but they're moderately tough to kill for a Tyranid, so not entirely defenseless if it comes down to it.

Zoanthropes/Hive Guard:

These two creatures are the Tyranids answers to enemy vehicles. The zoanthrope has a short-ranged high strength lance attack (and the bonus of being a synapse creature). The “lance” special rule gives it a huge advantage against enemy vehicles. Unfortunately the short range means that the zoanthrope needs to get right in among the enemy lines to make use of this attack (it's worth taking a mycetic spore to help with this), and there's a fair chance that it'll get shot to pieces very quickly, so they're a bit of a sacrificial unit, but still VERY worth using.
Hive guard by contrast have less strength on their attacks and more range. They also don't need line of sight, which can be VERY helpful.

This has dragged on a little longer than I'd expected, so I'll cover one final important Tyranid unit, the Mycetic Spore:

These are the only transports the Tyranids have. They're roughly equivalent to the Space Marine drop-pods. Certain Tyranid broods have the option of being deployed via mycetic spore, which allows you to drop them to a place of your choosing on the gameboard partway through the game. The spores themselves can also be upgraded with weapons and such, though I personally wouldn't bother. They have quite a weak statline and are entirely immobile once they land. Nonetheless, for some units – primarily gaunts, zoanthropes, warriors – mycetic spores are very much worth using. The advantages they confer can make the difference between victory and defeat.

There are many, many more units worth mentioning in the Tyranid codex. A Tyranid army can range from swarms numbering in the hundreds to a relative handful of monstrous creatures, each capable of destroying almost anything thrown at it. I could write for days without covering every creature or every possible army style. The main advice I'll give:
Protect your synapse creatures, without them you're screwed.
Keep smaller tyranids in cover as much as possible, they're very fragile.
Be prepared to let a brood or two perish for the greater good of the game.
Enemy units to watch out for: squads with flamers, snipers, artillery.
If you're considering starting a Tyranid army, the Tyranid Battleforce is actually a great place to start. It comes with termagants, hormagaunts, warriors, genestealers, and ripper swarms. It's a rare example of a Battleforce box that was actually well thought-out and is worth buying.

For those who are coming up against Tyranid opponents, bring flamers. Those are always useful. Units that can move around quickly such as Eldar warp spiders or jump-pack equipped Space Marines are very useful as well, it can be hilarious watching a brood of Carnifexes chase a couple of assault marines all around the board because they slipped out of synapse range for a moment and failed their instinctive behavior checks. Expect to take heavy losses even if the Tyranids never actually reach your line, and have backup plans for every possibility you can think of. Units to watch out for: The “deathstar” brood, genestealers, zoanthropes, tervigons, biovores.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment here and I'll be sure to get an answer to you.

Well, I dunno about you guys but I feel informed. Keep an eye here for more frequent posts and more newbiehammer goodness. Cheers!


  1. These little guys are pretty unique and artistic. I really like them!

  2. Welcome back my friend.
    Amazing post here!