Saturday 30 May 2020

Army Review: Tyranids - with cunning colubrine and malice viperine and sleights serpentine

Well time for another army review and, as it's been absolutely sweltering up here in Cumbria (well over 12 degrees!), I was inspired to turn our living room table in to an inhospitable Death World and give a warm Catachan welcome to the Tyranids!

These monstrosities were painted up for a game I played few years back for BOYL 2017 - a most enjoyable game which saw waves of my bugs assaulting a very competent Imperial defense line owned by Jamie of Legio Custodes fame.

However, since then they have lain dormant and other than that battle report, they never really got their own feature on the blog.

As I've plenty of time on my hands, having been furloughed till July now, I thought it was about time to redress the balance!

I've never been massively in to Tyranids and once the new models came out for 2nd ed. I kind of lost track of what was what. I was somewhat out of my comfort zone when it came to painting them too and it took a while to settle on a colour scheme I liked - and more importantly could replicate quickly without too much effort, as I had amassed quite a multitude of miniatures spanning the old Rogue Trader era to 2nd ed. and beyond.

Some of the brighter more intricate schemes just looked a bit garish and a lot of work to me and I didn't want to copy the classic GW red colour scheme that the old GW studio army sported.

After a lot of trawling the internet, looking at various species of crabs, spiders, crayfish and reptiles I finally came across some pictures of a lovely looking and heavily converted Tyranid army that was based on Hivefleet Ouroborous.

The lovely muted and more naturalistic tones really appealed to me - as did the handy tutorial to easily achieve them!

Now I don't know too much about the background of newer editions of 40K and nothing really about the different Hivefleets but the name Ouroborous appealed to me, as did the reference to the ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon consuming its own tail in an endless cycle of life, death and rebirth - quite fitting for Tyranids really!

I even spotted The Worm Ouroborous by E. R. Eddison in our local charity shop whilst I was contemplating how to tackle my Tyranid swarm and had to buy it - surely a sign! The book has nothing to do with Tyranids obviously, other than sharing a theme of endlessly recurring cycles as signified by the title. At the risk of going too far off topic, the book is in fact more of a Chivalric Romance set on Mercury and is concerned with the heroic deeds in the war between Demonland and Witchland! Demons and Witches aren't what we think of them these days which is a little jarring and the style is certainly rather florid - an interesting read though and a work that influenced Tolkien, predating Lord of the Rings by more than thirty years. The quote in the title is taken from the book in case you were wondering and illustrates nicely the snake-like cunning the Tyranids operate with.

So I had an achievable colour scheme, a quick and simple painting method and a thematic link to some high-brow literature - time to look at the gribblies that would make up the swarm!

Now this army really started off as a daydream years ago when I bought White Dwarf 145 and first laid eyes on those brilliant Tyranid Army Cards! 

Recreating that army was going to be prohibitively expensive (especially if I wanted Squig Swarms!) and I had already tipped my hat to this list with my Genestealer Cult. So I looked forward to the 2nd ed. list to add even more variety. 

First up are the Hormagaunts - nasty, fast and lethal. These horrors are able to leap like giant monstrous fleas with their spring loaded legs and can add an extra 6" on to their 12" charge range. Not only that but intervening terrain doesn't impede them as they sail right over it. I hadn't originally envisioned fielding any of these as I wanted to stay closer to the flavour of the 1st ed. army cards. However, I ended up with this bunch after buying up several mixed and damaged lots and as every Tyranid Dominatrix says - Waste not, want not!

I was over the moon to track down no less than three of the old Screamer Killers (none of this Carnifex nonsense!) on ebay and didn't end up paying an arm, a leg or even a scything talon for them - unlike a couple of the models I picked up as they seemed to be missing various limbs!  


One of them came without any arms at all - hence the low price. I tracked down some spare sprues from the more modern Tyranid kits and they fit rather nicely - good to have a bit of variation of pose too.

One of the other chaps only had one leg but luckily I'd somehow ended up with a spare in my collection.

The third I think I got through the trading page on the Lead Adventure forum many years ago - great to get him some company and on to the battlefield!

To make sure I could get value for money from this army I wanted it to work in 2nd ed as well as for Rogue trader - especially with the size of it as that would more likely be the rules set I'd be using if fielding as a whole. 

I'd have to include some Hive Tyrants to achieve this and ended up with three of them! It was more a case of ending up with various bits of them in different junk lots that just happened to make up three full models than any power list building - honest!

I think only one of these Tyrants is actually all 100% original parts - again my growing bits box of spare parts came in handy - I was becoming quite the Bio-Engineer myself!

Again, nice to have some variation, especially in these more independently minded and individualistic bio-constructs.

Lictors were another creature type that weren't originally on my shopping list. Beggars can't be choosers and again I ended up with a few full models and various bits and pieces.

I have to admit not being a huge fan of Lictors when the new models came out. I thought the miniature was a little goofy with those tentacles coming out of where its nose/snout should be and I couldn't get my head round how such a large creature could be so hard to spot - even if it did have cameleonic scales and little to no body heat. Predators obviously are an entirely different matter and entirely plausible! 

Having painted a few up, I've come round to their gangly charms and when compared with the even newer and rather uninspiring Lictor model above I think they're pretty great!

An ambush predator that can access the recent memories of its victims' brains by eating them - yes please! It was quite fun matching spare bits to make up complete models too and again rather fitting for this highly intelligent and independent creature to have more variation than the lower Tyranid constructs.

This next beastie is apparently the Red Terror, one of a number of Tyranid character models that first appeared in 3rd ed.(?) and is a type of Ravener - another newer species of Tyranid I'm not overly familiar with. As with many of the other models I bought, this one came as part of a larger lot and it took me a while to identify where the many parts came from and how they went together! I can't say I'm a huge fan of the miniature and, although I've mentioned how some creatures are more independent of the Hivemind than others, I don't really feel that having named characters fits with the whole faceless swarm theme that the Tyranids embody. To me Hive Tyrants and the like are more a relay to boost the Hivemind's influence on the battlefield rather than some named champion with a history. Anyhow, despite it being an absolute bugger to put together, I persevered and I guess I'll run it as another lictor - it it doesn't fall over and self-destruct first!

Another fugly addition to the swarm is the Zoanthrope - a face only a Hivemind could love! This one is a bit of a Frankenstein's Monster of spare parts as I think I only ended up with the arms and head from the original model. Ah well, gets some psychic powers on the table top in any case which is a good thing since I have the Dark Millennium supplement which has only gathered dust since I tracked down a copy!

Now on to some of my real favourites! The old Tyranid warriors always fascinated me - such weird looking things! I remember an old friend of mine getting the Tyranids and Terminators boxed set when we were kids. I don't recall ever seeing them being used as all we played was Space Crusade and Heroquest in those early days and I'm not sure if he ever owned Advanced Space Crusade or not. 

Anyhow I do remember thinking it was very cool that they came with their internal organs sculpted on to their bodies and you had to paint them first before gluing the chitinous rib cage on top. I also loved the look of their bio-weaponry - especially the Death-Spitters. I could have sworn I remember seeing a lovely illustration of the weapon in the same style as the Confrontation weapon rules in WD 143, along with a detailed description of how it worked - must have dreamt it or mixed it up with the passage in the 2nd ed. Tyranid army book as I can find no trace of the illustration!

The description of that spidery creature that lives in the loading mechanism and splits the maggot ammunition out of their chitinous shells still gives me the willies!

I've included a couple of the later metal Tyranid models (I believe there were metal ones made of the 1st ed models but I've never seen one) - not as fond of these but they come with new big guns (Venom Cannon I think?)  for a bit of much needed long range support!

Talking of which, every army needs some big guns and the rather uninspiringly named Biovores fulfill the artillery role rather well - at least in terms of area denial munitions anyway. 

With their range of 100" and the ability to target anywhere on the battlefield, Biovores are an extremely useful tool. Because the spore mines they launch don't explode on impact, they drift randomly, only detonating when they come within 1" of a non-Tyranid target. The resulting explosion can be particularly nasty for infantry, even Space Marines with its -2 save modifier. I forget the vehicle rules so I don't know how dangerous 10+2D3+D6 penetration is to vehicles and fortifications but it sounds good!

Of course you couldn't have Tyranids without Genestealers and who would have known those gnarly, tentacle faced gribblies from the Moons of Ymgarl and the monsters lurking on drifing Space Hulks and amongst shadowy cults on a thousand Imperial worlds were both related to and acted as infiltrators and saboteurs for the Tyranid Hivemind! A lot of mine are the ubiquitous plastic ones that came with Space Hulk although I'm very pleased to have collected five of the far superior metal models.

Last and very definitely least, in terms of the Hivemind's hierarchy at any rate, are the Hunter Slayers (or rather more boringly known as Termagants). These little blighters have to be my favourite Tyranid models of all as you might have guessed by the sheer number of them I own!

Ever since seeing the Proto-Nid in the Rogue Trader rule book, I've wanted to own one. The fact that they are rarer than hens' teeth has precluded that so far so instead I've settled for a horde of these guys - obviously owing a lot of their design to that original Tyranid model.

I've been hoovering these dimunitive horrors up for some time now and scored some pretty nice bargains for decent  sized lots of them over the years. One of which came with these two lovely little conversions below! I've never seen a Hunter Slayer armed with a Lascannon or a Heavy Plasma before but thanks to the weapon charts of Rogue Trader it won't be a problem to field them on the tabletop!

With only two sculpts available there is the small problem of a lack in variation of pose - not a massive issue for me as I've often expressed my fondness for monopose regiments as far as Warhammer Fantasy is concerned. I feel in terms of the Tyranids, it reinforces the impression of hordes of identikit, bio-engineered soldiers surging mindlessly forward, totally devoid of any individuality and I think these Hunter Slayers have a lovely sinuous energy when grouped together like this. I couldn't resist bending a few tails and repositioning a few heads all the same!

So to conclude - what are the next steps for this army? Well, I have a bunch of Gargoyles I never got round to painting back in 2017 that will add some great 2nd ed. air cover and could do with some attention at some point in the future. I also have more of the old plastic Tyranid Warriors that are crying out for some paint but other than that I'm not really planning on adding any more models. I might go back to some of the larger models, when Tyranids are back on the painting table, and add a few more highlights and maybe even some patterning on their chitinous armour though.

I also have a fairly respectably sized Epic Tyranid army that got as far as being base coated in the same colour scheme as their big brothers here. However, I got that far and then set it to one side for one reason and another. It'd be great to finish it up and have matching armies in both scales! 

In fact, while I'm at it there's my Tyranid fleet for Space Fleet that has never really been properly showcased here either. Thanks to Golgfag Paul and Ebay I've acquired a few more Tyranid ships that will also want painting before the fleet makes it on to the blog. 

Having a cohesive Tyranid force in 6mm and 28mm as well as the Hivefleet to transport it in would certainly open up some interesting gaming options.  I remember rather earnestly discussing (with JB in particular if I recall correctly - just check out his beautiful Tyranid ships by the way!) the possibilities of running a series of games that would follow the Tyranid invasion of an Imperial world. Starting with some Space Fleet as the Tyranids arrive in the system, the scenario could include boarding actions using Space Hulk or Advanced Space Crusade to interrupt the fleet action at appropriate moments in the battle. 

Then we'd move to the planet surface as the first waves of Tyranids, or maybe even a Genestealer Cult uprising targets key installations and defences - Rogue Trader might be good here. Then on to larger pitched battles in 28mm using 2nd or even later editions as the conflict escalates, culminating in the climactic final battle using the Epic system. Perhaps impossible or at least very tricky to squeeze all that in to a BOYL weekend, but having run several games of Star Wars Armada and Imperial Assault for my brother and his wife via Zoom, thanks to the Covid Lockdown, who says the players would even have to be in the same room? All this video conferencing business has been new to me, as I'm sure it is with many of you, but surely there's a good use for it in connecting with friends separated by geography, quarantine or both. Just depends who's got a table the game can stay set up on till it's done!


  1. Another mahoosive army Steve, you're making me feel quite a good way ;)

    I agree about the Hunter Slayers. I really loved the look of them in RT. A shame they didn't sculpt anymore of them, but your slight reposing tweaks have made a difference.

    A cool looking army!

    1. Thanks Mr P - amazing what a motivator a looming deadline can be!

      I'd forgotten I also have a bunch of the newer Termagants that came out with the second wave of Tyranid miniatures. They lack the charm of the RT ones but I may paint them yet if only to get a greater variety of weapons on the table like Spike Rifles and Stranglewebs, which can be quite fun.

  2. I think the drawing and description of the deathspitter you are thinking of was in advanced spacefleet gothic. I wouldn't be surprised if white dwarf had an excerpt of that. I love seeing all the old tyranid figs, I had a lot of these before they left my collection.

    1. Cheers Dave - could well be. I'll have to dig out my box of White Dwarfs and have a rummage. Google isn't coming up with the goods!

  3. Looking good mate, like the fact you turned your table into a death world just by putting on that amount of lead alone ;)

    1. Thanks bud - yeah it's a nightmare trying to eat your dinner on it with all those vines and creepers XD We should maybe clear up more often...

  4. Waht good snuggly boys. I love the effect they have en masse.

    1. They are kind of cute - glad I'm not the only one who thinks so! Bit like a shoal of those little fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet...

  5. A stupendous army! Quite terrifying and a nice natural-looking color scheme!

    1. Thanks Mouse - that's what drew me to the colour scheme for sure. I think some of these more garish Tyranid armies just don't look convincing, despite being absolutely beautifully painted. Glad my lot look business-like and threatening - I mean what does a top predator need to warn off with display colours after all!