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In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, the Tyranids are a race and a playable army in the tabletop miniatures wargame.

The Tyranids are aliens from outside the galaxy who have come to devour all life, one planet at a time. They are collectively controlled by a highly intelligent hive mind which can not be reasoned with. Tyranid forms are numerous; each is bioengineered to serve a single purpose. Tyranid technology comprises living components termed “biomorphs.”


The visual design of the Tyranids was inspired by the art of H. R. Giger, with the genestealer sub-race being further inspired by the Alien from the eponymous franchise.[1]

Tyranids were first described in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, the first edition of the miniature wargame Warhammer 40,000.[2] At that time they were not an emphasised race in the game, instead representing a limited number of occasionally encountered alien antagonists. Their physical appearance was not imposing or especially horrific: they were depicted as six limbed, relatively diminutive creatures (an appearance which would later be assigned to Tyranid termagants). In later iterations of Warhammer 40,000-related products (starting with the release of Advanced Space Crusade) the Tyranids were given a complete makeover and became a major race, popularised by a number of successful expansions.

In the tabletop games[edit]

Warhammer 40,000[edit]

Tyranid infantry units tend to be fast, hard-hitting, but frail. They also have low point values, meaning Tyranid armies in play tend to be large. Tyranids have the most powerful counter-measures against enemies with psychic powers: many Tyranid units possess the "Shadow in the Warp" trait, which makes it harder for nearby enemy psykers to use their powers.

Genestealers are a sub-species of the Tyranid race, and while they can be played as part of a Tyranid army, they can also be played as a separate army in their own right. This genestealer army has human-genestealer hybrids, who to varying degrees resemble humans. Some hybrids look perfectly human, and therefore a player can integrate Imperial Guard units into a genestealer army, passing them off as human-genestealer hybrids.

Space Hulk[edit]

Space Hulk is a spin-off of Warhammer 40,000, which takes place in the corridors of a derelict spaceship. This game features genestealers, which are a sub-species of the Tyranids.


Games Workshop has introduced three main hive fleets, called Behemoth, Kraken, and Leviathan. The most recent Codex has also introduced a number of smaller hive fleets and splinter fleets, such as Hydra and Gorgon, among a number of others, although the book primarily focuses on the three main fleets. It is noted that these names are given by the scholars of the Imperium, rather than the Tyranids themselves. In fact, there is no evidence in the fiction that Tyranids have language or civilisation, at least not as understood by other species native to the Milky Way. In many stories, they communicate with a complex array of insectoid clicking and buzzing noises, as well as reptilian war cries, growls, and hissing sounds. Tyranids are thought to communicate primarily via a strong synaptic link to the so-called Hive Mind.

There have been three major Tyranid hive fleets to date; Hive Fleet Behemoth and Hive Fleet Kraken of whom both were defeated, and Hive Fleet Leviathan, which is one of the current threats to the known galaxy. There are many other Tyranid hive fleets that have been destroyed or are still emerging, such as Hive Fleets Jormungand, Colossus, Tiamet, Scarabus, Ouroboros, Nemesis, Reatherus, Gorgon, and Hydra among many others.

Tyranids were first mentioned in the 1987 rulebook Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader under the heading Tyranids and the Hive Fleets, and were illustrated in a form not too different from that of Gaunts.[2]

The first Tyranids used conventional, non-biological equipment such as lasguns and flak armor (although the rulebook stated that these represented organic equipment with similar capabilities).[3] The principal unit available to the Tyranids was the Zoat, a centaur-like creature enslaved to fight on the behalf of their Tyranid masters.

Games Workshop introduced the first Genestealer figures in 1989 in the game Space Hulk. The first recognisable incarnation of Tyranid warriors appeared in Advanced Space Crusade in 1990, featuring biological weaponry such as boneswords and deathspitters.[4]

Second Edition Warhammer 40,000, released in 1993, featured the Tyranids in the supplemental books Wargear and Codex Imperialis, and then later in their own devoted army Codex. An extensive model range was released, representing most of the units described in these publications. The army was, however, very different from the factions previously seen in the game.[5]

The Tyranid player now had access to a range of unit types roughly equivalent to that of the other factions, including the Hive Tyrant, Termagants, Hormagaunts, the main adversary in Space Hulk Genestealers, Gargoyles previously seen in Epic 40,000, Tyranid Warriors, the Carnifex, Zoanthropes (a Tyranid psyker in addition to the Hive Tyrant), Lictors, and the Biovore.

In the Tyranid supplement to Third Edition Warhammer 40,000 there was an emphasis on revamping the rules for the various units while maintaining the overall structure of the army, so that veteran players would not find their older collections unusable or less useful in the new edition. The supplement did however add some new units and adjust the behaviour of others. A brand-new model range, somewhat different from the older one, was released to coincide with the new publication.[6] New units included: the Tyrant Guard and Raveners.

The Third Edition Codex, as with a number of subsequent publications, included an army list which permitted far greater flexibility to the player than previous army lists, allowing extensive customisation of units. Unit types noted as a 'Mutable Genus' in the main army list were permitted to be extensively modified by choosing from numerous options in the 'Custom Hive Fleet' section of the book. The options available bore a resemblance to the random equipment tables featured in Rogue Trader, but were no longer randomised.

The nature of the army list in Third Edition further cemented the Tyranid army's reputation for fielding vast numbers of models, allowing the player to overwhelm an opponent with weight of numbers. This was even more pronounced in the variant Seeding Swarm army list published in White Dwarf and later in Chapter Approved, which represented the initial stages of a massive Tyranid assault and even further emphasised the use of many expendable, 'cannon-fodder' type units.[7]

The release of the fourth edition codex added a new model range, new rules, and new units, most notably the Broodlord, a larger alpha genestealer, and revamped units such as the Carnifex. This new codex also enables Tyranid players to field a total of eight large Tyranids to be deployed in a medium-sized battle, although the player would still have to field compulsory troop choices. With this concept Tyranid armies can now consist of many troops and/or a just few powerful units. One of the more overlooked abilities was the new "without number" rule, which allowed for an unlimited number of gaunts in a single game, emphasising the "cannon-fodder" trait of the Tyranids.[8]

A new Tyranid codex was released on 16 January 2010, written by Robin Cruddance. It included 15 new species of Tyranid, and legendary heroes like the Swarmlord, Old One Eye and the Doom of Malan'tai. In addition, some models saw a point cost reduction, which allowed certain Tyranid armies to field more units, although this was not the case for all Tyranid units. The Carnifex, a mainstay of previous editions, saw its point cost almost double, with many of its options removed and with no corresponding increase in effectiveness.

The Tyranids received new rules for the eighth edition of Warhammer 40,000 in Index: Xenos 2, released in June 2017. An updated version of these rules will be released on 11 November 2017 in the new Codex: Tyranids.

Fictional in-game history[edit]

The first recorded contact between the Imperium and the Tyranids was in 745.M41 on the Eastern Fringes of the Milky Way galaxy. There are rumours that the Ordo Xenos of the Inquisition had identified possible appearances of the Tyranids as far back as the 35th Millennium.

The Tyranids emerged from the intergalactic space of the Local Group of galaxies, their Hive Mind drawn to the Milky Way by the psychic beacon of the Astronomicon transmitted by the Imperium of Man's Emperor. The first officially recorded contact with the Tyranids for the Imperium of Man came during an attack on the Forge World of Tyran by hive fleet Behemoth, and from there the fleet continued through the Ultramar sector of imperial space, consuming all the worlds in its path. The Tyranids were defeated, by the efforts of the Ultramarines Chapter of Space Marines and suffered devastating losses during the Battle of Macragge

In 942.M41, Commissar Ciaphas Cain, on a mission in the Ice World, Nusquam Fundumentibus, discovered hibernating Tyranids buried deep in the permafrost; the swarm was apparently carried to the planet by a Hive Ship that had crashed on the planet, prior to any human colonization. The Inquisition was unsettled by the fact that the Tyranids possibly developed a presence in the galaxy before the start of the Imperium; it is unknown whether the crashed bio-ship was on a scouting mission when it was lost, was a casualty in a pre-Imperium Tyranid invasion force that was defeated by unknown adversaries, or part of a plan by a Tyranid super-intelligence that may have "seeded" the galaxy with many slumbering broods.

In 993.M41, the Tyranids returned to the Milky Way with Hive Fleet Kraken, changing tactics from assaulting targets as a single massed Hive Fleet to instead splitting into smaller fleets, each enveloping star systems before reinforcements can arrive. The brunt of this new attack was borne by the Space Marine Chapters known as the Scythes of the Emperor and the Lamenters. Eventually the backbone of the Hive Fleet was broken by its defeats at the Battle of Ichar IV and at the Eldar Craftworld Iyanden. The cost to the Imperium was still great, Craftworld Iyanden lost more than half of its population, and many splinter fleets broke off from Kraken to later wreak havoc deep within Imperial space.

In 997.M41, Hive Fleet Leviathan appeared from "below" the plane of the galaxy (on the Z axis) and attacked from two points, cutting off large portions of the galaxy from reinforcements. It threatened the defences of the Segmentum Solar and Terra, the capital of the Imperium of Man, but the Tyranids were distracted by being deflected into the star system of a powerful Ork empire. The Orks are managing to stem the main Tyranid Hive Fleet's advance, but they have not been halted, and may have begun to strengthen themselves on Ork DNA as more powerful versions are appearing from this sector of space.

The Battle for Macragge[edit]

The Tyranids were a major race in the fourth edition of Warhammer 40k, especially due to their presence in the Battle for Macragge boxed game, released in 2004. The set included six Genestealers, ten Termagants, and eight Spore Mines. The box set represented the Battle for Macragge, one of the most detailed battles for both the Tyranids and the Ultramarines Chapter of Space Marines.

Famed for their close combat attacks, Tyranids were chosen to be the aliens who set about destroying the Ultramarines homeworld of Macragge. In the preceding months Hive Fleet Behemoth (The Hive Fleet responsible) had been scouring the Ultramar sector leaving dead and barren planets in their wake, so when they arrived at Macragge they found a planet ready for battle. As well as Macragge's Starnova defence stations, the planet's defences were bolstered by fleets seeking revenge, wanting to protect their homeworlds and some because they could do nothing else with their helms manned by those loyal to Marneus Calgar, Chapter Master of the Ultramarines. When Behemoth arrived at Macragge it fought with all its might in space and on land to subdue and consume the Ultramarines. This led to a fateful stand on Cold Steel Ridge. The Hive Mind dispatched its deadliest servant to the front lines - the Swarmlord, an ancient Hive Tyrant whose consciousness had been reincarnated through countless battles. This beast had struck the final blow on many worlds against many foes, and as soon as it stepped onto the battlefield, the swarm's ferocity was paired with keen strategy. It rent and tore the chapter master and left him lying on the ground. In the end, only the battleship Dominus Astra detonating its warp drives in the heart of the Tyranid fleet succeeded in destroying the central Tyranid hive ship, the lynchpin of the aliens' psychic control, throwing the swarm into disarray and putting an end to the invasion. Even though the Tyranids failed in their attempt, among the innumerable lives taken and damage caused both in space and on the ground, they managed to wipe out all one hundred members of the Ultramarines' elite 1st Company during a desperate last stand to defend one of the planet's two polar orbital defence facilities, a feat never before accomplished, and never repeated since, by any other enemy of the Imperium.

In alternative games[edit]

The Tyranids are represented in three of the Specialist Games produced by Games Workshop: Battlefleet: Gothic, Epic, and Inquisitor.

In Battlefleet: Gothic, a game focusing on spaceship to spaceship fleet combat, they are represented by four models that represent the massive biologically constructed ships of the Tyranid Hivefleet.[9] In Epic, the game of large scale combat using smaller miniatures, they are represented by a combination of Titans and standard Tyranid troops.[10][11] In Inquisitor, the narrative skirmish game using Warhammer 40,000 type characters, the Tyranids are represented by the Genestealer and Hybrid models[12] under the generic roleplaying category of "aliens." They are individual members of the Genestealer Cults who work towards espionage and propagating their species in secret to weaken a planet's defenses before an invasion, as opposed to being part of the Hivefleet army that seeks to swarm over all in their path and consume them.[9]

In video games[edit]

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II currently includes Tyranids as a playable race along with the Imperial Guard, Chaos Space Marines, Eldar, Orks, and Space Marines. The playable "heroes" (commander units) include the Hive Tyrant, Ravener Alpha and Lictor Alpha, and the forces of a Tyranid splinter fleet act as the primary antagonists in the single player campaign; the campaign is only playable from the point of view of the Blood Raven chapter of Space Marines.[13] However, in the expansion Retribution, they are a playable race in the single-player Campaign. Notably, the Tyranids are one of the few Warhammer 40,000 factions that were not in the first game, Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War. The fact that Tyranids were not present is likely due to their nature; as Tyranids do not create structures or technology in the same way as the other races (not to mention the lack of usable wargear because of this), it would be difficult to have them perform as the other races do in the game. Relic has also repeatedly stated[citation needed] that they wanted to include the Tyranids in Dawn Of War, but the game's graphic engine "wouldn't do them justice". Other issues cited included significant differences in economy. The altered overall game mechanics of the aforementioned sequel, together with improved graphical capabilities of later computers apparently allowed them to depict Tyranids in a manner the developers found acceptable.

References & notes[edit]

  1. ^ Harrigan, Pat (2016). Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming. Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Cambridge, Massachusetts. pp. 608–611. ISBN 9780262334945. OCLC 947837974.
  2. ^ a b Priestley, Rick (1992). Rogue Trader. Eastwood: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-872372-27-9.
  3. ^ "Genesis of the Tyranids". Games Workshop. Archived from the original on 5 May 2006. Retrieved 28 April 2007.
  4. ^ Bass, Dean; Colston, Chris (1993). Space Hulk. Eastwood: Games Workshop. ASIN: B000KOPQVO.
  5. ^ Chambers, Andy. Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Tyranids (2nd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-872372-90-2.
  6. ^ Kelly, Phil; Chambers, Andy (2002). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Tyranids (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-468-X.
  7. ^ Chambers, Andy. Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Tyranids (1st ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-317-9.
  8. ^ Kelly, Phil; Chambers, Andy (2004). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Tyranids (4th ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-650-X.
  9. ^ a b "Specialist Games". Games Workshop. Retrieved 29 May 2007.
  10. ^ "Trial Tyranid Epic Rules" (PDF). Games Workshop. Retrieved 16 May 2007.
  11. ^ "Games-Workshop Online Store". Games Workshop. Archived from the original on 30 May 2007. Retrieved 29 May 2007.
  12. ^ "Games-Workshop Online Store". Games Workshop. Archived from the original on 30 May 2007. Retrieved 29 May 2007.
  13. ^ "Game Info/ Multiplayer". Retrieved 21 February 2009.