Codex Tyranids: The Crusade Rules Review

Welcome, unnamed faceless bio-construct designed only to sate your own bottomless hunger, to the latest iteration of creating a planet, and then getting mad at that planet. Rather than waste time with things like “diplomacy” or “seizing the means of production,” Tyranids just unhinge their collective jaws and do what they’ve always done in the fluff, i.e. eat everything. If you’ve ever wanted to rock up to a planet like the buffet at a Sizzler, now’s your chance.

Thanks, as always, to GW for providing us with a copy of the book for review purposes. Now let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Devouring Worlds

Taking a page from the Genestealer Cults and then consuming it for biomass, your Tyranids Crusade force will travel from planet to planet, crushing resistance and stripping the orb of biomass before moving onto the next one.

This process starts with you generating a Planet Type. Roll on a D3 chart to see if you’re going to devour either an Industrial world, a Rural world or a Hive world. Each type of world will have varying amounts of Biomass that cry out for harvest and a level of Resistance that invites crushing, which you’ll do over three Devouring Stages.

  • Industrial worlds will require very low levels of Biomass to gather but also have high levels of Resistance that need crushing.
  • Rural worlds are completely the other way around: They have weak resistance but their lush farmlands require gathering large amounts of biomass.
  • Hive worlds sit between the two, with lower biomass needed compared to Rural Worlds and more Crushed Resistance points.

Hormagaunts. Credit: Rockfish
Hormagaunts. Credit: Rockfish

Greg: Big Boy Season is upon us all. This isn’t as granular in its depiction of doomed worlds as the Tau or Genestealer Cults versions of create-a-planet, but that makes sense, since it’s not like the Hive Fleets particularly care what ideology or institutions a people hold to, only how hard the candy shell is, and how chewy the center inside will be.

Gathering Biomass and Crushed Resistance points will be gained by winning games (one of each for a win) and completing various Agendas covered later. Losing battles will however cost you Biomass points (one per loss, and Resistance remains Crushed).

The three Devouring Stages are Invasion, Predation and Consumption. With each stage come bonuses for taking certain detachments, and a unique Stratagem. Each stage also states that after a battle when updating your Crusade roster, where normally each unit that took part in the battle would gain 1 experience point, they instead have rules dictating which of your units will advance and which units will miss out. Note that this applies to gaining experience from the Battle Experience rule only: it doesn’t prevent units from receiving experience from other sources such as Agendas, Marked for Greatness, or units killed.

An example would be that in the Invasion stage you’re rewarded with 2 Battle Experience for your ENDLESS MULTITUDE units as well as Genestealers, Harpys, Hive Crones and Lictors, whereas your Biovores, Exocrines, Harspex, Hive Guard, Hive Tyrants, Provores, Tyrannofexes and Tyrant Guards must look elsewhere. The recipients of experience change during the Invasion and Predation stages.

Beanith: Ripper Swarms were also listed for some reason but since they have the SWARM keyword, they can’t gain experience so it was a fairly moot point anyway. It’s an interesting system that seems to want to steer you away from fielding the big long range guns for the first two stages in favour of getting in close and personal, which makes sense narratively, but some people may not like being hamstrung in such a fashion.

Greg: The stages vary somewhat, with a combination of fixed values based on world type and d3s to provide some variation. By way of example, an Industrial World requires 3 Biomass and 2d3 Crushed Resistance points for the Invasion phase, and then an additional d3 Biomass and fixed 4 Crushed Resistance to complete Predation, before needing 3 Biomass and 5 Crushed Resistance to complete the job.

Also note that the CP refund shenanigans mentioned below are in addition to the usual ones – the command benefit of getting your CP back for a Patrol or Battalion still apply.

Credit: BuffaloChicken

Stage 1: Invasion 

When mustering your army in this stage, you are refunded the 3 command points if you stick your Warlord in a Vanguard detachment. It also comes with a very tasty Stratagem, Vanguard Onslaught. For 1CP, during the fight phase when a unit of Gargoyles, Genestealers, Harpies, a Hive Crone, or a Lictor charges, gets charged, or performs a Heroic Intervention, that unit can re-roll all wound rolls.

Tyranid Lictor
Tyranid Lictor
Credit: Pendulin

Stage 2: Predation 

This time, you are refunded the 3 command points if your Warlord is in an Outrider detachment. The Stratagem for this stage is Infestation: For 1CP, during the Declare Reserves step, you can use this on an Endless Multitude unit. This unit can be set up anywhere on the battlefield in an Area Terrain feature with the usual restrictions of more than 9” away from other enemy units and deployment zone.

Beanith: How many Nid players are looking at their terrain collection and are now wondering which ones can fit 30 Hormagaunts?

Credit: BuffaloChicken

Stage 3: Consumption

In this last stage, you are refunded the 3 command points if you’ve put your Warlord in a Spearhead detachment. Once you’ve put on your bib and gathered your chosen condiments, you are now ready to Guard and Consume. For 1CP in the shooting phase you can select a unit of Biovores, Exocrines, Harspex, Hive Guard, Hive Tyrant, Provores, the Tyrannofex or Tyrant Guard. For the rest of that phase, if that unit is within range of an objective, they may reroll hit rolls of 1, unless the objective in question is from Implant Tyrannoform Spore (this will pop up in Agendas, below), in which case they may reroll all of that unit’s hit rolls. Yes, this means that you can still get re-rolls on Hive Guard, and in fact might make that agenda worth taking purely for it.

Credit: Kevin Genson


Once you’ve completed Stage 3, you can now spend the Biomass you’ve been piling up, and upgrade your roster or units in various ways. The Swarm Grows can increase your supply limit by 3; Rare Biomorphs can be used to give a Relic to a character even without them levelling up; Enhanced Organisms grants 5 experience to a unit (once per devour-ing); you can use Swarmnode to hand out a Warlord Trait; Rapid Adaptation lets you use the Adapted Physiology Requisition for free and Biological Resources will give you a Requisition Point. These range from 2 points for the supply limit, to 6 for a requisition point, but most of them are around the 4-5 mark.

After you’ve finished your little spending spree, you can now generate another planet and start Devouring a whole new world. It’s called the food chain, look it up.

Beanith: Overall it’s a cool Crusade gimmick but where it falls flat for me are the Battle Experience restrictions. Narratively it makes sense that the big nastier bugs won’t show up until later in the devouring of a world but denying them the experience for taking part is a little harsh forcing you to focus on taking Agendas or marking them for greatness to help them catch up with the littler gribblies.

Greg: It seems to me that the ideal planet to roll up is the Rural world. Generally speaking on the Agendas, Biomass is easier to come by, and can be converted into Biogeneses at the end, and the Rural world seems to be your best bet for harvesting treats (biomass) vs having to eat (crush) your vegetables (resistance). This is of course not helpful at all, because it’s random what kind of planet you get.

Pair of Carnifexes
Pair of Carnifexes. Credit: That Gobbo


What I love about these is that all four of them directly impact your Biomass points and Crushed Resistance points. There’s no playing around with XP gains or free Traits and Requisitions, just a single-minded fury aimed at quelling the emptiness inside. It’s great to see.

The most straightforward of these is the delightful Tyranid Attack. If you table your opponent, every remaining Tyranid gets 3 experience, and you gain 4 each of Biomass and Crushed Resistance. It’s definitely swinging for the fences, but if you get there, depending on the planet and phase, this can be enough to advance the consumption by an entire phase in just one game.

The other three are constructed similarly to each other, and involve keeping a tally, and then gaining Biomass/Crushed Resistance Points based on that tally, with only the mechanism for tallying and the rewards changing. They do seem to map to the Invasion, Predation, and Consumption phases, but they aren’t locked to them.

Starting with Infest the Prey World, which is sort of like Engage On All Fronts: you score 1 point per turn, per table quarter that has an ENDLESS MULTITUDE unit in it. Rewards range from 0/0 Biomass/Crushed Resistance points for scoring less than 6 points, up to d3 of each for 16 or more. As well, every unit in the enemy deployment zone at the end of the game gains 2XP. This is pretty easy to score, especially in a Combat Patrol game with tiny tables, but the d3 at the end stings a bit.

Next up is Hunt and Slay. Your tally here is derived from the enemy selecting 5 of their units, and you scoring a point for each one you destroy in the fight phase. You get nothing for killing 0 of them, then 0/1 Biomass/Crushed Resistance for 1, 1/d3 for two or three, and d3/3 for four or five. Maxing out rewards without having to max out kills is a nice touch, and takes the edge off of a savvy opponent simply selecting units that are unlikely to ever die. It also provides a bit of a buffer for the case where you unexpectedly spike your shooting psychic phase, and accidentally kill a unit all the way, instead of softening it up for that melee kill. This one seems fiddly, but the upside is that every unit in your army gains 2XP for each mark on the tally, which is…pretty insane, actually. If you can make it work, and even manage to stab three units to death, that can jump a fresh 0XP Order of Battle up to entirely Blooded in a single game.

The requisite Activity-based Agenda is Tyrannoform Prey World. The Activity is Implanting Tyrannoform Spores, and if you’re taking this you would be best off converting some cool terrain for it and then sending Goonhammer pictures of the terrain in the contact inbox so we can look at it and go “this owns” a bunch. Implanting Spores can be done by any non-character INFANTRY, and runs from the end of your movement phase to the end of your turn (so you can move but not do much else that turn), and places an objective down. For dropping three, you’ll get 1 of each point, up to d3/1 for four, and finally 3 Biomass and d3 Crushed Resistance for five. As before, everyone gets 2XP per mark on the tally, army-wide, so there’s still a little dopamine, as a treat, even if you don’t get the 3 for the points.

I, bluntly, love these. They all reward things you were going to be doing anyway – board control and melee murders – and they shuttle you down the Devouring Worlds track faster than any similar mechanic from other codexes. There’s also some customization to be done – Hunt and Slay will give you more Crushed Resistance than the others, 

Beanith: We’re going to get a lot photos of polystyrene balls painted green studded with red toothpicks and I’m on board for this.

Mecha-nids. Credit: Chris Vo


There’s a twist here that I haven’t seen before, which is that Increase Supply Limit has suffered from increasingly limited supplies. The rule is called Consume to Survive, and it makes it cost 2RP instead of 1, presumably because your idiot bug children keep eating all the supplies before they drop them into the spawning vats.

Otherwise this is a standard Requisitions section, 5 abilities that either unlock parts of the Matched Play rules, help you along with your signature Activity, and are otherwise drawn from the grab bag of standard Crusade upgrades. I love when they do this, because it makes the section easier to write, which I need when I’m this far into a review and certain words have lost their meaning (“Synapse” and derivatives, this time).

To wit: Respawn Warrior Organisms is your “drop all your Battle Traits and re-spec the unit” requisition, Adapted Physiology unlocks, ah, Adaptive Physiologies, the very fun named An Intellect Vast and Cold is your extra-agenda pre-battle requisition, and Synaptic Bioregenesis yanks one Synapse creature from your Order of Battle and replaces it with a new one (Xp and Battle Honours carry over, everything else falls off). The last one, Sega Genesis, costs 2 RP, the rest are 1 each.

The only truly unique one here, that isn’t just a chitinous and acidic version of something else from previous books, is Neuro-Hybridization, which swaps the Synaptic Imperative of two creatures. I love this, I truly do. Crusade is at its best when it’s letting you customise your dudes, and this unlocks a few truly Out There builds. Maybe it’s a bit much to jam the “monsters get a 4++” Imperative on a Hive Tyrant, but who cares? It’s incredibly cool. More of this stuff should be allowed, and encouraged.

Tyrannofex. Credit: Rockfish
Tyrannofex. Credit: Rockfish

Battle Traits

You get your expected Synapse traits, your non-Synapse traits, and a helpful reminder that Spores are ineligible for either. 

Synapoids get to become immune to targeted psychic powers and get a 3+++ against psychotic splash damage via Psychic Shadow. Their Alien Resilience can be amped up to regain one lost wound in your command phase, or the Armoured Biomorph can increase their toughness by 1. The other two just make stratagems cheaper, and the last one is some stupid Leadership thing, I don’t know, you’re never going to use it. I wrote this section last and I should stop doing that because it already bores me to tears and I’m fully sick of writing about psychic whatsits and synaptic whoevers.

Non-Synapse units (any non-Synapse unit) have a few fun upgrades. Fleet of Claw makes all their dice rolls for advances and charges a minimum 3, which makes a 6” charge automatic absent Tanglefoot grenades or similar abilities, which is nuts. Instinctive Autonomy lets the unit count as being within 6” of Synapse range as long as it’s within 18”. Ranged Resistance is +1 to armour saves against ranged attacks, and I don’t have to explain how good that is. They can also get +1S, +1 to hit on the turn they charge, or the ability to ignore all hit/BS/WS modifiers. Every single one of these is good, albeit not on every unit. Some of them might not be optimal, but I’m struggling to think of a straight up bad roll here, and the only example that comes to mind is Hive Guard with Fleet. Otherwise this is the table in the entire game I would feel the least concern about rolling randomly against.

Old One Eye. Credit: Rockfish
Old One Eye. Credit: Rockfish

Battle Scars

It’s a rare treat to see custom Battle Scars in a codex, but these are kind of a hilarious middle ground. The new tech GW has unlocked on this one is that instead of limiting themselves to coming up with either 3 or 6 for each unit type, they got to 4 and ran out of ideas. What that means is that the tables have bespoke scars for rolling a 1-4, but on a 5 or 6 you just roll on the table in the core rule book. I want to clown on this, because it’s low-hanging fruit more than for any other reason, but I honestly have to respect it. I prefer this approach to the alternatives, which would be either limiting themselves to 3 and dropping one of these very cool options, or making up two bad ones to fill the list out to 6. It’s pretty funny at first glance, but I do want to encourage this type of thing: you can make lists that are neither 3 nor 6 items. That’s good.

There are two types of scars, one for Synapse units and another for anything that isn’t Synapse, Genestealers, or Lictors. The scars themselves are rough chuckles. Try not to get any of these.

Your non-synapse creatures can become Uncontrollable (which turns off Synaptic Imperatives) or operate By Instinct Alone (they don’t benefit from the Synapse ability). The latter is probably more of a problem generally, but turning off the enhanced invulnerable save Imperative on a Carnifex would be, putting it mildly, not great. There’s also Mindless Focus and Bestial Rage, which force the unit to target the closest thing when they, respectively, shoot or charge. Go turn some biomass into a pair of glasses, nerd. Bestial Rage is, ironically, the tamest one here. You don’t have to declare the charge, so the restriction only comes into play when you’re doing what you already want to be doing, and in most cases you’ll be including the closest unit in your plans anyway, even if the real target is behind it.

Synapse creatures can suffer from Neural Dissonance, which makes them not count as being Synapse for the purposes of Synaptic Links (they break the chain, effectively). If you think that’s harsh, check out Lobe Impairment. Getting Old One Eye-d with this one makes them lose the Synapse ability entirely. Compared to that, losing the Shadow In The Warp ability via Casts No Shadow, or not being eligible for using their Synaptic Imperative due to Synaptic Decay, doesn’t seem so bad, but only relatively. 

These scars range from fairly brutal to incredibly brutal, but we love that they mostly target different parts of the Synapse toolkit, instead of generic “lose attacks” or “bad at psyker” drawbacks. Very thematic, and for an army as centered around synergy as this one, very damaging. Keep some RP around to cancel them out, or try not to roll any 1s on your Out of Action tests.

Zoanthropes. Credit: Rockfish
Zoanthropes. Credit: Rockfish

Psychic Fortitudes

Start working out those brain muscles, in your big freaky exo-skeletal orb, because it’s time to put some reps in. We’ll be doing 6 reps here.

Start by grabbing some big weights with your Warp Tendrils, and making any unit that takes a Mortal Wound from one of your powers suffer -1 leadership and +1 to Attrition tests for a turn. Once you do your sets of that, move on over to the Shadowcaster Organism rack and punish anyone who tries to Deny your powers: they perils on any double, not just 1s or 6s. This rules. We close out the first half with a Warp Crest, which is kind of fine. Whenever you manifest a power, select an enemy unit within 6” and roll a d6. On a 2+ they take one Mortal. Nice way to get a little extra juice out of your Smites, or splash in some damage when you’re casting buffs, but that range restriction, oof. 

Next up in the rotation is Manifest Will, which technically applies to any action you take voluntarily, but in this instance tags a unit within 9” and makes them Objective Secured, and it happens every time you cast a power. For a unit with multiple casts this is incredible. Then we get to everyone’s least favorite, the highest of high holy days: Leg Day. When you’re done mastering Flickerflit, you’ll get to move 3” after your first successful cast every psychic phase. Get swole. Finally, there’s our cooldown, Alpha Node, which adds 3” to all Auras or Synaptic Imperatives, up to 18”, with every cast. Again, very useful if you’re getting pumped up and doing two or three casts in a row. 

These might not be strictly better than the Battle Traits that Synapse creatures can select, but there’s enough value here that it’s solidly worth considering getting a couple. If your Crusade allows for picking upgrades instead of rolling for them, Warp Crest and Manifest Will seem like good picks, but none of them are truly bad if you’re rolling the dice on it.

Credit: PierreTheMime

Crusade Relics

I don’t understand why Tyranids even have relics. Given the way they mercilessly hyper-adapt, being willing to mass produce successes and render down the failures, the only reason there’d ever be one of anything would be for a single battle while they trial the thing. I doubt it takes more biomass to create an extra sharp type of sword, and they’re lousy with protean soup anyway. Regardless, we have five gross things here, all made from different cuts of beef.

The Spirit-Leech Cortex – which I thought meant leech as a verb, that it leeches your spirit, but on a second reading I think is an adjective, that it shoots worms which are called spirit leeches – restores 1 wound and grants +1S every time the model does a mortal wound with a psychic power (up to 3 of each). It is, as you have likely inferred, for psykers only. The other base-level relic is also pskyer-only, the Balemind Membrane, which makes powers and actions that went off on an 8+ non-Deny-able.

Having your only two Artificer relics being locked to Psykers would be a problem for any other army (or nearly any – Thousand Sons and Grey Knights still technically exist), but for Tyranids it’s kind of fine: most of your stuff is psychic anyway.

The Mortrex Implant Attack is your first Antiquity relic. This does three things, modeled after the Parasite of Mortrex, and here ordered by “your opponent looking confused as hell”, increasing:

  1. An extra point of AP on melee attacks.
  2. In melee, 6s to wound inflict an extra mortal.
  3. A quick spacer here, to let you brace yourself for the third and most bonkers effect.
  4. If your attacks killed a non-VEHICLE model, add a Ripper swarm to a unit of Rippers that’s within 12”. If you killed a MONSTER, add d3 Ripper instead.

So, have fun with that.

The other relic(s) is/are the Slayer Sabers. It’s an upgrade to Boneswords, either regular or monstrous. Again, in order of ascending outrage:

  1. Re-roll all wounds against Psykers.
  2. If you get even a single hit against a Psyker, they can’t do Psychic Activities for a turn.
  3. Ok here we go, are you ready. It’s a lot.
  4. Any unit you hit with the things, roll a d6, and on a 2+ they take d3+1 Mortals.

Tyranids aren’t exactly hurting for sources of Mortal Wounds, and being able to ram another 2-4 on after the combat ends, assuming you didn’t already kill everyone, sure is something.

Finally, there’s the Legendary Relic, and if you’re familiar with Tyranids you knew this had to be coming, you’ve been waiting all book for it. It’s the Norn Crown. It lets all your Synaptic Link units count as being within 12” of each other, until and unless the bearer is somehow killed. Wild. Also once per battle you can double-dip on the bearer’s Synaptic Imperative, which makes this incredible on a Zoanthrope.

Beanith: If you’re not saying “Assuming Direct Control” when using the once per game ability on the Norn Crown then why even bother wasting your Legendary relic slot when you could be taking the Vortex Grenade?

Tyranid Hive Guard
Tyranid Hive Guard. Credit: That Gobbo

Final Thoughts

Greg: The Devouring Worlds part would just be fine – it’s the obvious Main Idea we all knew was coming, and I can forgive the somewhat lax planet-building rules given what Tyranids are and how they approach things – but what makes it great to me is that inclusion of new Army Building rules and even Stratagems. I don’t super love the exact way the XP gains are jiggled, but I do love the concept. My hope is that this type of thing, changing the way the army plays based on the meta-game (no not that meta) of where it is on the Crusade path, is one of the new tech tree unlocks that we’ll see in more books going forward. It won’t apply to every book, and in some ways GSC had a foreshadow in the warp of it, but I’d love to see an Astra Militarum version of this. Honestly you could just replace “biomass” with “recruits”, which is the same concept but a little more specific, and this system would work perfectly well. I also really enjoyed how achievable the Devouring Worlds objective is. Unlike Templars and their One Big Vow, or Tau assimilating an entire star system, Tyranids munching on a planet and moving on to the next one is going to happen a lot, and it should. That’s what they do.

Beanith: It’s a good solid set of Crusade rules for the Bug people. I don’t love the finangling with experience during the Stages and I’m disappointed that the Agendas don’t really help out too much with the units missing out on Battlefield Experience on the first two stages either. I do love that the Stage Stratagems are incredibly on point and having a purpose to collect Biomass is a fantastic bit of work.  Overall it’s good but just misses the bar to make me want to go out and buy another army to add to my collection… although my birthday is coming up?

TheChirurgeon: I’ve liked the “make up a planet to get mad at” mechanics in every book I’ve seen them, and now they’ve been used enough that I kind of just wish there were shared planetary/system mechanics to work with. A campaign book/supplement that has you create a system to fight over with this stuff already set up for each faction seems pretty cool, and having tyranids fighting Tau over who gets to conquer a planet first is good stuff. Though Tyranids may just devour a planet the T’au conquer anyways so you’d need some way to account for that. Anyways, these rules are pretty cool and I like the Stratagem/phase aspect they’ve added here. Good stuff.

Beanith: My tip for the Campaign Master trying to write the Narrative for Tau taking over systems whilst the Nids are snacking on planets that the Genestealer Cults overthrew? All of this is happening “Elsewhere” and the growth of the rosters in questions is a reflection of how well the main force is doing “Elsewhere”

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