Getting Started: Tyranids

At Goonhammer we’ve devoted a lot of words to talking about how to compete and take your game to the next level. In “Getting Started,” we look at how to get started with an army – the basics you need to know, how to start collecting models that will leave you with a serviceable army, and what the best deals are.

Who are the Tyranids?

“They are coming! I feel them scratching inside my mind, scratching, screaming, running, so many – so, so many voices. They are coming for us – flesh, body and soul!”

The Great Devourer. Star Children. The Tyranids have many names. In a galaxy of inhuman dangers, the Tyranids are truly an alien race encroaching from outside of the known galaxy. Their invasions up to this point have been incredibly devastating and many researchers posit (albeit out of earshot of leadership) that what they have experienced thus far are small scouting tendrils of an overwhelming large existential threat. The name Tyranid is derived from the first planet which they were officially encountered, Tyran, which they promptly devoured.

With some minor exception individual Tyranid creatures do not have meaningful personalities or thoughts, their minds are linked across the warp by a gestalt intelligence known as the Hive Mind that utilizes their bodies with brutal efficiency. Should they ever be separated from the Hive Mind, they tend to revert to their more animalistic nature and lose any coherent organization and tactics. Synapse creatures such as the monstrous Hive Tyrant have permanent bonds to the Hive Mind and can act as a transmitter to nearby Tyranids. Some creatures, most famously Genestealers and Lictors, were specifically designed to act outside of the Tyranid fleet as a means to disrupt enemy defenses ahead of an invasion. True to their name, Genestealers can go so far as to genetically blend themselves with other sentient species and corrupt their society resulting in a cult that draws the voracious tendrils of the Tyranid near

On the tabletop Tyranids offer a variety of xenos-fueled fun and run the gamut from a horde army of hundreds of small models to “Nidzilla” that only uses the largest and most dangerous of the model range. They have a strong mix of shooting and melee, can generally ignore morale tests if properly supported by Synapse creatures, and are fast enough that they can quickly overwhelm an opponent. While unit toughness varies a good deal, the majority of your army is likely going to be either squishy or tough, and its up to you to determine how you balance your units between numerous very killable models and individual dangerous monsters. This army can be a big draw for people who enjoy the Warhammer 40,000 universe but are after something that is decidedly outside of the Imperium range. Currently the Tyranids are still using their 8th Edition books, but the overall changes to 9th Edition have given them a few boosts that make them a fun faction with some bite.

If you’re interested in delving further into how well Tyranids fare on the tabletop, we have a handy article just for you.

Grey Knights vs Tyranids
Grey Knights vs Tyranids
Credit: Pendulin

Army Strengths

  • Strong psychic presence with good powers
  • Auto-pass morale tests with Synapse
  • Powerful shooting and melee monsters
  • Many fast units and ways to appear via reserves

Army Weaknesses

  • Army weakens outside of Synapse
  • Many monsters have poor WS/BS and few attacks
  • Army feels a bit “dry” compared to newer books
  • All of the lore-friendly special reserve/resupply stratagems require points


The Books

The main books you’ll be after to start your Tyranid army are the 2017 8th Edition codex (appropriately named Codex: Tyranids) and the 2019 expansion Psychic Awakening: Blood of Baal. The codex contains all the army-wide rules you’ll need generally that are fully compatible with 9th Edition. The expansion book–whose Tyranid rules clock in at a modest and somewhat insulting 9 pages, if you ignore the name-generator which we do–adds some significant options to your gribblies. Be mindful that the printed books have updates in the forms of FAQS and errata that might significantly impact your plans, so be sure to read them in conjunction with the books and have a printed copy handy if you need it.

Note: Every faction is going to receive a new 9th Edition codex eventually, so do be mindful that if you’re buying in with 8th Edition books you will find them obsolete within the coming year or two.


Planning Your Army

From the outset you’ll want to have a general concept for how you want your army to function. If you’re not sure, your selection of what Hive Fleet(s) you’ll use can give you a bit of a push in a design direction. If you have a plan in mind already, you can make your Hive Fleet fit your idea instead or customize a Hive Fleet using the Blood of Baal rules. Like most other factions Tyranids can offer a player both ranged and melee options and you’ll want to build around a “core” of certain units and then start tacking on other units you think you’ll find a use for.

Here’s a general rundown of where the main Hive Fleet strengths lie:

Melee: Behemoth, Gorgon, Hydra, Kraken
Range: Kronos
Defense: Jormungandr, Leviathan

You might notice that the selection leans heavily into melee, which makes sense for slavering monster bug-lizards, but don’t rule ranged attacks out. The Tyranid offer some very strong shooting that can supplement your front-line force and help deal with those pesky hard targets you’re finding difficult to chew through. Unless you have a very specific idea in mind, it’s good to keep a healthy mix of melee/ranged units to give yourself flexibility when it comes to missions and meeting all-comers in the field of battle.

Warhammer 9th edition has made a strong case for gaming at any size, and the Combat Patrol and Incursion level games allow new players to get in games at standard levels with some mission support. You and your opponent can agree to any amount of points to play, but ideally shoot for 500pts, 1000pts, and finally 2000pts for a “complete” army.


Collecting Your Army

Alright, you’ve loaded up books and now it’s time to dig in with models and hobbying!

The first option right out of the gate is the most obvious one: Start Collecting! Tyranids. This set is a good place to begin and for the price-conscience it’s a pretty solid deal at £60/$95 for £97.50/$156 worth of models, including an HQ (Broodlord), Troops (8x Genestealers), and Heavy Support (Trygon/Trygon Prime). This box alone is a legal Patrol detachment in 9th Edition valued at a minimum of 395pts which allows you to hit the ground running. One things to point out is this definitely leans close-combat heavy and might make for some lop-sided trial games depending on your opponent. Still, a strong starting point to build your collection. For example, you could pick this up and two Termagant boxes and have a 495pt army ready to go.

Unfortunately outside of seasonal and quick-selling special sets, Tyranids do not have any other bundled deals. Depending on how you plan on collecting, there is always the option of picking up lots of models second-hand on eBay or other sites. This process can be hit-or-miss but might be worth investigating if you don’t mind models preassembled and possibly painted strangely. We’ve certainly found some great deals over the years, and there are some instances where models (such as Neurothropes) might be much cheaper this way since you’d have to buy a box of three Zoanthropes to field the single model otherwise.

When planning your collection, it’s going to be worthwhile building out lists that you think will play to your style and then fashion a shopping list accordingly. Unless you’re planning on dropping a ton of cash at once, we’d recommend you shoot for 500pts to start, play around with your style, and then start slow-growing things from there. This type of play allows you to learn your units and get more confident with your command of the army as you go. For this reason, it also pairs very well with starting a Crusade campaign with your friends or players at a local game store.

Something that is tricky when collecting Tyranids: A number of units do not exist outside of larger boxes. There’s some history as to why, but the Tyranid Prime and Neurothrope HQ units are just modelling options in their base Tyranid Warrior and Zoanthrope plastic kits, respectively. If you model one of the three models in the box to match your HQ, the remaining models will not be a legal unit (they are minimum three per unit). This could potentially lead you to either buying them individually second-hand or fielding the HQ and the resulting unit as an addition to another box. While it’s not the end of the world if you exceed it, 9th edition has made 5-model units a sweet spot to avoid Blast type weapons and five Warriors or five Zoanthropes is just fine as a unit of their own.

Similarly, Ripper Swarms have no box. The Tyranid model range is at an age that this method of collecting was semi-common for Games Workshop in the early 2000s but it’s not done anymore. Instead of having these models separately, they exist piecemeal across a few other Troop unit boxes (Termagants, Warriors, and Genestealers) and were intended to accumulate over time as you bought other stuff. That’s perfectly fine if you don’t plan on using them heavily, but if you want a dozen or more fast that’s going to be a pain. These can even be hard to come by on second-hand sites due to their popularity within the game. An expensive solution to this problem can be buying the models from Forgeworld, which sells very cool-looking Ripper Swarm models for this very reason. However you slice it these little bugs are probably going to be one of the biggest efforts in establishing you army, but they are very useful and probably worth the work. Another option is to convert your own from the various bits and pieces that accumulate from Tyranid kits. Rippy the Ripper is a good example of that.

Assorted Ripper Swarms. Credit: Kevin Genson


What’s Next

So you’ve selected a Hive Fleet and played a few games using a basic army, now is the time to consider dedicating yourself to a larger build and buying accordingly. If you’ve read around on the internet there’s a few builds that are popular, so you might already have an idea of where you want to go. Here’s a rundown of some specific builds and what you might want to consider purchasing to fill them out.

There goes the neighborhood. Credit: Games Workshop

Horde List
This list style generally relies on absolutely massive blocks of Troops units to swarm over objectives and complete Secondaries while blocking your opponent from doing the same. Tyranids have nasty Characters that you can hide behind units for counter-charging and Synapse support, making this list potentially interesting and fun. While it can be powerful it’s a bit counter-intuitive since you’re probably not going to be killing much of the opposing army’s strong units while you’re playing. Depending on the list matchup, this list can be a little frustrating for new players and is also monstrously (pun intended) expensive due to the number of kits you’ll need.

Suggested purchases: Termagant, Hormagaunt, Genestealer, Tyranid Warrior, Zoanthrope, Venomthrope*

Kronos Shooting
As the name implies, this army uses the Kronos Hive Fleet to double-down on the strong Tyranid shooting units like Hive Guard and Exocrines. In a world filled with Primaris Space marines, Tyranid shooting is very powerful thanks for most of their good guns being either d3, 2, or 3 flat damage on platforms that can be difficult to knock out. A big cost for this army are the Hive Guard models, as their kit runs £42.50/$70 and you’ll want two at a minimum and up to six max. The anti-psyker Deepest Shadow stratagem from the codex and Symbiostorm psychic power from BoB makes this a strong pick and you’ll often see this tacked onto other detachments in competitive lists.

Suggested purchases: Hive Guard, Exocrine, Tyrannofex, Zoanthrope, Termagant, Carnifex, Venomthrope*

Genestealer Rush
A lot of Tyranid players love Genestealers, both for the lore and how vicious they can be on the tabletop. While they were arguably more dangerous in earlier editions these xenos can still pack a punch. This list is typically the domain of Hive Fleet Kraken, which uses its fleet-specific Opportunistic Advance stratagem to double the Genestealer’s advance roll and make it into combat quickly. As the name implies, you’ll need a LOT of Genestealers to make this work and at least one Hive Tyrant kit to create The Swarmlord who will be rocketing units ahead with its Hive Commander ability. You’ll likely need 20 Genestealers at a minimum and can field up to 60, though those points add up quickly and Genestealers tend to get shot up so there’s some balance involved. This list style can potentially be very powerful but is also dedicated to a specific strategy so if your opponent knows how to counter it and/or has the firepower to nuke your ‘stealers quickly you’re in for a losing game.

Suggested purchases: Genestealer, Hive Tyrant, Hive Guard, Zoanthrope, Venomthrope*

Monsters. Monsters everywhere! Nidzilla has been a fun way to play Tyranids for many editions; this approach ensures you’ve got a good number of highly-lethal threats to spread across the board and is actually one of the cheaper ways to fill out an entire army. With the advent of strong Forgeworld options for 9th edition, this is where you might want to eye some of the “premium” resin model kits such as the Dimachaeron or Hierodule. Be prepared: these are expensive (even by GW standards) and require you buy a third book, Imperial Armour Compendium, to field. There are a variety of detachment types that can allow you to fill out an army without any non-Monster units, but there’s a number of reasons why you might want to stick some Troops in there. Primarily, Troops are good for scoring objectives, but they also have the ability to move through some terrain that Monsters can’t which has potentially significant impacts depending on your terrain layout.

Suggested purchases: Hive Tyrant, Broodlord, Carnifex, Exocrine/Haruspex, Ripper Swarms, Toxicrene/Maleceptor, Dimachaeron, Barbed Hierodule, Scythed Hierodule, Tyrannofex, Venomthrope*

*The Shrouding Spores ability offered by Venomthropes and Forgeworld Malanthropes are a strong defensive option and we recommend it highly. Venomthropes are more generally available as standard kits, but they’re easier to target and destroy than Malanthropes. You’ll see Malanthropes fielded in a lot of competitive lists for this and other reasons but know that using one implies you’re shelling out for the specialty model and the Imperial Armour Compendium rulebook which increases your army cost a good deal.


Sample List

Here are a couple 1000pt lists created around some of the builds discussed above to give you an idea of what can be accomplished on what budget:

Double-SC List

Tyranids (998pts, 5CP)
Battalion detachment, Hive Fleet: Kraken

HQ: Broodlord (Relic: Resonance Barb, Powers: Catalyst)
HQ: Broodlord (Powers: Synaptic Lure)

Troop: 15x Genestealer
Troop: 10x Termagant
Troop: 10x Termagant
Troop: 4x Ripper Swarm

Heavy Support: Trygon Prime (Adrenal Glands, Adaptive Physiology: Dermic Symbiosis)
Heavy Support: Trygon Prime (Adrenal Glands, Adaptive Physiology: Dermic Symbiosis [-1CP])

Credit: PierreTheMime

This list makes the best of the two Start Collecting: Tyranid sets and two boxes of Termagants, giving you a decent core of Troops and good Synapse with some mean melee potential. You can use terrain to keep most of your models safe (or at least partially defended) and use the burrowing power of the Rippers and Trygon to spring a nasty second turn assault/objective capture. Using Synaptic Lure, your Trygons are going to have a decent chance of making combat from reserve at a rerollable 8″ charge. Fun, somewhat strong, and (important to a lot of players) relatively inexpensive.

Kits: 2x Start Collecting: Tyranids, 2x Termagants
MSRP Cost: £160/$260

Bioplasmic Spikey Death

Tyranids (1000pts, 5CP)
Battalion detachment, Hive Fleet: Kronos

HQ: Neurothrope (Relic: Resonance Barb, Powers: Symbiostorm)
HQ: Neurothrope (Powers: Catalyst)
HQ: Tyranid Prime (Adrenal Glands, Boneswords, Deathspitter, Toxin Sacs)

Troop: 5x Tyranid Warrior (5x Boneswords, 4x Deathspitter, 1x Venom Cannon, Adaptive Physiology: Enhanced Resistance)
Troop: 10x Termagant
Troop: 10x Termagant
Troop: 10x Termagant
Troop: 10x Termagant
Troop: 3x Ripper Swarm

Elite: 3x Hive Guard (Impaler Cannon)

Heavy Support: Exocrine (Adaptive Physiology: Dermic Symbiosis [1-CP])

Credit: PierreTheMime

At Incursion-levels Tyranids are particularly dangerous with their shooting, since a lot of elite armies like Primaris Space Marines don’t have the points to field multiple units and their guns are well-suited to slaying large swathes of W2+ models. This is a general list with some midfield threats and enough infantry to cover your objectives that’s also parted out by kits to give you an idea of where some of your money could go. A Neurothrope and Prime backup the ‘gants and toughened Warriors, giving you good Synapse coverage so you can take points and dare your opponent to stop you.

On a modelling note, a single box of Zoanthropes is technically only enough for one Neurothrope, but they’re close enough that if you don’t have any Zoanthropes on the field most players will accept that as a proxy. If you want to make it official you can generally find the required modelling bitz on reseller sites for £5-10/$10-15.

Kits: Zoanthropes, 2x Tyranid Warriors, 4x Termagants, Hive Guard, Exocrine
MSRP Cost: £272.50/$461

I Don’t Need Friends, I Have Resin

Tyranids (996pts, 6CP)
Battalion detachment, Hive Fleet: Gorgon

HQ: Malanthrope
HQ: Neurothrope (Relic: Resonance Barb, Power: Catalyst)

Elite: 6x Hive Guard (Impaler Cannon)

Troop: 3x Ripper Swarm
Troop: 3x Ripper Swarm
Troop: 3x Ripper Swarm
Troop: 3x Ripper Swarm
Troop: 3x Ripper Swarm
Troop: 3x Ripper Swarm

Heavy Support: Scythed Hierodule (Adaptive Physiology: Dermic Symbiosis)

Kits: Malanthrope, Zoanthrope, 2x Hive Guard, 6x Ripper Swarm, Scythed Hierodule
MSRP Cost: £443/$699

This list shows off a lot of the units that are particularly effective, including Hive Guard, the Malanthrope, hordes of Ripper Swarms to occupy objectives, and a Scythed Hierodule because they’re just awesome. It also shows off how expensive Tyranids can get when you start going down the path of resin. Fortunately the holidays are here!


We hope you’re excited about starting a new Hive Fleet! Tyranids are a unique and fun faction within Warhammer 40,000 and we hope that we’ve made them at least a bit more approachable. Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.comOr if you’re a patron, head on over to our Discord and chat with us!