Welcome to Goonhammer 2002, where we’re taking a fun look back at some of the games, kits, and releases from 20 years ago.
Looking back twenty years, there’s one kit released in 2002 that must have outsold every other. Spawned more memes than any other. Given us one of the best bits of voice acting in the 40k universe. Still relevant, still sold, still considered to be pretty damn good. So with appropriate massive fanfare, April 2002 saw Games Workshop release a new, much longed-for kit: the Space Marine Rhino. Suspected but absent for two long years this month twenty years ago saw the partial retirement of an absolute 40k classic and the rise of another.
The old Rhino chassis was a long-serving workhorse of the marine line, with four reissues throughout Rogue Trader and 40k 2nd editions. Space Marine players had been stuck with the rogue trader rhino for 15 years, and the charms of the delicate, brittle plastic, single sprue symmetrical parallelogram had worn thin. But with the release of the multi-part plastic marines, those old rogue trader rhinos were looking incredibly small in comparison to the hulking new assault squads.
In comparison, the new rhino was massive and a huge step up in vehicle modelling. The Falcon in ’97, Land Speeder in ’98 and the Land Raider in 2000 had shown GW could make complex, high-quality vehicle designs on a large scale, in plastic. The Rhino took a lot of the new techniques and design cues from the updated marine line. Most excitingly to all of us at the time it wasn’t perfectly symmetrical. The OG rhino kit was a space saver – a single top/base piece and a single track section that could be used either way meant that a lot of the heavy lifting in rhino aesthetics was done by your paintjob. This time, everything was different.
It was all the extra detail that made it such a great kit at the time. Modelled tracks! Nice Lights! Extra armour! Even the front was a revelation, taking inspiration from one of the classic rhino double panels, modelled this time as thick armour with view ports for the driver (and someone else?) complete with tiny windscreen wipers. The rear of the rhino was totally transformed, with a hatch that can be modelled open, closed and movable. This was a huge step up from the choice of angled armour or flat panels for the rear, and gave the rhino a bit more function as a transport, as well as referencing the land raider. That rear comes with a fully modelled interior, that you can paint and convert, or glue shut to hide your unpainted shame. The sides panels were fully modelled, rather than sculpted-shut weird round doors with a flimsy running rail along the top.
This release was a big fucking deal. It got one hell of a splash in White Dwarf, something sorely missing with a lot of new important vehicle releases. The rhino got a full design process article from the Jes Goodwin sketches, through the 3-up and the pantograph machine into multiple spreads of art and painted examples. A full page of fluff about a Marine Sergeant and how much he loved his box and the month after, a full Index Astartes article about the construction and use of the transport. Everything you’d need to relaunch what would otherwise be a fairly boring bit of battlefield equipment, the taxi all your tactical marines rode in. All told, a huge amount of background for the plastic re-release of a tiny, boxy apc armed with a storm bolter and possibly a hunter-killer missile.
It wasn’t an instant switch-over to the far superior new kit. The kit was designed as modular with then-as-yet unreleased models, and for a few months (and years), you could buy the rhino alongside second edition Predators, Whirlwinds and Vindicators, while the venerable rogue trader kit continued as the SKU for Chaos marines for another several months. The final Rhino release of 3rd edition was the reissued Sisters Rhino, Immolator and Exorcist, all making good use of the clever design of the top plate. Rhinos even featured on GW modelled terrain, and many 3rd and 4th edition battles were fought over the classic crashed rhino crater set.
Rhinos were priced to move in 3rd edition and were a key part of the absolutely meta-dominating rhino-rush strategy. When table quarters mattered and deployment zones were weird thin little things hugging the table sides having the ability to shift your marines around was battle winning. 3rd edition damage tables gave your vehicles a good chance at surviving a round – hitting, then glancing or penetrating was followed by a roll that usually left the vehicle unable to shoot, or losing one of the weapons you’d paid for as ablative armour. Aggressive deployment, a 12″ move, 2″ to disembark and a 6″ charge meant that when your opponent put down a line of rhinos at least a couple would survive to disgorge their cargo with a guaranteed charge right into your lines. When they were filled with Blood Claws – or worse, Death Company (Blood Angels overcharged engines meant that Rhino was coming at you at 18″ a turn), that line of Rhinos meant you were absolutely fucked. Even not-at-all-meta 15 year old me understood that the new rhino meant you could do this in style and for a brief, shining moment, my monopose second edition blood angels absolutely fucked. Updating a Space Marine army for the middle and end of 3rd ed was easy: Get as many rhinos as you possibly could.
Enduring, rugged and simple to build both in 2022 and 40,000, the Rhino sold today is pretty much still the same release. Over the years upgrade kits from Forgeworld and GW have kept the kit relevant, interesting and exciting. Ranging from simple racks of plastic spikes for Chaos, to pricy resin to transform it back into its rogue trader aesthetic, or even make it fly, the Space Marine rhino might have been largely retired, but still makes a good modelling project. It lives on mostly in 30k, and with the Sororitas where it forms a key part of the range. The 2019 sisters upgrade kit slots right into the basic chassis, while the Immolator, Exorcist and the 2021 Castigator is a massive transformation on the same basic frame to bring it right up to date.
In 2022, the Rhino kit we know and love is older than the kit it replaced, and with Primaris not even fitting inside it, it’s a rare sight in the Marine army. While, like its biological counterpart, the Rhino might now be endangered, its still a wonderful kit – and hopefully to endure in some way for many years to come.
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