With the release of the new Tyranid book, I thought it would be fun to take a short voyage down memory lane and look at where these big bugs came from, where they are now, and where the Hive Fleet might voyage next.
In the beginning…
Tyranids were 40k’s first, truly original Xenos species. Before them, there had been space elves, space orks, space dwarves and even space rats, but they were all really ports from the Fantasy game. Yes, there had been smaller additions to 40k that perhaps had some of that originality, but none were successful (remember Zoats?). When these guys showed up, they hit the ground running and set about becoming the table-top nightmare that they are today.
It’s easy to see the inspiration for these intergalactic beasts in lots of Sci-Fi films. Alien of course springs to mind, and Starship Troopers added to the mix later on (though this was rumoured to be a 40k film that the company later alienated itself from). But ultimately, the Tyranids play on our fear of the unknown, the uncaring and the unstoppable. Imagine if aliens actually turned up one day and they were like this. We would not last long. We fear them for the same reason that we fear spiders and insects because we cannot empathise with them, and they show no empathy towards us. Simply put: they’re terrifying.
Early sculpts: Limos etc.
The Tyranids were paired with Genestealers from very early in the history of the game. Tyranids do crop up in Rogue Trader, but they’re solitary beasts and far more like today’s Tarmagants in stature and looks. Genestealers by contrast were well developed as an alien cult that infected cities and bred more and more, and were playable in this guise up until the start of fifth edition. There were Magi, Hybrids, Patriarchs and Pure-Strain models (the later closely representing today’s genestealers) and, famously, a Limo for them to drive around in. They were gangsters of course. Alien gangsters. Makes total sense.
During 2nd Edition, Tyranids and Genestealers were paired together – the latter being a pre-invasion force of the former. Tyranid Attack was launched in 92/93 as a separate board game that allowed you to play as either Space Marines or Tyranids and Genestealers attacking or defending a Hive Ship respectively. Doom of the Eldar (I’ve got this in a cupboard somewhere) also arrived at that time and though this epic struggle between the Eldar of Iyanden and the Tyranids didn’t provide any new models, it helped to flesh out the background and unit names that would appear in relation to the Tyranids for years to come.
The Brood Cometh…
I actually have a T-Shirt featuring a Hive Tyrant that i picked up with the release of the first Codex Tyranids. My young painter’s hand butchered that very impressive Metal Hive Tyrant model, but I steered clear of the army because I was, by then, a servant of Chaos and I didn’t want to suffer Slaanesh’s wrath. But the book remains very important to the history of this xenos race. It introduced us to Hive Fleets Behemoth, Kraken and Leviathan, the Battle for Macragge and lots of other bits of fluff which still remain today. It also introduced us to the vast majority of the hive fleet’s creatures too. Zoanthropes, Hive Tyrants, Gaunts, Gants, Lictors and more. Interestingly, Carnifexes already existed but had been known as ‘Screamer Killers’ throughout 2nd Ed.
The other important release at this time was the Epic Tyranid release, Hive War, and the wave of models that came with it which brought us the larger beasts too, many of which are available from Forge World, or have just been added in the latest GW release. Hierodules, Harpies and more arrived in Epic, long before they showed up in 40k, and there are still a few that have never made the move across but may do so in the future.
This point in time, around the tail end of 2nd Edition and the beginning of 3rd, saw the Tyranids cemented as a big player in the 40k universe. They offered a completely different look and a completely new type of gameplay and tactics, setting them apart from those that already existed. And the Tyranid models themselves began to develop too. The hive fleet began to look like a unified force, all bent to the will of the hive mind that forced them across the galaxy.
The Hive Fleet Rumbles on…
In the codices that appeared between 3rd and 5th edition, lots of new strains of the Tyranid plague emerged, including some individuals amongst the unnamed billions of warriors, such as Old One Eye and The Doom of Malan’tai. The Black Library began to use Tyranids more and more as the ultimate alien menace in books such as Warriors of Ultramar by Graham McNeill which tells the tale of a Tyranid Invasion from the points of view of Space Marines, guardsmen, civilians and more.
The Battle for Macragge box helped flesh out the narrative even further, with GW releasing the Tyranic Wars veterans as well. This all added to the Mythology of the game and by this point, the Nids were one of the biggest threats on the table top. Not only that, but they were the big scary bad guys on the computer too, appearing en masse in Dawn of War II.
When Sixth happened, Tyranid players feared the worst. The new allies matrix blocked them from having friends and new rules initially seemed to favour other armies far more than them, especially with the move away from an assault-led atmosphere. As this edition progressed however, Tyranids continued to do well in tournaments and people found out that the bugs didn’t really need any friends.
However, with the exception of Forge World models and the frankly terrifying Tyrannofex and the Trygon, the bugs were looking a little small before too long. Especially with the introductions of the Riptide and the Wraithknight for their fellow Xeno species, the Tyranids needed some new big bugs.
Well, they got them. Plenty of them. The new kits add a lot of size to Tyranids and help to further bring together those elements of their composition that were so disparate when they became a real army all those years ago. More terrifying than ever with the additions of the Haruspex/Exocrine and now with the flying might of the Harpy and Hive Crone, the bugs are back and they’re bigger and badder than ever.
Most impressive though, are the new Tyranid Warriors. Perhaps not as exciting as some of the new bugs, or the existing bigger bugs, these guys have gone on an incredible journey since Rogue Trader. From small loners, via Alien-inspired sculpts to the unique synapse creatures that exist today, they’ve come so far and now look more than ever like a proper part of the 40k landscape. You’ve come a long way, Scaly…
I’m looking forward to playing these guys on the table top (though I don’t really know any bug players myself) but I’m also terrified of them, and that’s exactly what a good xenos horde species should bring to the table. Onwards!
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