Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Tyranid Archive - 2nd Generation (1995)

In honour of 40k's 25th Birthday this year, I'm working at an ongoing series called "The Tyranid Archive," which is meant to be a historical look back on where Tyranids came from and how far they've come. Here's our next installment.

2nd Generation (1995)
(Also known as Warhammer 40k, The Codex Era, and You Can Have As Many Of That As You Like)

The second generation of Tyranids was ushered in by the army's first codex. What a lovely tome that was, allowing everything from Warriors through to Lictors, Zoanthropes, Carnifexes, and Hive Tyrants access to Tyranid-specific Wargear called "biomorphs." As this was second edition, these biomorphs were not your simple +1 Str improvements, they were mad abilities like feedback-causing forcefields and ranged bioplasma attacks that you could mix and match on some of the larger creatures. They were as far beyond our current biomorphs as a conversion beamer is beyond a bolt pistol. 

But I digress. This series is meant to be about the evolution of Tyranid models, not about the unique rules that we loved and lost along the way. However, it was a theme of the 2nd Edition of 40K that you could give units some pretty amazing options. This was also the era before force organization charts, when there were suggested ratios for how much of your force should be made up of troops or heavy support, and Hive Tyrants were limited to something like 1 per 1000 points, but you were still able to do mad, broken things like fielding 4 Lictors in one army. Come to think of it, 2nd Edition seems to be the last time that anyone would want to have 4 Lictors in one army.

Yes, second edition gave birth to the Tyranid army in earnest with the introduction of the Tyranid Codex. We received our first plastic kits in the form of Genestealers (though these probably first appeared in a space hulk revision), Termagants, and Warriors.




Heck, GW even introduced metal versions of the Termagants and Warriors to allow for more options.




Though we had to put up with the big, floppy, rubber-suit-looking warrior banana claws, the Tyranids had finally started to receive some half-way decent shooting support, which was further bolstered by the introduction of the first real general for the swarm: the Hive Tyrant.


He was a combat monster who could load up on biomorphs, psychic powers, combat weapons, AND some of the longest ranged weaponry we'd yet seen. Well, some of biggest guns we'd seen until a later release expanded the range to include the Biovore and Zoanthrope, two "gun beasts" that would become mainstays of hive fleets everywhere.



With all this added shooting, the close-combat nature of the Nids was not forgotten. Second edition saw the introduction of the one the sneakiest weapons in the Tyranid arsenal, the Tyranid Lictor. I still believe that all of the fear of lictors that remains these days has been carried over from way back in the day when a lictor could really tear you a new one. Lictors have never measured up to the terror their were in 2nd Ed., a fact that I believe is illustrated by the fact that I stripped all four of my lictors to repaint them for third edition, then never bothered getting around to it as each subsequent iteration of the Tyranid codex has made them less and less impressive. 


Fun Fact: I once heard that when Jes Goodwin and another artist were coming up with the concept for the Lictor, they were heavily inspired by The Creature From The Black Lagoon

Our combat organisms were also bolstered by a leap-y, cannon-fodder, combat unit to run along beside the cannon-fodder, shooty termagants: the hormagaunt.   

Fun fact: these METAL models were the tippiest Tyranid models of all time until the 3rd edition Zoanthrope came around. I think they may have been the first models to force the invention of the practice of gluing washers to the bottom of bases to weight models.

What's that you say? Those Hormagaunts look a little something like Alien Xenomorphs from the Alien movies? Why--fiddledy-dee--whatever do you mean?

In second edition, the Tyranids received their first air support in the form of Gargoyles. These metal models were hell for mounting on flying stands as they'd easily tip over, often snapping off the flight stands when they did so. That being said, they were kind of hell on the battlefield as well, coming equipped flamespurts, one of the first tyranid weapons to use the flamer template and, as far as I recall, the only shooting weapon that would force all those covered by the template to move to the edge of the template if they survived. What's more, the gargoyles could fly high: essentially disappearing one turn only to deep strike back onto the board the next.

Then there were the models that were so aesthetically impressive and whose rules were so inspiring that I forgot to add them to this post and no one noticed they were missing until GW cheakilly recast them in finecast: the Ripper Swarm. The only thing to write home about when it came to ripper swarms in second edition is that they could eat any terrain that was organic, removing it from the board. A friend bought me a pack of these as a birthday gift because he knew I didn't have any. I asked him if I could return it in exchange for something useful like a pewter warrior.

To round things out, we had the reintroduction of my favourite model, the Screamer Killer, now as a living creature rather than a biological walker with armour values. He was now called a Carnifex, he had ten wounds and a 2+ armour save that was rolled on 2 dice (effectively rolling it out of 12, which was how Terminator armour used to operate...though in 2nd Edition we used armour save modifiers of -2, -3, etc, rather than the current system of an AP of X negating saves entirely--but I digress). He had a shooting attack in the form of Bioplasma (36" range), and he could make four close combat attacks at Str 7 or combine all four to make a single attack at Str 10. Basically, it was his job to kick ass and take names, which made it all the more hilarious when one of my female friends, upon seeing the model with all those curving, hug-y arms dubbed him "the love bug."

And, with the exception of some Genestealer Cult models that I'm not really sure where to slot-in yet, that was the full Tyranid line in second edition. However, second edition was a bit of an Age of Wonders. Not only did you ludicrous rules and wargear that meant special characters who could carve their way through entire armies (don't believe it? I once had to spend half a Tyranid army bringing down Dark Angel Commander Azrael), but there was also Epic, with models so small that you could field entire Space Marine companies on a budget, and imaginations were coming to life in the western United States, where a company was granted a license from Games Workshop to dream bigger than anyone else ever had...

More on what these developments meant to the Tyranids on Friday.


  1. The plastic Genestealers and the Hybrids did indeed appear at about this time - there was an expansion to "Tyranid Attack" (whose name unfortunately eludes me for the moment) and you got a bunch of hybrids, plastic genestealers and the plastic warriors, as well as quite frankly disgusting Tyranid terrain for the Space Hulk map (the "Entry Sphincter" - or was it "Exit Sphincter" - still makes me shudder)

  2. One thing I'm worried about really lacking is a write-up on Space Hulk. I feel like I'm even more in the dark about it and its models than I am about first edition. I would be happy to have someone whip up a guest write up on SH if they could supplement it with some nice photos of the tyranid models/tyranid tiles.

    Let me know if anyone is interested.

  3. Ah second edition, not my favourite 40K gaming experience, thats for sure.

    While I like the look of the creepy, jellyfish like Zoanthropes that have been around for the last decade or so, I still love that goofy, Mekon-like, ragingly angry looking original Zoanthrope: pure pulp sci-fi.

    Those gargoyles and hormagaunts looked cool, but they really were terrible gaming pieces. I dont know if I ever saw a fully intact unit on the table... gravity always took them down a few pegs.

    I know that I am going to sound like the classic comic store know-it-all here (even though its not my intention to be a d**k, honestly), but in the interests of accuracy here I go anyway (PUSHES GLASSES UP BRIDGE OF NOSE THEATRICALLY).

    The plastic 'stealers shown above were the same sculpts as Space Hulk 2nd ed and are indeed 2nd ed.

    They differ from the earlier plastic 'stealers (the SH 1st ed sculpts) because the raised arms available alternate from right to left and every second 'stealer is bending one of its feet back at the ankle. The earlier plastic 'stealers were all identical I think (if memory serves...) and they definitely came out in the Rogue Trader era, 1989 I think.

    The (pretty rubbish looking) plastic Hybrids (either '89 or '90) predate Tyranid Attack by a few years as they were included along with the plastic Terminator Librarians in the Space Hulk expansion named "Genestealer".

    Tyranid Attack reused the same card components as Advanced Space Crusade, including the "Dermal Sphincter". In ASC the Dermal Sphincter was used to get Marine reinforcements onto the hive ship... essentially they crawled up the ships bum. The least welcome reinforcements ever, smelling like alien arse. We got a few laughs out of that back in the day :D

    I am really enjoying these posts, keep it up!

    1. You are of course correct :) I inherited Genestealer/Tyranid Attack/Space Crusade as one big mixed up clump, and wasn't completely sure what went with what. I have a few of those SH Libbys as well (my god were they ugly figures) and you're right that the Hybrids were pretty poor. I think I still have them floating around somewhere (I know I have the plastic Warriors - as ugly as they are - because I was planning on cloning some of the boneswords for the "new" warriors to use).

  4. Dont forget gargs used the Hand Flamer template...

    1. Naw. I just checked that crazy old purple codex, and it specifically differentiates between the hand, medium, and heavy flamer templates, stating that the flamespurt used the medium sized one.

  5. Just stumbled across your blog, and this post in particular just takes me back.. one of the first armies I built up, and man does it make me feel nostalgic. Warriors, the Gaunts, and the Carnifex.. all metal of course.. were some of the first models that I had worked on together, and so wish I had them still today :(

  6. Hey, super late on this, what is "and imaginations were coming to life in the western United States, where a company was granted a license from Games Workshop to dream bigger than anyone else ever had..." a reference to?

    1. Better late than never :)

      I believe I was alluding to my subsequent article on Armorcast in California since they got started 'round about the time 2nd Ed. came out.

      More info here:

    2. I like me some history, thanks!

  7. Oh boy, 8 years later and I finally post on this!

    The 2nd edition book is the only Tyranid Codex I don't own a physical copy of. I need to change that, it looks a lot of fun. I'm also very fond of the sculpts from that era- some (notably the Zoanthrope and the metal Warriors) might not have aged as gracefully as others, but the good ones- notably the Hive Tyrant and the Lictor- are magnificent minis that IMO still hold up. The Lictor in particular has a special place in my heart; in the "showcase" section of the 3rd edition Codex (and also in a feature on the old GW website) there was an awe-inspiringly well made and horrendously sinister diorama of a green Lictor converted from that miniature, on a swampy base with a dead Guardsman floating in the water. That diorama is probably what pushed me over the edge and down the Tyranid rabbit hole; it was so utterly creepy and atmospheric (especially to my impressionable young mind) that I knew instantly I had to get into the hobby.

    As a side note, whilst the metal Warriors are a bit goofy, the plastic ones from this era are rather nice, even if they don't quite gel with modern aesthetics. I'm also quite fond of the way the studio armies had variations in colours between species but still looked unified as a force.

  8. There's an interesting 'interregnum' period between Rogue Trader and the 2nd edition Codex that probably deserves its own Archive entry.

    In the 2nd ed starter box from 1993, the army list for the Tyranids includes Hive Tyrants (though they had no model) and renames Screamer-Killers as Carnifexes. However, the only other creatures are Warriors, Genestealers and Termagants. All the weird and wonderful things from 1st edition have vanished. The Tyranid army itself feels like an afterthought or appendix tucked away at the back. (Probably because it was getting a major overhaul in preparation for the Codex.) It's very rigid and basic, e.g. Termagants must be taken in broods of five models.

    On the bright side, using the get-you-by army list in the starter box pamphlet, you can take Carnifexes as Brood choices rather than Support (as they would become in the Codex). Theoretically, you could have an army consisting of a lone Hive Tyrant leading a vast multi-Carnifex stampede... "HUGS FOR EVERYONE!"

    In other 1993 news, we saw the release of the standalone boardgame 'Doom of the Eldar'. It's played with cardboard counters rather than miniatures (like a traditional hex-and-counter wargame). The game depicts the last stand of Iyanden Craftworld against Hive Fleet Kraken. The Tyranid player has to fight past the Eldar spacefleet and land Tyranid creatures on the Craftworld, then wreck up the place.

    'Doom of the Eldar' was the third in a series of boardgames by Jervis Johnson. (The other two were Battle for Armageddon and Horus Heresy, plus a minigame in White Dwarf called 'Warmaster' about the Emperor vs Horus.) Because they used counters rather than models, these games could represent conflicts on a far grander scale than anything even Epic could cope with. For example, in Doom of the Eldar, an entire phalanx of Phantom Titans is represented by a single cardboard counter!

    Interestingly, because it was released right around the time the messy Rogue Trader was codified into 2nd edition, the creature names in 'Doom of the Eldar' are in a state of slight confusion. There are Hive Tyrants in the game, but Screamer-Killers and Hunter-Slayers rather than Carnifexes and Termagants. (Meanwhile, the Eldar dead-robots-walking are inconsistently referred to as both 'Ghost Warriors' and 'Wraithguard'; the rulebook itself actually mentions this as errata!)

    Most intriguingly, 'Doom of the Eldar' mentions Tyranid creatures that I haven't seen pop up anywhere else, although they might have been mentioned in RT-era fluff I haven't read:

    - Razorwings (forerunners of the Gargoyles, a bit more pterodactylish in appearance - you can see them in the background of some old art)

    - Spore Mine (well yes, this came back in Codex Tyranids and Battlefleet Gothic, but I think this was the first mention of it - and it's a giant version that can blow up spaceships)

    - Fleshstealer (a parasite that hijacks and mind-controls you, then absorbs more people until you're stuck in a mass of distorted bodies, still conscious)

    - Protoid (my favourite - basically a giant protoplasmic mass, like The Blob - in the game it grows bigger and bigger over successive turns, then shrinks back to normal and repeats)

    The game itself is a lot of fun, albeit a bit random.