Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Tyranid Archive - 4th Generation (2005)

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.

4th Generation (2005)
(Also known as PLASTIC CARNIFEX!)

The 4th Generation/Edition refresh of the Tyranid codex caught me completely by surprise. Moloch, who at that time was pretty tight with the studio, had warned me it was coming. I remember being shocked, thinking that Nid players had waited so long for their codex after the release of 3rd Edition (not, actually, that long now that I look at it objectively), and that there was no possible way that we could be getting new models because Games Workshop had only just refreshed the entire model line. Long story short, I was, more or less, happy with the situation the Tyranids were in during 3rd Edition, and I couldn't imagine how Games Workshop could possibly improve on it.

Oh, how wrong I was.

The 4th Generation Tyranid release was the one that brought the model line, more or less, to the condition we see it in today. Where the 3rd Generation of models had introduced the beginnings of a unified Tyranid aesthetic (with more or less standardized head and back carapaces, limb construction), as well as the idea of painting the entire army in the same colour scheme, 4th Generation went even further down the path of Tyranid aesthetic unification.

On the rules side of things, the 4th Generation codex did away with those wondrous Mutable Genus rules from 3rd Generation/Edition...kind of. The usage of biomorphs to pump selected stats was folded into the "vanilla" entry for each Tyranid creature (including a previously unimagined biomorph for increasing toughness!), but the Mutant rules that had been one of the most enjoyable parts of Mutable Genus were dumped entirely. Weird, new biomorphs like Toxic Miasma, Scuttlers, and Symbiote Rippers were added, but it was never really clear how these biomorphs were meant to be represented on models. We saw the introduction of the Living Ammunition rule, which was a very Tyranid-y addition that meant Fleshborers and Devourers got to re-roll their to wound rolls on account of them firing living creatures at you. Ranged weapons kept the fact that their strength was based on that of the creature that was carrying them, but now they were capped at certain strengths. Sadly, this meant that we could no longer have Carnifexes pumping out 4 Str9 Devourer shots every turn :(

Oh, and--of course--there was also the Godzilla Swarm: the name given to a Tyranid army that maximized on Tyranid Monstrous Creatures by taking advantage of the new rule that Carnifexes under a certain points cost (115?) could be taken as elites. All that was required was to pad out two troops slots with your cheapest option, and you could fill the rest of your list with EIGHT Tyranid Monstrous Creatures! More on that in another post, though... >:)

Whether it was inspired by working with the talented concept artist Roberto Cirillo or driven by Jes having completed the long-teased-about plastic carnifex, the majority of the Tyranid model line (which had just been completely resculpted not 4 years previous) was resculpted for this release. From the vantage point of 3rd Edition, that seemed like madness, but looking back upon it now, it's clear that some of the motivation fo the 4th Edition Tyranid refresh must have been getting rid of some of those rough, 3rd Generation sculpts.

I think one of the most beautiful, possibly somewhat underloved, model to come out of the 4th Generation release was the pewter Hive Tyrant. It was new, it was gorgeous, and it harkened back to the design of the 2nd Generation Hive Tyrant while keeping in line with unified Tyranid Aesthetic. Gorgeous! I think the only reason I never bought one was because I was distracted by the plastic Carnifex...good thing, too, as this gorgeous model has now been rendered into plastic!


The Lictor was redone, which is fortunate because the last one, with its boxy sculpting and gravity-defying tentacles really needed it. What's more, one of the coolest bits of the Lictor has always been those mantis claws, and slapping some metal scything talons on the last model didn't really give the same vibe. There were two Lictor models released: one standard, buy-it-at-any-shop variety, and one limited-edition model with retracted mantis claws that was only available in the Tyranid boxed army:


The Zoanthrope wwas resculpted, which is nice and al because it's a lovely sculpt, but I kind of had a thing for the old, smaller, 3rd Generation model. This is another model that I find kind of beautiful but have never bothered to buy. With it now only being available in Finecost--er, I mean, FineCAST, I think I'll probably pass on it until Games Workshop gets around to releasing it in plastic like the Tyrant ;)

The biovore was resculpted, but I seem to recall it was done some time after the release of the codex as the codex still shows the previous, 3rd Generation model. Despite being resculpted, the new model came with the same three variety of spore mines as the old one, which was great as they're nice little models that are quite obviously different from one another. I think that whoever sculpted the model was trying to emulate the fabulous Roberto Cirillo sketches:

...untfortunately, as I tried to demonstrate with my Exocrine, those concepts are better accomplished using a larger canvas, and the much smaller Biovore just wound up looking somewhat constipated as someone tried to squeeze all those good ideas onto a much too small model.

The Raveners were brought more in line with the plastic Warrior models. The thicker talons were a nice touch to make them look more tunnel-y, and I like the tail, but the models never impressed me enough to make me want to shell out for them. What's more, the 4th Generation Codex gave us the ability for Raveners to carry a ranged weapon without having to give up one of their arm slots (which, let's face it, are better suited for combat weapons). It was called a "Thorax weapon", and it was somehow mounted in their chests, but the models didn't come with any options for it.

The Tyrant Guard were also, thankfully, resculpted to eliminate that gangly, shield-totting thing that introduced them in 3rd Generation. When the first photos of these models leaked, Nid players in the know wondered if some of Warren Beattie's Guard sketches might not have made their way to Games Workshop's studio...

...but I was always in love with Warren's sketches (like, to a thinking-of-proposing-marriage level), and, after a comment from Moloch or Hydra, I could never see the 4th Generation Tyrant Guard as anything more than the attendant, heavily-armoured doggies of the Hive Tyrant. There's even a comedic image in my head of them bounding into the air to catch bullets as they are so obviously too short to be of much use as a shield wall for a Hive Tyrant.

Though Old One Eye and The Red Terror never got refreshed in 4th Generation (heck, they were even dropped from the codex!), the Tyranid ranks were reinforced by a new independent-character-style creature evolved to lead the Genestealer broods and, generally, cause a whole bunch of pain: the Broodlord! In the 4th Generation/Edition codex, you could only field one Broodlord as an HQ choice, but he was a combat monstrosity who came equipped with power weapons. Unfortunately, he had a serious penchant for singing opera, so I never bothered with the model:

A little after the 4th Generation codex was released, the Fall of Medusa V global campaign book added a second Tyranid independent character: Deathleaper. The creature was based on a creation of Canadian Games Workshop staff (you're welcome, world), back when there still was a Canadian office, for their Canada-only Rise of the Swarm campaign. Deathleaper was just like any other Lictor, except meaner, and when I look to the 5th Generation codex's rules for the creature, I can't help thinking that his rules play like every Lictor should.

In fact, the only models to survive the 4th Generation purge were the Jes Goodwin plastics (Gaunts and Warriors, which was fine because those models aged magnificently), the Biovore (which, as already noted, was on its last legs and destined for resculpting), and the rather-sad, rather-annoying-as-ever metal Gargoyles. When checking the 4th Generation codex's colour section, you can see that they didn't even bother to repaint the 3rd Generation Gargoyles in the spot where they are featured (though GW did go to the trouble of painting 8 of them--the minimum number--up in the Leviathan scheme for the shot demonstrating Force Organization Charts).

Now that we've got those out of the way, we can move onto the important modeling events that took place with the release of the 4th Generation Tyranid models.

The first momentous modeling event of the 4th Generation was Jes Goodwin's rescuplt of that most ancient of Tyranid models: the plastic Genestealer. A conservative estimate puts this little guy's age at 10 years, but, as I'm not versed on the Space Hulk release dates, it's likely that the plastic Genestealer was even older. A simplified, snap-together version of the new plastic Genestealers released early, alongside some plastic termagants, in the "Battle for Macragge" starter set.


Though they were lovely and welcome and all us Nid players could have hoped for, their release was a bit of a dubious one as it may have been the first instance of the internet and advance rumours/photos hurting a Games Workshop release. Someone got a hold of advance photos of the plastic Genestealers from the front, and the unflattering angle made it look like they had HUGE nostrils, and the trolls on the Internet had a field day at how hideous the models were...long before anyone had the opportunity to actually SEE the models. I'm not sure if it was at an event or as an aside, but Jes once said how excited he'd been about the plastic 'stealers, and then how disappointed he'd been when a couple of poorly-shot photos of the models we used as evidence against the, long before they were even released.

Not only did we get the early Battle for Macragge 'stealers, but when the 4th Generation Tyranid codex released, it dropped with a new Genestealer box, and that box gave us all manner of head options for the 'stealers, as well as Scything Talon arms and extended carapace plate upgrades. Heck, they even threw in some Tyranid scenery from the BfM boxed set on the Genestealer sprue.

...and you'd think that, after such a long wait, and with all those options on the sprue (FEEDER TENTACLES!!!) that the plastic Genestealers would be the biggest news of the 4th Generation refresh.

But then there was another plastic model released with with the 4th Edition codex, one with a wealth of options on the sprue that dwarfed those on the Genestealer sprue. Where the 'stealer sprue had something like 16 heads to choose from for 8 models, this other model included 6 different head options for just the one model. There were gun options and combat options and different carapace plates and different tail weapons. I'm talking, of course, about the plastic Carnifex.

I would say that the plastic Carnifex ranked behind only plastic Cadians in the category of longest-awaited models of all time (okay, sure, Thunderwolves and the Tervigon/Tyrannofex kits are now runners up). Like I mentioned in the 3rd Generation post, Jes Goodwin had been teasing us with this thing for a goodly long time, and then as the rumours of a new Tyranid codex started to solidify in 2004/2005, the only hint Games Workshop provided us in amongst their sneak peaks was something like this:
It was a fantastic tease and wholly maddening all at once, and, screwing up our eyes and staring at that silhouette for hours, I don't think that we ever could have expected what was destined to come our way:


God. Would you look at that? A thing of beauty! Have you ever wanted to make love to a model so much in your life?

In all honesty, I feel that Jes Goodwin deserves about eighteen awards for having seen the plastic Carnifex through to the final product. No matter how many Tyranid biotitans get pressed into plastic--no matter how big they try to go--I believe that there will never be another Tyranid model with at once as much beauty and as much conversion potential as the plastic Carnifex. When photos of the plastic Tyrant and Tervigon leaked a couple of weeks back, they were impressive, but they weren't the plastic Carnifex.

When it came time to write this part of the 4th Generation blurb, I couldn't shake the feeling that the plastic Carnifex, pretty much, could justify it's own Tyranid Archive entry. This model came with so very many options in one box, and yet in the hands of most Tyranid players, it was just the jumping off point for all manner of conversions. I have seen the plastic carnifex converted more times than any other Tyranid model. I don't actually know how many plastic carnifex boxes I have bought over the years, but I do know that I have never assembled a single one of them in the way that they were intended to be put together. And that shouldn't be taken as some slight against the standard model; that should be interpreted as a solid endorsement for just what a workhorse this model is.

Anyway. Enough rambling. Suffice to say that I have nothing but good things to say about the plastic Carnifex, and one day I'm going to dedicate a whole post to fantastic plastic Carnifex conversions. If you've got some you think people should see, please link to them in the comments.

I can't tell you anything about this model that you haven't already experienced for yourself by using it and loving it over the years, so let's just close this article with one more pretty Carnifex:


  1. Great article!

    I dropped out of the 40k loop just prior to this period, so its great to see a thorough breakdown of this 'nid release.

    Apart from a 1996 retool for Space Hulk 2nd ed that made some *very* minor changes to the models, the plastic Genestealer was in circulation since 1989 (SH 1st ed).

    Does that make it the longest serving GW plastic kit ever I wonder? I think that that it had a longer shelf life than the original Rhino (which was '87 to 2000 I think. Dont quote me).

    The Termagants from the Macragge box always looked a little large to me. Are they bigger than the standard plastics?

  2. Man, I had no idea that there was another lictor pose in pewter. The lictor is the most iconic tyranid creature to me. I may have to pick that one up if I can find it on eBay.

    I agree with you regarding the Carnifex. I have three devourer armed carnifex, three screamer killers, and one with the FW crushing claws. I love them.

  3. I might be the only Tyranid player on the planet who isn't a fan of the plastic Carnifex. (Heresy!)

    This may have something to do with the fact that I was out of the country yet again the year it was released, so I never really had a chance to buy it and play around with it when I was still into the game. And the first photo I saw of it was the Studio one with the tusked head, which I thought looked stupid; it made a bad first impression. But mainly it just looks too different to the classic Screamer-Killer sculpt to be a 'real' Carnifex as far as I'm concerned.

    Was the 4th ed Hive Tyrant pewter? My White Dwarf from that release says it was plastic.

    I think the holes on the sides of the Raveners' chests were meant to represent the thorax weapons.

    While the 4th edition model range is mostly superb on its own merits, it also finally completed an aesthetic change that I don't much like. (Warning, 'get off my lawn' grumbling ahead...)

    In Rogue Trader and 2nd edition--and to a lesser extent in 3rd--the Tyranids felt like a collection of different species all working together, like an entire alien ecology. The Earth equivalent would be if sharks, lions, crocodiles, bats, giant squid, bacteria and everything else on the planet all suddenly developed a rabid hive mind and went out into the galaxy to eat everyone else.

    David Gerrold's 'War Against the Chtorr' books (unfinished and largely forgotten now) were probably an inspiration, although I can't confirm this. Heck, the Tyranids were even painted red in 2nd ed Epic and 40K because they may have come from a world with a reddish sun, according to a throwaway line in White Dwarf--just like the Chtorrans. (Although the real reason was of course that it was GW's Red Period and everything was red except the Goblin Green bases.)

    In 2nd ed, Rippers didn't look anything like Warriors, and Epic slug-tanks didn't look anything like Carnifexes, in the same way that centipedes don't look anything like monkeys or blue whales. Why would they?

    From 4th edition onward, though, the Tyranid aesthetic has presented them more as a single species with wildly diverse forms. Like dogs. Chihuahuas, Great Danes and bulldogs all look very different--but they're clearly all derived from a basic proto-dog, just stretched and squashed into different shapes by selective breeding. Similarly, the Tyranids post-4th edition all look as if they were bred from Warriors. Including the things that showed up in 5th edition and later. Fat bulky Warriors (Carnifexes and the assorted bigger creatures), long thin Warriors with tails (Raveners and Trygons), tiny baby Warriors (Rippers), and so on. Even the revised Bio-Titans that Forgeworld did remind me of Godzilla-sized Warriors that have had their height/width/depth dials played with in a 3D modelling program.

    That's clearly the aesthetic that Jes Goodwin and team were aiming for, and they succeeded. But it diminishes them in my eyes. It turns the Tyranids into a single 'race' instead of an entire ecology. It's like Ogryns and Ratlings in the Imperium--both are just variants of human. I loved the old Tyranids because it felt like every single thing alive on their home planet had shown up on your doorstep to kill you.

    1. if i remember correctly, the torso, legs, and head were pewter. the arms were plastic.