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A Review of Codex: Tyranids Sixth Edition by Christopher Allen

A Review of Codex: Tyranids Sixth Edition by Christopher Allen

Games Workshop’s resident hordes of slathering aliens got a recent codex update. Christopher Allen took a look at the book and gives us his thoughts in this review.

Chris is our first guest-author here for a review on the site. Let’s give him a hand! *applause*

So be ready to nuke the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure. It’s time for another TGN review. This time it’s Codex: Tyranids.

Small note: All photos of minis taking from the talented artists who’ve posted their work on CoolMiniOrNot.

Codex: Tyranids follows the design parameters established for 6th Edition Warhammer 40K army books, and is a handsome, hardbound volume (or, if one’s preference is newer school, an interactive electronic ebook for iOS or Android). The cover art is among the darkest of the five iterations of ‘bugdex’ Games Workshop has published, though burnished by embossed lettering and a matte-to-gloss finish. It reflects a thematic darkness inhabiting the codex far more than in previous volumes. Games Workshop’s Design Studio has gone to great lengths to position the Tyranids as more than just an ominous threat to the Imperium of Man and the galaxy of the forty-first millennium. The overriding sense in this codex is that the Tyranids are winning.

That’s the strength of this version of 40K’s ‘monster army’ book. The deeply menacing, alien, remorseless threat the Tyranid invasion represents is exceedingly well conveyed in the background and history that comprises the first third of the Codex. A potential Tyranid player would be likely to come away from this section satisfied with his choice of army, and inspired to quickly assemble a force of models and get them on the tabletop. This is, after all, the army of choice in the 40K universe for fans of the drooling, metal-fanged hordes from ALIENS or city-block-smashing Kaiju many have loved since childhood. There is some equivalent predatory xenoform in the Tyranid Codex to make their hearts beat faster. The sense one gets from the very well-written background is that the monster army that player has chosen is an apocalyptic threat spanning the vastness between galaxies. It does what the background section of a shared-universe miniatures wargame army book ought to do: inspire its player to build, paint and field an army to start playing games and telling stories with it. It does this job well.

Of particular interest to long-time 40K hobbyists (be they Tyranid players or their opposing commanders) is whether the universe’s overarching backstory advances in this new codex background. Answer: It does. GW has done so quite effectively and seamlessly. In addition to recounting the ‘known history’ of the various Hive Fleets that have invaded the 40K universe in previous versions of the codex, there are elaborations along with several new additions to known canon. A highlight tale near the end describes the first war between the forty-first millennium’s premier xenos and the Chaos Daemons, the other great ‘monstrous’ threat in the game. Great stuff.

The one exception which felt forced was a bit of ‘retroactive continuity’. They’ve inserted a current Tyranid Special Character into known previous 40K history as though the character was always there. But the Swarmlord (a ‘super hive tyrant’ introduced in the last codex) wasn’t present for those earlier battles. It’s unnecessary to retain all the drama of Hive Fleet Behemoth’s invasion of Ultramar, the Eldar-and-Ultramarine battle with Hive Fleet Kraken at Ichar IV, and so on. Arguably, inserting Swarmlord into those past conflicts diminishes instead of burnishes the creature as an arch-villain. Rather than it being a ‘newer, greater’ threat leading the most current Tyranid Hive Fleets developed through the Tyranids’ ability to absorb and adapt, the Swarmlord instead is now a part of those earlier defeats. I feel it is a narrative misstep and counterproductive to the intended goal of elevating the Swarmlord’s stature. In fairness, the Swarmlord concept is so well-developed and its rules in this edition make it such a ‘no-brainer’ HQ choice that nothing will stop it from appearing at the head of most new Tyranid armies.

This is all accompanied by quality sidebars elaborating on ancillary elements of Tyranid lore. They highlight their interstellar Hiveships, give boxed quotes from renowned Imperial xenos scholars, and show timelines of anti-invasion actions. The usual good-to-occasionally-great 40k artwork includes a galactic map, color plate, and an amazing Dark Angels versus Tyranids two-page spread. The resulting Codex background section is as strong as any GW has recently released.

For every hobbyist who lives and breathes developments in their game’s fictional background and history, there are some players who lightly gloss over such sections of their chosen Codex, if they read them at all. The part of the army book they are primarily interested in is the game rules and the unit entries. One suspects this subset of 40K player may not embrace this newest Codex: Tyranids, particularly if maximizing rules and unit data numbers is a priority.

The on-table problems for Tyranid Players begin with the overall ‘Forces of the Hive Mind’ rules, things which affect the whole army rather than individual units. Specifically, its Warlord Traits and Special Rules. The former are fairly underwhelming, particularly given how different a Tyranid army should play. Likely, most players will opt to continue rolling for Traits from the main rulebook, only using the Codex list in events/games which allow them to choose a Trait. Synaptic Lynchpin, for instance, addresses a major Special Rule issue, and is therefore very desirable if it can be chosen rather than selected at random.

The Codex has fallen prey to this iteration of the Design Studio’s pronounced affection for ‘random result rolls’ with regard to the Instinctive Behaviour Special Rule. The horde-units of lesser bugs act randomly if out of ‘Synapse range’ (psychic control) of their leaders on the tabletop. This makes what them unpredictable, and is often bad for the Tyranid player. Thus, maintaining Synapse over one’s hordes is essential. It is a change that so-called ‘horde players’ who embraced the army composition philosophy preferred in the last codex will find very detrimental to their army’s tabletop effectiveness.

Further, composition solutions to this change are difficult with this codex. Increasing the number and survivability of Synapse Creatures or attempting to build a primarily Monstrous Creature army (a so-called ‘Godzilla’ build) will require greater tactics and management. There are seven unit options presented as ‘HQ Units’. Two are Special Character versions of units found elsewhere in the Codex which generate no Synapse, and a third is a protective unit which can be assigned to help keep a given Hive Tyrant alive, but likewise generates no Synapse. That leaves Hive Tyrants, the Swarmlord Special Character variant, a Tervigon (a Termagant Brood leader of sorts), and the Tyranid Prime (a sort of ‘super Tyranid Warrior’ with all the vulnerabilities those ‘mid-size’ Tyranid creatures had in the previous codex).

The Swarmlord is already a very effective choice for his points. He adds the Synaptic Lynchpin essential Warlord Trait mentioned above automatically to help cope with the Instinctive Behaviour issues. In my opinion, there really isn’t a ‘second best’ HQ choice that comes anywhere close. Most Bug armies will, nevertheless, have to run two HQ choices to maximize Synapse. These will likely be Flying Hive Tyrants, given the amplified effectiveness of any and all flying units in 6th Edition. It is somewhat a shame that the ‘meta-game’ will force Tyranid players trying to be competitive down this path. As a concept the Tyranid Prime was one of the best additions to the lore in the previous codex, and remains so here. As a result, the Prime, Deathleaper, and Old One Eye (the vaguely-supernatural, folkloric ‘carnifex that won’t die’) really deserve places in more armies than they will find. The Codex designers have written highly competitive players into this box.

Most of the expected unit entries follow, having little changed from the previous codex. Mostly, this will not be welcome news for Tyranid Players of long standing. Any hope that Genestealers would regain their place amongst the pre-imminent elite assault troops in the game is shattered. They’re merely “good” Troops. Any hope that mid-size Tyranids would become more survivable (especially the essential Tyranid Warriors, a Troops choice with Synapse) is immediately dismissed. The major positive takeaway will be the notably reduced points cost for many Monstrous Creatures. With no ‘Eternal Warrior’ or the equivalent anywhere in evidence, and access to any kind of Invulnerable Saves extremely limited, however, players may discover the reduced costs are somewhat matched by reduced effectiveness.

New models include the Haruspex feeder beast, the Exocrine heavy artillery beast, and two new Fast Attack flyers in the Harpy and Hive Crone. The Haruspex and Exocrine can be built from the same kit, and players will remember the Harpy from the previous codex, but now with its own kit. All have good tabletop utility. The two flyers become immediate likely army composition inclusions just because control of the air has become so pivotal to 6th Edition play, and the Hive Crone especially may become an anti-air favorite. The Exocrine gives players a ‘heavy gun’ alternative to the ‘Tyrannofex’. The Haruspex’s place in the army will depend on the player’s fondness for model, as its effectiveness at killing (more specifically, digesting) opposing Characters and multi-wound models is simply and adjunct for an army already proficient in hand-to-hand combat. Both Exocrines and Haruspices have been part of Tyranid lore in past, but only as Epic-level Gargantuan-type creatures. This marks their first official appearances as parts of standard 40K army lists.

The Red Terror is back, hopefully leading a few more Ravener broods onto the tabletop than have been commonly seen to this point (and swallowing opposing heroes whole with disturbing frequency, to further the diabolical reputation of the Hive Mind).

Two final pages of rules found between the narrative entries for each unit and the crunchier army list construction entries in the back bear mentioning. The Powers of The Hive Mind details the psychic powers Tyranids may now use in 6th Edition play. The seven disciplines listed are, like the Warlord Traits, fairly underwhelming from standpoints of an evocative background and from tabletop effectiveness, particularly given how effective certain psychic powers from the lists in the basic rulebook could be when used by Tyranid psykers in the past. On the other hand, the Bio-Artefacts of The Tyranids page are exceedingly cool, providing players a list of five unique, atmospheric ‘magic items’ (for lack of a better descriptive) the addition of any one of which can give a player’s army something of an identity, as well as a difference in play style.

Codex: Tyranids for 6th Edition Warhammer 40,000 is curiously not credited to any primary Studio author. While it has long been recognized these volumes are contributed to by many GW writers, the driving designer behind each individual codex has generally been credited. It helped hobbyists learn to expect certain things from a Matt Ward codex versus a Phil Kelly codex, for example. Given his public fondness for the Great Devourer and his track record of admirable codices, one hoped Phil Kelly would drive this one. At a guess, his hand is evident in some of the background material, but the rules philosophy feels like Robin Cruddace’s work. That was no blessing for players of the Hive Mind with the previous codex, and, while this edition is a better work, its competitive playability remains suspect.

Fortunately, there are 40K hobbyists of all armies, Kaiju fan Tyranid players included, who will take their armies to the field whether hampered by its most current codex or not. They will field the models they like best in compositions which reflect the background and history and story they’re telling on the tabletop whether it produces the most tournament wins or not. Which means there will still be Tyranid Primes and Old One Eyes to create new legends around, despite the hordes of nameless Swarmlords everywhere else in evidence, all hoping the next codex or updating Dataslate gives them their properly competitive due.

Codex: Tyranids
$49.50 104-page hardcover
$ 34.99 Digital ebook
L34.99 Interactive ibook