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How to Play Tyranids in Warhammer 40K

8 Minute Read
Sep 15 2023

Today take a look at some basics of how to play and get started with Warhammer 40k Tyranids.

The Tyranids are an extragalactic alien race. Their sole purpose is the consumption of all forms of genetic and biological material in order to evolve and reproduce. The Tyranids are seen as one of the gravest threats to the entire Galaxy. They seek only to consume all organic life and cannot be reasoned with or deterred in this quest.  As one of the oldest factions in Warhammer 40,000, the Tyranids have an impressively large unit roster.

So below, we will offer some tips on how to play Tyranids and how to get started with the army.

Who Are The Tyranids?

The exact origin of the Tyranids themselves is unclear, save the fact that they are not of the galaxy and have only recently arrived here after traveling countless millennia in the intergalactic void. The Imperium’s first official contact with the race was in 741.M41, when the Hive Fleet later known as Behemoth invaded the Eastern Fringe and annihilated planet Tyran. However, reexamination of Imperial records has led to speculation that the Tyranids have been invading, or at least probing, the Galaxy for much longer.

The Tyranid forces are constantly changing and evolving at an unnatural speed. It is unlikely that all types of Tyranids have been seen by the Imperium, and still less likely that they will ever all be seen. However, a few key traits are identical to nearly all Tyranids, such as tough chitinous armor, a hexapedal anatomy, and multiple redundant organs, which make them incredibly difficult to kill.

Why Play Tyranids

Tyranids invasion

The Tyranids are a unique faction of Xenos, usually built around their large number of monstrous creatures. Their rules are full of options for every phase of the game. Do you like big gribblies surrounded by hordes? Specialized upgrades that let you evolve your army to taste? Do you want to consume all before you? Tyranids might just be your faction.

Strengths of the Tyranids Army

  • Synapse. The large units’ willful control of their smaller subjects is represented in a number of ways.
  • Monsters. I mentioned it before, but it is worth mentioning again, Tyranids have a huge number of monster options.

Weakness of the Tyranids Army

  • Balance. Finding the right mix of monsters and other things in a list can be tricky.
  • Finesse. This army excels when all the parts work together.

Tyranids battle Chaos Daemons


Tyranids Army Rules

  • Synapse: When close to synapse units, your units are much less susceptible to battleshock (though not immune!).
  • Shadow in the Warp: A powerful morale-breaking mechanic, which forces battleshock on enemy units across the board. Used at the right time, against the right enemy, and it can be devastating.

Tyranids Detachment Rules-

1. Invasion Fleet

  • Rules: The Hyper-Adaptations rules allows you to customize what your models do based off of what your opponent brought to the field, giving a single selectable bonus which lasts throughout the game targetting specific unit types.
  • Enhancements: Nice options here but I really like Adaptive Biology on a Hive Tyrant for that extra resilience.
  • Stratagems: Tyranids offer a nice mix of offensive and defensive Stratagems, including the very fun Endless Swarm.

2. Crusher Stampede

  • Rules: The Enraged Behemoths rule gives bonuses to your monsters as they hurt, but doesn’t help the little guys.
  • Enhancements: These are all for your monsters and lean flavorful over efficient.
  • Stratagems: These range from the savage Rampaging Monstrosities, to the tactically appealing Savage Roar.

3. Unending Swarm

  • Rules: This swarmy detachment features Insurmountable Odds, which means your little guys will surge towards the enemy as they take fire.
  • Enhancements: These are all interesting, but Relentless Hunger gives a character and unit extra movement which combines great with the detachment rule.
  • Stratagems: These are all excellent, but all for ENDLESS MULTITUDE units only. Consider Swarming Masses for the extra offensive boost.

 4. Assimilation Swarm

  • Rules: This detachment is themed around the relatively rare Harvester keyword. Feed the Swarm allows such units on objectives to heal themselves, other units, and bring back slain models.
  • Enhancements: These are interesting given that no characters have the correct keyword for the detachment rule.
  • Stratagems: There are some solid options here, but I like Tyrannoformed for allowing a Harvester to tag an objective.

5. Vanguard Onslaught

  • Rules: The Questing Tendrils rules allows all your units to Fall Back and Charge and  also allows Vanguard Invader units to advance and charge.
  • Enhancements: The Neuronode is great for players who like to be sneaky while they being sneaky-  you can redeploy three Vanguard Invader units before the game starts.
  • StratagemsUnseen Lurkers is great for making a nice, juicy target invisible at the last moment.

6. Synaptic Nexus

  • Rules: Synaptic Imperatives supplies a suite of selectable army-wide buffs, like the Invasion Fleet.
  • Enhancements: Call out for Power of the Hive Mind– only works on the Neurotyrant, but makes his shooting weapon excellent.
  • Stratagems: Most of these are themed around Synapse, including Reinforced Hive Node, which reduces the AP of incoming shots.

Key Tyranids Units To Know

The army has a sizable unit roster, and knowing what units to take can be tricky. Here are some suggestions to get you off on the right track.


Norn Emissary

The Norn Assimilator is the big new leader bug of Tyranid. With a swiss army knife of a shooting loadout, the Norn Assimilator has a psychic tool to kill any type of opponent. Extremely difficult to bring down, the newest leader bug to hit the tabletop is no laughing matter – and a perfect centerpiece miniature to lead your swarm.

Winged Hive Tyrant

The prototypical and classic leader of a Tyranid army since time immemorial. Big, buff monsters that are good at shooting, combat, and  have the powerful Paroxysm psychic power. There isn’t much a Hive Tyrant cannot do.

Neuro Tyrant

The new psychic leader of a Tyranid army just added in the latest edition. He’s a floating terror, who’s Psychic Terror ability ads a -1 penalty to the table-wide Shadow in the Warp ability. The Neuro Tyrant can break large portions of the enemy army and send them into Battle Shock when they least expect it.



The little guys and “horde” of the army. While they aren’t good, but there are a LOT of them! They aren’t that great at either shooting or melee, but you DO have numbers – use it to swamp your opponent. Skulking Horrors makes them a surprisingly effective and annoying screening unit.


Neurogaunts are both screen and synaptic extender- emitting Synapse whenever they receive Synapse.

Other Units

Tyranid Warriors with Ranged Bio-weapons

The mid-tier Synapse bosses. Warriors can be great middle management keeping the little guys in line, while being tactically flexible thanks to Adaptable Predators.


Von Ryan’s Leapers

Von Ryan’s Leapers are incredibly fast, Infiltrate, and have a bucket of Attacks in melee. Great for getting into places where the enemy thought they were safe.

Parasite of Mortrex

There is a lot to love about the Parasite Who Cares- including the ability to pop enemy infantry models into Ripper Swarms!


The sneaky, ambush-y Lictor Epic Hero. Carefully read his Datasheet… he’s quite good (plus look at that sweet meat-duster!).


A Deepstriking horde of wings, Gargoyles can be an excellent harassment unit. They can be especially difficult to pin down with good use of the Winged Swarm rule.


Big, living battering rams. These guys have the damage potential to rip through an Imperial Knight. Foes will think twice about targeting them at range thanks to Blistering Assault.


Hey, it’s a big gun bug. He shoots out bio-plasma very effectively. I feel like I’ve seen this somewhere before, maybe in a movie… Hmmm. Symbiotic Targeting means you should shoot with the Exocrine first.


Another giant, tough gun bug. The Tyrannofex can fulfill a large number of roles depending on how it is equipped- from horde-killer to dedicated anti-tank. It’s an enormous centerpiece model that not only is deadly, but makes your army look fantastic on the tabletop.  Resilient Organism makes it incredibly hard to crack.

Sample Starter Warhammer 40k Tyranids Army

Army: Tyranids



Hive Tyrant. One Model. They are equipped with: monstrous bonesword; heavy venom cannon; lash whip.


Termagants. Ten Models. Each model is equipped with: fleshborer.

Termagants. Ten Models. Each model is equipped with: fleshborer.

Termagants. Ten Models. Each model is equipped with: fleshborer.

Other Units

Carnifex. Two Models. They are equipped with: 4 Carnifex scything talons.

Tyrannofex. One model. They are equipped with: fleshborer hive; stinger salvoes; powerful limbs.

Von Ryan’s Leapers. Six models. They are equipped with: Leaper’s Talons.


Tyranids Combat Patrol box

How to Play Tyranids

Tyranids can play in a variety of styles. You can play anything from big monsters, to swarming hordes, to medium bugs, or any combination. Depending on Hive Fleet, upgrades, and unit selection, these Xenos can play to shooting, to combat, or to combined arms. One thing about Tyranids is that, whatever job you want to do, and however you want to do it, there’s a Bug for that (and probably a BIG one).


Author: Allen Campbell
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