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Oops New Army: Tyranid Edition

If you have read my previous “Oops New Army” you’ll know that I have a problem, and it’s collecting armies.  I have intentionally created two armies, but I own six.  Current and fully painted.  Not counting anything I owned before 2019, i.e. for the first twenty something years of hobbying…  The others keep tempting me with Warhammer Fantasy and honestly it’s a terrifying idea, I don’t think I’d survive.  

This week we’re taking a look at Tyranids.


Because Contrast.  

No really.  I had always liked the idea of a Tyranid army, they are the ultimate evil alien, they get to have horrific deadly monsters but also endless waves of chaff.  I watched Starship Troopers on a bus to Games Day at a formative age.  But the idea of painting them always intimidated me.  When Contrast came out it became readily apparent (to me at least) that they weren’t great for hard shapes like Space Marines but would be wonderful on organic stuff.  As a thought exercise I wondered about collecting a few Tyranids and painting them with Contrast.  But you know how it goes, you spend long enough on it and the hypothetical becomes thetical.  You get far enough that the only way to know is to try, so you try, and then you know, so now you go.  

An important note here, this wasn’t really intended as an army.  We do a lot of narrative gaming here, and one game Charlie came up with is our own version of Deathwatch.  Each player runs a Deathwatch Veteran and the GM throws waves of foes at them.  It plays a lot like Black Library books read, with a few superhuman heroes battling waves of foes.  A bit of roleplay, a lot of bolter porn.  To date we had played against Orks and Genestealer Cults, but nobody in our group had actual Tyranids, and they would make a great foe.


I knew if I was going to do this, it would mean a lot of gribblies, so the painting had to be stupidly easy.  I spent a lot of time researching possible paint schemes, then ordered some Contrast paints and some push-fit Termagants to test them on.  Weeks later the hobby store admitted the push-fit models weren’t coming back into stock, so I dug out some old Space Hulk Genestealers instead.

I had initially thought I might go for a very dark scheme to work with the Genestealer Cults that Jeff and Charlie have produced.  But experimentation taught me that the darkest Contrast colours tend to look a bit blotchy, and I actually got results I preferred with the brighter colours.  So I settled on Kraken, since the colours looked good and the chitin and weapons were the same colour, saving a bit of time and effort.  

The scheme is very much optimised for speed, whilst maintaining consistency.  The one thing about Contrast is that you can’t really go back and fix it later if you make a mistake, so the order of operations is important.  

  • Spray Wraithbone
  • Paint the eyes Averland Sunset Base (some guns have eyes too, creepy gribblies)
  • Paint all chitin armour, blades and claws Flesh Tearers Red.  I experimented with the Gaunt’s teeth too, but they looked odd so counterintuitively they are left Wraithbone.
  • Now clean up any mistakes with Wraithbone.  No going back after this.
  • Paint the entire model in Skeleton Horde.  It’s much quicker to paint the whole thing than to avoid the red.  Except on really big models, but for consistency all models are treated the same.
  • Carefully paint the fleshy bits Magos Purple.  This is the tongue, the wing membranes, the joints and the weird vet bits in the sides of limbs.  Mistakes at this stage are hard to fix and will leave a permanent mess, so this is the tricky part, but capillary action is your friend.

That’s it.  It’s very quick, and you can churn them out like a champion Norn Queen.  My biggest criticism of them is that the red could do with an edge highlight, the contrast (little ‘c’) is a bit low, but the overall effect when you stack up a swarm on a table is fantastic.  They are definitely “battle ready” and not “parade ready”.


And this is where things went sideways.  I started out wanting to build a small force for a narrative game.  Some Gaunts for chaff, a few Warriors for a serious threat, a Lictor for drama and a Biovore for trolling the players and forcing them to either jump from shelter to shelter, or deviate from their mission to hunt it down.  


I placed an order and started working through them, but of course the brain doesn't stop working and I thought I might as well pad it out and make the force up to a usable 40k army at some point.  Then Covid happened and, luxury tragedy upon actual global tragedy, Games Workshop shut.  Knowing I was going to be trapped inside with nothing to do for a while, I immediately jumped on all the hobby store websites I knew and ordered the rest of what I needed for a full army whilst they still had stock.

One of the main motivators for upscaling to 40k was simply my love for this model.  Big Momma Tervigon and her endless brood of Termagants.  It’s everything I love about Tyranids in one model.

After a while, GW soft-reopened online and said they would take orders but it could take months to deliver and they might have to shut again, so I ordered everything I needed to scale the army all the way up to 2,000pts thinking it would turn up at some point and carry me through a possible future drought. The models turned up in a week.

I had so many Tyranids you guys.  SO MANY.  How many?  133.  Ok that doesn't sound so bad but some of them are really big!

Making it my own

I really haven't.  This is the army I have put the least personal touches into.  I very much collected them to be a gaming resource and an antagonist.  Tyranids are the most inhuman faction, more a force of nature than anything with a personality.  The characters don’t have names, and intentionally don’t even survive between different wars; they get eaten and replacements bred for the next planetary invasion.  

Hive Tyrant #49267

I actually started this army in secret, the plan was to surprise my chums with them in a  Deathwatch encounter.  The others all know what armies I had already, and even if I was planning to borrow models, nobody had Tyranids.  But due to Covid the chance to play Deathwatch was postponed and postponed.  Eventually Charlie started talking about the idea of making some Tyranids as a gaming resource for the group and I decided to come clean and let everyone know what I’d been brewing up.  

The collection is, quite deliberately, a wide smorgasbord of units from across the Codex.  I wanted to build a classic force to give the classic Tyranid experience, rather than any specialised army leaning into a specific vibe.  100 Gaunts of various flavours form a decent “horrifying swarm”, then a mixture of bigger creatures from Warriors right up to Tyrannofex provide the “terrifying monster”.

Lore wise I have decided this is a splinter fleet, cast adrift by the opening of the great rift.   This fleet is low on resources, starving, and very alone.  Rather than descend upon worlds in a huge fleet of doom, or wait for a convenient Genestealer Cult to open the way for them, they send out small seed pods that attempt to land on and infect a planet.  The Tyranids start small, hopefully somewhere rural, and start eating and build a breeding pool.  

If they can gather enough resources to grow big and overwhelm the planet, hurrah, the fleet can move in and feed.  If not, little was lost.  This rather conveniently means they can be a dangerous threat, but one that other armies can defeat, rather than the more classic approach of massive scale warfare and by the time it starts raining Tyranids your world is basically already lost.


Even without the foes being a surprise, it went really well.  The Gaunts provided a delightful hoard to battle through, with the differences between Termagants and Hormagaunts providing some fun target prioritisation challenges. The Lictor did not appear on their auspex, naturally, and was a horrifying surprise.  The biovore was exactly as annoying as expected.  But with the army being much bigger than initially intended I was able to throw in some horrible surprises, a Carnifex and even a Tervigon steadily churning out wave after wave of fresh enemies.


I’ve played a few games, mostly for the sake of trying them out, but since 9th edition came out my interest has been very focussed on Crusade.  I touched on this above, but essentially I’m not that interested in playing Tyranids in Crusade.  The narrative we have built in the Eridani sector revolves largely around small mobile forces moving around, whereas to my mind a Tyranid force generally invades a single world, wins or loses, then moves on and starts again.  At some point I may run a Tyranid army as an antagonist in a small Crusade campaign, but for now it doesn't entirely fit the general vibe we have going on.

That said, it’s a great looking swarm on the table and, I’m told, pretty fun to play against.  I’ve only played with the 8th edition Codex, so I can’t really speak to how they play these days, but I found them to be pretty fun, having a bit of everything and easily tailored to whatever you need them to do.

I played a couple of games against Charlie’s Scions, and then Rob wanted to stand up his beautiful Praetorians in clean firing lines so he teamed up with Charlie's Ankrans and we had a Guard vs Nids showdown.  I think Guard versus Tyranids might actually be my favourite 40k aesthetic.

Images from Rob's excellent Instagram

In Conclusion

A successful project!  As with the Necrons, the quick paint scheme was crucial to the success of the army as a small(ish) standalone project.  But I doubt it would have grown nearly this big without Covid lockdown.  I think I have one box of Termagants and half a box of Gargoyles left to paint, but they will probably get knocked out pretty quickly as and when I finally have a use for them.  

There’s not much I’d particularly want to add to the army at this point, it’s got most of the bases covered, but I would like some Tyranid specific terrain at some point.  I can imagine some great Deathwatch scenarios where the team don’t just have to survive but have to push into places where the Tyranids have already firmly taken, full of breeding pools and spore chimneys.  There are some great 3d models floating around so one day this may become a reality.  


  1. I am impressed by your complete lack of willpower and ability to stick to a plan. Then to be able to justify it with such eloquence. Phrases like really big models and Forgeworld are used so calmly. Having to pay out for Forgeworld was terrifying, the sheer cost. It reminds me of me in my younger days.

    1. That's some Hard Truth you're wheeling out there Phil, and I am here for it. But I will attempt to justify myself once more with that good old quote all wargamers love; "no plan survives contact with the enemy". I think the really important thing about my lack of willpower is that it has resulted mostly in finished (if unexpected) armies I use, rather than piles of expensive plastic still in boxes that sit on a shelf.

    2. I wish I was the same (glances to a large pile of boxes) !!! They look good when finished and you do some great work so as long as you can keep going!

    3. Well good news my friend, you can be! I think the thing that helps the most to motivate me is wanting to use models, and the more I play, the more it drives my desire to get more of my models built and painted so I can use them too. It's pretty much universal within the bunker that after a big gaming event we're all super motivated to do hobby for weeks afterwards. That and carefully planning out a paintscheme that is acheivable and sustainable. I find if a paint scheme is too tedious for me, I am super unmotivated to do it and it never happens.

  2. Ooops a new army is much less of an ooops if you actually paint it and use it!

    As someone with (mumble mumble) unpainted still on sprue armies, I am pretty jealous, but your Contrast color scheme seems like it helped to get it done. Might have to look into it for my own shelf armies...

    1. It was definitely an "Oops" in that I hadn't really intended to do it, but I'm certainly pleased that having done it anyway, I did at least get it (mostly) done.

  3. Hey, any chance of getting the deathwatch rules you mentioned? It sounds like a great way to kill an evening.

    1. The Deathwatch rules are a port of the free 1940s roleplay rules for the Ministry of Extramundane Affairs from

      Since we wish to avoid the appearance of promoting a game I wrote using someone else's intellectual property, we sadly won't be making the port publicly available. I wish we could, because honestly, it works incredibly well and I'm really proud of it. The core MoEA rules weren't modified much, it's mostly the equipment, NPC profiles, injury tables and psychic powers that make it feel like an entirely different game.

      Sorry to give such an unsatisfying answer!


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