Army Wide Special Rules/Army Notes
This is an important section to cover by itself, as the army-wide special rule for Tyranids are highly focal to how the army works. It will chiefly determine what units you purchase and the mixture you go for. It also serves to emphasize the key theme of the book; synergy.
Synapse - A unit with this special rule is Fearless and, to a bug, has Leadership 10. In addition, any Tyranid unit within 12" of a Synapse creature does not need to test for Instinctive Behaviour and gains the Fearless special rule. In a nutshell, you need Synapse so that your hordes don't run away from combat, your monstrous creatures don't derp out, and your mid/long-range ranged units can fire at peak efficiency. On that last note, Hive Guard and Biovores can't fire without Line of Sight if they fail an Instinctive Behaviour test - essentially meaning you want to keep them near a Synapse creature at all times. Despite this, certain units can do fine without Synapse; notably close-combat Carnifexes and Trygons. Keep this in mind during deployment and when positioning those units. For the most part though, you should have a wide range of synapse creatures in your army spread out nicely to ensure your army doesn't collapse upon itself at a moment's notice; whether through some Tyranid Warriors, a Tervigon or a couple of Zoanthropes, always keep multiple Synapse units at hand.
Instinctive Behaviour -This is what any non-Synapse creature suffers (or benefits, in certain cases) from - each unit with this special rule that is not in Synapse range at the start of their movement phase must take a Leadership test or fall prey to their basic survival instincts. For the most part, you don't want that at all - hence the importance of Synapse creatures. There are two kinds of Instinctive Behaviour - the first is Lurk, and is usually given to units with a ranged focus; this forces them to move into the nearest area terrain, and allows them only to shoot at the nearest enemy target. Essentially, they become uncontrollable, and far less useful, units. The other, far more interesting kind of Instinctive Behaviour is Rage - the unit gains the Rage special rule, meaning they become deadlier on the charge, but cannot shoot any ranged weapons they have. Depending on the unit and the situation, this can be far more of a boon than anything else - for an already Fearless Trygon or Carnifex, the benefits are fantastic, and Hormagaunts, if used against a unit they should wipe out, will do well with this too. Again though, mostly you want to avoid Instinctive Behaviour at all costs - a ranged Carnifex with expensive guns never wants to be disallowed from shooting, for example.
Shadow in the Warp - The Tyranid form of psyker defense, and unanimously named the third best psyker defense in the game. Shadow in the Warp forces any enemy Psyker within 12" of a creature with this special rule to take any psychic tests on an extra D6; this usually means 3D6 Psychic tests, often resulting in either Perils of the Warp or a failed psychic test. Obviously, this has many applications with mobile units - such as Shrikes and flying Hive Tyrants - that have the special rule, and allow Tyranids to shut down psykers far better than most other armies. The best trait about Shadow in the Warp is that every single Synapse creature provides it - in fact, the only non-Synapse unit in the codex that has Shadow in the Warp is the Doom of Malan'tai. Obviously, as you need lots of Synapse creatures, this will mean you should always have a very wide bubble of Shadow in the Warp - meaning exploding brains for everyone! Hooray!
Special Characters - Tyranids have several special characters or 'rare' units, most of which crowd into the already congested Elites and HQ slots. Units such as Deathleaper and the Doom of Malan'tai are quite deadly, but provide little in the way of support abilities. The Swarmlord, on the other hand, whilst also exceedingly dangerous, acts as a great force multiplier for your army. Tyranid special characters, aside from Old One Eye (sadly), are all competitive units that have a place in many Tyranid army lists. Most of these units now have their own unique models - the exceptions, currently, are the Parasite of Mortrex, the Doom of Malan'tai, and Ymgarl Genestealers. There are some ways around this - the Doom is easily converted using a Zoanthrope model and spare parts from a Trygon kit, whilst Ymgarl Genestealers can be used with the normal Genestealer models, providing you make sure to indicate somehow that they are Ymgarls. The Parasite is altogher a different prospect, as it would likely require some serious conversion of a Tyranid Shrike. If you can find one, an old school or Forgeworld flying Hive Tyrant would be a great stand in with some conversion work - such as adding in Ripper Swarms to its base. Unlike some codices, you should make the time to study the Tyranid special characters - in particular the Doom of Malan'tai and the Swarmlord.
As a note, every Tyranid HQ choice, with the exception of Tyrant Guard, provides Synapse and Shadow in the Warp. This essentially means that each one provides both a potent psychic defence in an edition that favours psykers, and a Fearless bubble where your other bugs do not need to test for Instinctive Behaviour. This means that each choice base provides great (and essential) support and defensive abilities for your army! Whilst our HQ choices tend to be expensive, they can be kitted out to perform amazing feats on the battlefield.
The Swarmlord - Our primary special character, and one of the most feared units in the entire game, the Swarmlord is a Hive Tyrant with several unique traits that combine to make it a devilishly powerful lord of the swarm. Being the only in-codex Mastery Level 2 psyker, and able to take four psychic powers, the Swarmlord can fit a wide variety of roles; buffing your units and weakening your opponents', or making itself even more incredibly powerful - the choice is yours, his versatility is absolutely delightful in 6th Edition. The Swarmlord is also the undisputed challenge-king; without a doubt, he is the best character-killer in the entire game, particularly when paired up with psychic powers such as Iron Arm, Warp Speed or Invisibility. Draigo, Mephiston, Abaddon and the like will be reeling in fear when they see the Swarmlord approaching.
The Swarmlord, due to a very high price tag and its lack of shooting abilities, is best used in bigger games where its inclusion won't compromise your ability to devastate enemies from range. Unlike Draigo, Mephiston or their equivalents though, the Swarmlord is still very effective in smaller games due to its amazing support abilities; handing out Preferred Enemy and psychic blessings such as Endurance like candy. If you use the Swarmlord, prepare for it to be the target of any sane opponent wanting to keep it away from their battle-lines; to mitigate this, pair it with some Tyrant Guard or perhaps a Tyranid Prime and you will have Warhammer 40K's most devastating melee death-star. The Swarmlord is a great unit that is best served in larger games where its exorbitant cost balances out nicely.
|I AM SWORD HEAD, FEAR ME|
Generally, a Hive Tyrant should be equipped based on the rest of your army list; as Tyranids lack anti-air, the most common Hive Tyrant has wings and two twin-linked brain-leech devourers. This gives you a very durable, very dangerous mobile threat that any self-respecting opponent will need to focus on. Again though, you must pay a hefty price to use this. Hive Tyrants, whilst expensive, are very dangerous when equipped for the right situation, and provide a great variety of abilities to support your core army - be aware to protect them as best as possible, as they are a natural points-sink. I would also avoid the Thorax Swarm as a Hive Tyrant, as the extra shooting isn't worth the points when you need to worry about durability far more. A Hive Tyrant is a good choice that shines when used with wings or Tyrant Guard; be very careful not to upgrade any more than is absolutely necessary though, and never leave it alone (unless flying). Costs, sadly, will add up very quickly no matter how you do it.
Tyrant Guard - The wall between a Hive Tyrant and your opponent, Tyrant Guard are an absolute must for the Swarmlord or any foot-slogging Hive Tyrant. They are essentially two-wound mini-monsters with a very high toughness and good armour save, and their offensive abilities, whilst decent already, can be upgraded to frighten units such as Terminators. Generally, in an already points-intensive army, Tyrant Guard don't require upgrades to achieve their true purpose; keeping their quarry alive so that it can perform its duties safely.
With the changes to Characters and Look Out Sir rolls, wound allocation is very much alive - with psychic powers such as Endurance or Iron Arm cast on the unit or the psyker itself, respectively, your HQ unit can become impossibly hard to kill - a Swarmlord with Iron Arm and Endurance paired with a single Tyrant Guard and a Tyranid Prime is sure to draw cries of cheese from your opponent. Keep your Tyrant Guard around for the sole purpose of protecting your Hive Tyrants; that is their core function, and as such, you need not worry about boosting their offensive capabilities. Tyrant Guard are good in the sense that they fulfill a necessary role, that is, protecting your commanders; still, they are quite expensive for what they do.
Tervigon (HQ) - Tervigons are considered by most to be the competitive core of almost any Tyranid army list, and not without good reason. For less than a Hive Tyrant, you get a monster with more wounds, worse close combat abilities by a margin, far better support abilities - particularly for Termagants, and the ability to spawn more Troops choices. That last ability is what makes Tervigons so frightening for any opponent; creating more units on the fly, ones which receive major benefits from a Tervigon, and can claim objectives in an edition dominated by objective-based games, is absolutely nasty. Remembering that the spawning is random and may not always do well, it is still a very good way to dominate objectives. And the best part? Tervigons themselves are unreasonably hard to kill; with six wounds at Toughness six and a +3 armour save, there are few monstrous creatures in the game that can soak up as much damage.
With the way the spawning works, Tervigons and their babies aren't exactly slow either; when you create a unit, you place it within 6" of the Tervigon, then they can move, shoot and assault normally. This effectively gives your hordes a 12" movement followed by being able to tie up dangerous units in combat, all in the early stages of the game. Upgrade Tervigons with Toxin Sacs and Adrenal Glands, and those lowly, free Termagants will be going toe-to-toe with Space Marines, Talos' and even Greater Daemons. The Tervigon itself is no slouch in combat either; give it Crushing Claws and, per the Smash rules, you can put out between three and six S10 attacks each turn. On the topic of its ranged weapon, a Tervigon will either have a gun suited for Overwatch and snap-shots at fliers, or one that blasts infantry apart through sheer numbers of wounds. Usually, I would go with the Cluster Spines, as I feel Stinger Salvos are far too weak to really justify taking them for snap-shot and Overwatch purposes - however, it comes down to preference. With access to psychic powers such as giving Feel No Pain to friendly units, Tervigons are amazing units that will always be a big target for your opponent; learn to protect them whilst moving them up the field, and you will not be disappointed.
Tyranid Prime - The cheapest HQ available to Tyranids by some margin, the Tyranid Prime is a Warrior on steroids; a Strength, Toughness and Initiative of 5, and better combat abilities in general. The Tyranid Prime is usually used if you are wanting to go for a cost-effective HQ without compromising your options in other force organisation slots. Their basic stat-line and equipment paints a pretty picture when compared to, for example, a Space Marine Captain - they start with better weaponry, are harder to kill in general and are much more important in terms of keeping your army under control. With cheap upgrades that can turn them into a melee powerhouse that can stand toe-to-toe with far more expensive characters in other codices, the Tyranid Prime is a very nasty model that has the benefit of being one of only two true Independent Characters in the codex.
Due to its Toughness 5, three wounds and Look Out Sir!, the Tyranid Prime is a great candidate to attach to a squad that traditionally suffers either from S8 instant-death weapons or being tar-pitted in combat, such as Zoanthropes, Hive Guard and Biovores. It also provides important synapse for the latter of those two units, keeping them firing at full efficiency and keeping your inexpensive Warlord out of the line of fire. If you take a Tyranid Prime, take Toxin Sacs and either a pair of Boneswords or a Bonesword and Lash Whip and leave it at that; it doesn't need anything else to perform as required. Use it well, and it will serve you well - a good choice.
As an aside, some of the best units for a Tyranid Prime to join include; the 'Fexstar' (two Carnifexes with two twin-linked brain-leech devourers each), Warriors (five Warriors either with Deathspitters or Boneswords), Zoanthropes, Hive Guard, Biovores, and even horde units such as Termagants or Hormagaunts.
The Parasite of Mortrex - A unit that has benefited greatly from 6th Edition, the Parasite's character status allows it to challenge and single out those pesky power fists that were usually its bane. With Implant Attack, Rending Claws and a decent stat-line, the Parasite is a good character-assassin that is both mobile and easily protected when paired either with Sky-Slasher Swarms or Gargoyles. The Parasite works well with Rippers as well, keeping them from killing themselves so long as they stay within 24" - though Rippers generally aren't worth the investment anyway. In addition, it can, almost like a Tervigon, create more Ripper Swarms if it kills enemy models or enemy infantry units Outflank; a nasty, if unreliable way of adding more tarpit units to your force.
The biggest hindrance to fielding the Parasite though is its high price-tag; costing as much as a basic Tervigon, you need to ask whether it really is worth the cost. It is far less durable, less offensively potent in certain cases (particularly against vehicles) and doesn't provide scoring units like a Tervigon does. In that sense, whilst I feel you can find better value elsewhere, the Parasite can work if used in an army list that suits it; one that is heavy on Gargoyles, Raveners, flying monstrous creatures and the like, where its speed and situational abilities become more useful. Generally though, whilst a decent unit, you are better served elsewhere.
Example Builds - For your viewing pleasure, I've provided some different builds for each HQ choice when paired with other units.
Hive Tyrant w/ wings, two twin-linked brain-leech devourers - 260
The Swarmlord w/ Tyrant Guard (1), attached Tyranid Prime w/ bonesword and lash-whip, toxin sacs - 445
Hive Tyrant w/ armoured shell, old adversary, two twin-linked brain-leech devourers - 265
Tyranid Prime w/ bonesword and lash-whip, toxin sacs, attached to Zoanthropes (2) - 225
Tervigon w/ crushing claws, cluster spines, catalyst, toxin sacs, adrenal glands - 220
The Parasite of Mortrex attached to Gargoyles (20) w/ toxin sacs - 300
Part 2 will be up same time tomorrow! L2E will covering the elites section; be sure to tune in - and feel free to leave any feedback, suggestions or pointers in the comment section, on +Bell of Lost Souls or on Facebook.