2 Feb 2014

Tactica Tyranids - Genestealers

Hey guys, my name is Learn2Eel, and today I'm going to be bringing you another article in the Tyranid Tactica series! There are many dark portents of an impending Tyranid invasion, but none are more sinister than in infestation by the nefarious Genestealers. Weaving their way undetected through planetary defences and civilian populations, these humanoid creatures intermingle with the local populace, using telepathy and various disgusting measures to gain control of millions of citizens. These innocents are purged of their humanity and give birth to revolting hybrids, eventually leading to many planetary uprisings to destabilize and demoralize the planet, making it easy prey for the Hive Fleets. I hope you enjoy this article!



Billed as a frighteningly strong melee unit, Genestealers are the clearest example of a glass cannon in the Tyranid codex. They do quite a bit of damage against most enemy types once they reach combat, but actually making it there with Genestealers is quite a challenge. But first, let us look at what makes these terrors tick. Each Genestealer has a crazy good Weapon Skill and Initiative of 6, rivaling that of most commander-type models such as Autarchs or Captains. They have two attacks each for three per model on the charge, and each Genestealer is equipped with Rending Claws. This allows them to cut through lightly armoured tarpit units quickly, generally striking first, hitting on 3s and having AP5 attacks. The extra effects of proper Rending make Genestealers a nasty surprise for elite units such as Terminators, Broadside Battlesuits or monstrous creatures like the Nemesis Dreadknight. Their Strength and Toughness of 4 is befitting their supposed equivalency with Space Marines, giving them a solid looking profile at first glance. To add to their good melee capabilities, Genestealers have more deployment options and speed boosts than most other Tyranid units. Move Through Cover and their low armour save means there is little reason not to be advancing through cover - at least until they get close enough to charge - while Fleet makes any charge they attempt much more reliable, as well as giving them a re-roll for Run moves. As befits their background, Genestealers have the Infiltrate special rule, allowing them to deploy closer to an opponent than usual or opt to Outflank. Overall, they look like a nice melee unit in practice that is quite similar to Striking Scorpions.

Unfortunately, that is where the issues start to pop up. Genestealers are as fragile as they come even with that Toughness 4, with only a 5+ armour save - increased to 4+ on the Broodlord - for protection. This means that template weapons, even the cheap as chips flamers accessed by any Space Marine unit you can find, will murder large swathes of Genestealers in one go. That's before even mentioning what Overwatch with the Wall of Flame will do. Heck, twenty bolter shots from ten rapid firing Tactical Marines will statistically slay seven Genestealers assuming no cover. Now, this wouldn't be such an issue if Genestealers were cheap, but no, Genestealers are identical in base cost to Tactical Marines in the new Space Marine codex. Now, comparing any model to a Space Marine with all their special rules and wargear is ludicrously unfair, but the point remains that Genestealers are just so expensive for what they bring. They really aren't that deadly in combat once you factor in how many Genestealers are likely to survive to even make combat, and besides, they lack assault grenades. Like any other high Initiative unit lacking assault grenades, it is almost painful to see Genestealers striking after a blob squad of Imperial Guardsmen that, sadly, will kill entire Genestealer broods through their Overwatch and close combat attacks. The final insult is that Genestealers lack any kind of ranged attack, meaning that unless they get into combat they may as well be sitting ducks. When you factor this in, they really aren't that good of a melee unit to make up for it. The saving grace for Genestealers is that you can take small broods of them and make the most of their nasty squad leader, the Broodlord.

Now we are getting into more friendly waters, as the Broodlord is a really good model for the points. For half the cost of a Tyranid Prime, you are getting a psychic - but not Synaptic - version of the same character with a few stat modifications, such as a higher Weapon Skill and Initiative but a worse armour save. Like the Red Terror but without the limitations of being Unique, Broodlords are Strength and Toughness 5 characters with combat stats that are highly reminiscent of a Phoenix Lord. Their 4+ armour save isn't great, but it is still worlds better than the 5+ offered by Genestealers simply because the basic weapons and templates in the game are generally AP5. The Broodlord is an additional upgrade to the unit and dissimilar to its previous incarnation where it was purchased as an upgrade for a single Genestealer. This means that a maximum sized Genestealer brood would have twenty Genestealers and one Broodlord, as opposed to nineteen Genestealers and one Broodlord in the previous codex. It mostly serves to make taking the Broodlord more expensive for smaller units as they have to take a fifth Genestealer rather than just four and the Broodlord. The Broodlord doesn't just bring the pain in combat, but through its sole and nonexchangeable psychic power, the Horror. This causes a Pinning test with a -2 modifier to a single unit within 24" of the Broodlord, a power that - due to its medium range - gels very nicely with the Infiltrating or Outflanking Broodlord. This can pin down Riptides, Devastator squads - watch those Space Marine players lament not taking Veteran Sergeant - and all other kinds of nasty ranged units. The Broodlord is really valuable and serves to make a useable unit out of one that would otherwise be almost unplayable. Still, Genestealers do have one unique trait to consider that could be worthwhile in certain army types - they neither confer Synapse nor test for Instinctive Behaviour. This makes them the only fully self-sustainable unit in the codex that isn't also a Synapse unit, which is always something to keep in mind and allows them to, for example, hold down a flank by their lonesome.

How to Equip Them

Genestealers are much more limited in the options they can take compared to Warriors, but honestly, that's a good thing in its own way. To be incredibly blunt, you aren't as tempted to add even more points to over-costed models. Genestealers can add Scything Talons to compliment their Rending Claws, a choice that I would actively recommend against taking. The reason for this is that it is a heavy cost for a melee weapon that is a downgrade on their stock Rending Claws, with the only benefit provided being the extra attack for having two melee weapons. Now, it might be worth it from that perspective, but look at how much other codices pay for those extra attacks on basic infantry. Genestealers pay double that amount, and extra attacks are not what Genestealers really need. Unless you like the look of the models with them, avoid the scything talons.

Genestealers can also take one or both of Adrenal Glands and Toxin Sacs. The former isn't so useful as Genestealers already have Fleet, hence its lower cost than usual, but massed Strength 5 Rending attacks on the charge do allow them to have a better chance against AV12 walkers and AV11 rear tanks like Leman Russ Demolishers. Toxin Sacs are the better overall upgrade if you are wanting the Genestealers to take on monstrous creatures and other infantry, though, with a permanent benefit in combat letting them pile regular wounds on with Rending wounds for extra spice. Ultimately, I don't think Genestealers really need any upgrades to do their job, as they are a decent enough unit in terms of damage output once they actually reach their target. The high cost per model makes me avoid upgrades because of their fragility, so I recommend just keeping them stock. The Broodlord has access to the full Biomorphs list, meaning it pays over seven times as much as Genestealers for Adrenal Glands, and over three times as much for Toxin Sacs. For this reason, and with the Broodlord already having a base Strength 5, I would avoid these upgrades. It can take Acid Blood and Regeneration, but the former isn't likely to do too much, and the latter is more appropriately priced for something like a Tyrannofex. Again, a Broodlord is better left with no upgrades simply because those extras are costly and won't really help the Genestealers out. Their main issue is actually surviving to reach combat, and even Regeneration won't really help out on that front.

Where to Put Them

On a conventional gaming board where there is lots of line of sight-blocking terrain, I see little reason for Genestealers not to be Infiltrating. This is the logical method to make the most of the Broodlords' psychic power, it can't be countered by Interceptor, it allows them to charge either at the end of game turn one or throughout game turn two, and it gives them guaranteed cover to advance through. About the only time I would advocate more for Outflanking is if the middle of the board or the area close to an opponents' deployment zone is relatively devoid of terrain, and only even then against a gunline. Forward moving forces like standard Chaos Space Marine builds are more inclined to move into the midfield where Genestealers can try to hide in what terrain is available and pop out as deterrent units to try and break up an opponents' advancing battle line. Otherwise, Outflanking against a gunline does spare the Genestealers a turn of shooting and, hopefully, they will arrive when many other Tyranid units are starting to reach an opponents lines, generally on turn three. The lack of assault grenades for Genestealers is a right pain, but they are expensive enough that moving from cover to cover - the self-explanatory Move Through Cover really comes in handy here - is a necessity due to their 5+ armour save. Don't charge straight off and expect to get in with Fleet, first account for Overwatch, intervening terrain and the distance required. Charge less valuable units if it means a higher chance of making it into combat and pray that the Genestealers don't wipe out the squad in one round. Hide as much as possible, even with a nearby unit, as long as it means less shooting is possible at the Genestealers.

Best Uses

Due to the high cost of Genestealers, especially once their low survivability and above average melee damage output are taken into account, I prefer to use them as small, stock standard units of five Genestealers with an added Broodlord. The Broodlord may as well be worth the other five Genestealers with that it brings to the unit, giving the brood some tough wounds and a pretty darn nasty character in combat. The Horror is what you really want though, especially since it is guaranteed for the Broodlord who can Infiltrate to within 18" or 12" of the enemy battle-line. Pinning down a unit of Fire Warriors or - the holy grail - a Riptide could very well save not only the Genestealers, but several other models in your advancing Tyranid army. Using one or two such units of Genestealers increases the chances of this occurring, and even Pinning a single unit in place could prove pivotal. A Bike squad with an attached Chapter Master, for example, can still be Pinned, albeit with a lower chance due to base Leadership 10. If you manage that, you deserve a pat on the back. Once the Broodlords' stats are factored in, I think this gives you the best, most flexible Genestealer unit possible, and one that isn't too heavy on the points. If it pins something like a Riptide or an R'Varna in place on the first turn, it will be points well spent. If it doesn't, it is a nasty little melee unit that can try the same trick again next turn, making them a decent distraction unit. For Tyranids, anything that can reduce the firepower at your main monsters and swarm units is priceless, and this is something that multiple small Genestealer broods can do well. I never recommend large squads of Genestealers, as the Broodlord is arguably more valuable than the five Genestealers required to take one. Genestealers are just too expensive and fragile to be justified as a melee horde; if you want such a unit, look instead to your significantly cheaper and more effective per-point Hormagaunts.

Recommended Builds

These are a few example builds for the unit that I feel can fit into a number of competitive Tyranid lists. I'll list some thoughts on each build and what kind of lists they fit better in.

Genestealers (5) - Broodlord - This is your cheap "Horror" unit, using the Broodlord's awesome innate psychic power to pin nasty ranged units early in the game. This unit isn't too expensive, is very nasty in an assault and doesn't care about Synapse. Force your opponent to focus them down by trying to move towards valuable but fragile shooting units.

Terror from Within

There are many terrifying sub-species in the Tyranid race, but none are more feared or reviled than the Genestealers. Inhabiting space hulks, merchant ships and other independent vessels, the Genestealers forage ahead of a Hive Fleet in an effort to scout and sow dissent at the lowest levels of society. They spread among the civilian populace, hiding from militant action and using countless inhumane methods to spread their influence. Sprouting like a flame, they use telepathy to assert control over key individuals while they mingle with civilians on a most primitive level, giving birth to the Genestealer Cults. Mixing aberrations known as hybrids with those slaved to the will of a Patriarch, the Genestealers mutate the populace into many rebellious sub-factions, spreading chaos and destruction. As the Hive Fleet nears, the Genestealers themselves emerge, slaughtering any who do not submit to their will. As the rebellion swells, so too do Lictors and other vanguard organisms begin to emerge, preying on the fear and weakness spread by the Genestealers. Countless planets have fallen well before the lumbering Hive Fleets arrived due to the acts of these alien, merciless creatures. No threat in the Tyranid race is more fearsome than these masters of infiltration, capable of turning even the most resolute of worlds into a hell of infighting and anarchy. 

Thank you for reading this article! Please, share your thoughts on the article and the changes I am experimenting with for this series. I am open to any and all feedback! And remember, for any and all discussion on Tyranids and Games Workshop stuff, head on over to +Bell of Lost Souls. Thanks again! Eel out.


  1. Eel!

    You need to let me know what you think of the Vanguard Swarm Dataslate! This would have been a prime opportunity to address the various genestealer formations!

    I want to pick your brain meats!

    1. I don't have the dataslate unfortunately, and I don't plan on getting it as I don't own any models concerning it. Sorry! It's cheap, I know, but I'm kind of broke at the moment lol.

  2. I don't think scything talons downgrades their rending claws: they just give an extra attack. None of the tyranid close combat options are specialist weapons, so there's nothing to stop you combining the benefits of multiple weapon types. So you can bump up their attacks stat to 3 with the talons, and have rending on all of those attacks with the claws.

    1. Sorry if the wording was confusing, but what I meant was that Scything Talons are inferior as a weapon to Rending Claws, i.e. you will never actually use them save for the extra attack. The silly thing about them costing 4 points per model is that pretty much every other army in the game pays 2 points per model for extra attacks, not 4.

    2. So basically if you use scything talons and rending claws the model costs 4 points instead of 2 with only rending claws and the scything talons just add one extra attack

  3. Do you think maybe that they're supposed to be used with horror and shadows of the warp? If you're pinned, you can't overwatch or gain benefit of being assaulted through cover, right?

    1. That's how I recommended using them in the article. The Horror is pretty much the best part of the Broodlord, who is also the best part of a Genestealer squad. Combine that with Infiltrate and it can neuter key parts of a gunline early in the game.

      As far as Shadows is concerned, remember that it only affects psykers. If you cast the Horror on, for example, a Tactical Squad with a Librarian in it that is in range of Shadows, they would use the highest Leadership value in the squad, which would thus be 8 or 9 - then reduced to 6 or 7.

      Unfortunately, Go to Ground nor Pinning restrict Overwatch, meaning a flamer or two in a unit you've Pinned with the Horror will still munch a bunch of Genestealers unless you place the Broodlord up front. I did forget to mention the lack of Initiative penalty for charging into terrain against a Pinned unit though, nice catch!

    2. Last I checked the 7th edition rule book it said that Go to Ground DOES restrict Overwatch: "A unit that has Gone to Ground cannot move, Run or charge. It can only fire Snap Shots when it wishes to shoot, and cannot fire Overwatch. At the end of its following turn, the unit returns to normal, the marker is removed and the unit is free to act as normal from then on."