Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Evolution of the Tyranid Zoanthrope

In space no one can hear you scream.
While no one was really expecting it, Games Workshop revisited the Hive Mind and opened the floodgates to another wave of new tyranid monstrosities over the past few weeks. When first hearing about the coming tyranid releases, I made the assumption that it would focus solely on introducing large tyranid bio-constructs to serve as army centerpieces (sort of a trend for Games Workshop for a while now). This was largely true, with the release of the Toxicrene and Maleceptor on the first week followed by the Tyrannocyte and Sporocyst on the second. However, the third week took a drastic turn. Instead of dreaming up new tyranid creatures, they looked inward and redesigned two of their older units in plastic, the Venomthrope and the beloved Zoanthrope! Frequent readers may remember my earlier post looking over the evolution of the iconic tyranid warrior. Now that the Zoanthrope has new and exciting plastic kit, I can think of no better a time to do something similar!

Sadly, the Zoanthrope was never graced with a plastic model in the Rogue Trader days like the tyranid warrior.  It did not take long for the psychic menace to be introduced, however.  The first Zoanthrope model that I distinctly remember was the one released back in the second edition of the Warhammer 40k. Unlike what we see today, the Zoanthrope was an extension of the mighty tyranid warrior, meaning they were were bipedal horrors (instead of the floating terrors that we now all love). In fact, the model utilized all of the same components as the warriors aside from the head. That meant they all sported comically large clawed hands and wasp-like abdomens, complete with stingers.  Similar to the more modern Zoanthropes, however, the 2nd edition ones did have enlarged craniums with exposed folds of the horror’s brain. The model has a sinister visage with razor teeth and mandibles resembling that of an insect. I have fond memories of this version of the Zoanthrope, as it was one of the first tyranid models that I ever purchased and assembled (they did not have the larger circular bases back then, just the square Warhammer Fantasy bases).

The second edition Zoanthrope model was one of the first Tyranid models that I assembled and painted. One of these days I should revisit the model and rebase and repaint him.

With the coming of the 3rd edition of Warhammer 40k, the Zoanthrope underwent his first major design overhaul. Here, the xenomorph’s limbs greatly atrophied, becoming tiny vestigial talons and the creature took to the sky. And while his head stayed suitably massive, this time it was stretched and elongated and covered with an armoured shell of interlocking carapace. The Zoanthrope’s stinger abdomen was replaced by a long whip-like tail upon which the model balanced on to look like it was floating. This redesign was a marvelous change, giving the model a memorable and immediately recognizable silhouette on the battlefield. A true triumph of design.

The redesign of the Zoanthrope for the 3rd edition of 40k gave the creature a unique and memorable look, one that is maintained today.
Next came 5th edition, and they were redesigned yet again. This time the change was not as significant, and I always questioned why it was done at all. If anything, it was largely just an exercise in exaggerating every feature of the 3rd edition model. Their heads were made even larger, extending much farther forward than before, such that their maw hangs at their midsection. This makes me wonder how the poor creature’s neck is able to support/move its head (maybe his psychic abilities have him covered?). Their back carapace grew more excessive, adding organic chimneys down the length of their spines. These are in sharp contrast to the creature’s thin degenerated frame, and make the tyranid look a little ridiculous and unbalanced. Furthering these awkward characteristics, they decided to shift the creature’s legs down much further along its axis, making its tail appear much shorter. Finally they perched the Zoanthrope on an organic spire in an effort to make it appear as if it was floating (and awkwardly at that, ha ha).

Since its introduction in the 2nd edition of 40k, the Zoanthrope has changed pretty dramatically in style. From left to right: 2nd edition; 3rd edition; 5th edition; 7th edition

Now with the new release, we finally have a plastic rendition of the Zoanthrope and it is truly something special. The kit does an excellent job of retaining the most visually defining aspects of the Zoanthropes of old, namely the large bulbous head and vestigial limbs. Importantly, it also takes these elements and refines them both visually and functionally. Never has the Zoanthrope looked more a part of the Tyranid range; elements such as its boxy ribcage and  forked head crest mirror that seen in the tyranid warriors. While the sculptors decided to retain the chimney’s along its spine, they are a little more modest and thankfully they did away with the bottom-most one. The Zoanthrope’s characteristically enlarged head is now supported by a much more substantial neck that splits into three columns spread along the bottom of the creature’s head. Additionally, the its head is centered better than the previous versions, placing the Zoanthrope’s center of mass neatly in the middle of the base. This, coupled with it being cast in plastic, means that they will remain stoic and standing on the battlefield.

Now in plastic, the new Zoanthrope takes all of the great visual aspects of previous releases and combines them into one fantastic set. They even included components to make a relative of the Doom of Malan'tai! 

The new Zoanthrope has a much more substantial three pronged neck to support its enormous head.    
The kit also provides the components to assemble one of the three models as a Neurothrope, which serves as a pseudo-squad leader for the Zoanthropes. These fearsome creatures are rumored to the progeny of the Doom of Malan’tai, a fabled Tyranid monstrosity that destroyed the Eldar Craftworld of Malan’tai after devouring the spirits of the Craftworld's Infinity Circuit. In the plastic kit the Neurothrope has its own separate torso piece with a barbed spine extending up above the creature’s head. Additionally they provide a unique armoured crest for the Neurothrope’s head that it slightly more elaborate than the standard Zoanthropes. This was another unexpected and welcome inclusion to the set. Rules for the psychic horror can be downloaded for free on Black Library’s website.

This Zoanthrope is going to find its way into my fledgling Tyranid force and will likely play an important role in my Tyranid Kill Team. At this point, I am still not sure if I want to assemble another Zoanthrope or try my hand at a Venomthrope or two. The poisonous miasma encircling them could provide the perfect smoke-screen for my advancing Kill Team! Hopefully you enjoyed my jaunt down memory lane looking at the humble Tyranid Zoanthrope's frightening evolution.

-Adam Wier


  1. I'd forgotten all about that second ed bad boy - the third ed change being so radical. I still quite fancied the third ed rear horn which is still kind of there in the new version but now via two side horns.

    I remember most fondly the pain my mates used to have getting his metal third ed versions to stay up when the terrain was anything but flat - made up for the trumping they could dish out to my squaddies.

    1. I still love the look of the 3rd edition Zoanthrope. The design is nice, simple, and effective. While I really like the new model, it is much more complicated and may even be a little over the top. The 3rd edition ones did have some trouble remaining standing on uneven ground. Ha ha.

  2. I like the 2nd edition the most, followed by the third.

    1. I really did like the 2nd edition version since it was so different. I am surprised GW never brought the iconic design of the 2nd edition bladed head.

  3. I like the slender 3rd edition. If I remember right, the idea was that they had some eldar DNA and you can see there's a sort of similarity with eldar helmets. I've stuck with the three I got when they were released.

    I did have a 2nd edition zoanthrope, I ended up putting its head on a 3rd edition warrior with some huge scything talons. It didn't really fulfill a role until 8th edition, now I'm using it as a tyranid Prime.

    1. Yeah, I like the slender look too. I think you are right that it was an effort to get an Eldar look to them. Using the 2nd edition version for a tyranid Prime is an excellent idea!

  4. Hmm. Although mechanically sound for traditional considerations, I'm not sure the triple-neck is actually an improvement lorewise, since, well, it floats. So I kinda dig the way the older models look like they're being suspended by the head; If you're going to bootstrap yourself might as well lift from the center of mass. Of course, now that I think of it, that also goes the other way for supporting the body from the head, so I may just be babbling.

    Overall, I think I like 3rd ed best for the head-shield, tie 3rd and 5th for floaty impression, and 7th for body design and general 'murderous' look. The old original concept could be pretty cool too with a bit of tweaking, maybe as a malanthrope since as it stands that one is pretty much stealing the zoanthrope's schtick and as it comes in afterward might as well save some juice on the constant hovering.

  5. 4rd ed basically has an eldar dreadnaut head

  6. The 5th edition is what I think when I hear zoanthrope, and the 7th I see it as a neurothrope