"A hungry people listens not to reason, nor cares for justice, nor is bent by any prayers."
- – Seneca the Younger, De Brevitate Vitæ
A Hive Fleet is a swarm of Tyranid bio-ships that travel together. They roam through space, invading planets and consuming their biomass to reproduce.
Nobody knows where the Tyranids come from, but it's definitely outside of the galaxy. The first major waves of Tyranids came from the galactic east (Ultramar, the Tau Empire, etc.), but the latest invasions occurred in the galactic south. At first, they seemed to be occurring at random, as systems would just fall silent without anything happening to their neighbors, but then it became clear that Hive Fleet Leviathan was attacking from below the galactic plane. Think of Leviathan as a really big, space Jaws, attacking and eating planets from below.
Most of the mass of a Hive Fleet is in its Hive Ships, massive biological factories that take in biomass from conquered planets and turn it into more Tyranids. Each one contains one or more Norn Queens, who sift through the biomass looking for interesting traits and genes that they can graft into their "children", chosen based on the obstacles they faced. Over time, this directed mutation and evolution results in different hive fleets having very divergent variants of warrior organisms and distinct styles of invasion.
The Hive Ships are protected by various strains of cruisers and droneships. Razorfiend Krakens hunt enemy ships, while escort drones cluster around hive ships as a living protective screen.
The Hive Fleets are rounded out by a pair of ship classes that they use to identify targets and get there in a reasonable amount of time. They send Vanguard drones ahead of the fleet, loaded with Genestealers, Lictors, and other infiltrator organisms, to candidate systems. Infiltrators that find their way to planets with lots of biomass found cults or colonies whose psychic networks act as beacons in the Warp and attract the attention of the fleet that spawned them.
Once a destination is determined, the fleet has to get there before it starves to death (analagous to the fuel limitations of other fleets.) It does this by employing a ship called a "narvhal" which somehow harnesses the target planet's gravity to bend space-time into a "corridor", which allow the fleet to travel to this planet at faster-than-light speeds (not as fast as a Warp-capable ship, but certainly faster than drifting at sublight). Presumably, this employs some sort of incredibly sweet facial horn. This bending has the fortunate (?) side-effect of causing tectonic upheaval on the target planet, disrupting any defenses but also warning anyone who knows what they're looking for that the fleet is coming for them. Narvhals have delicate gravimetric senses which are easily overloaded by nearby planets and stars, so the corridor dissolves as the fleet approaches its destination, and the fleet makes its final approach at sublight speeds, spending years or even decades in real-space. The fleet may hibernate to cool down and evade detection, only waking up when they are too close to be stopped.
Famous Hive Fleets
Games Workshop used to publish experimental rules for Genestealer cults and deep striking "Seedling Swarms", but from Fourth Edition onwards, Tyranids have been a strictly one-codex army. The only reason to choose one Hive Fleet over another is for the color scheme. Genestealer cults now have their own codex, but they aren't considered battle brothers to regular 'nids. Which makes sense, considering they end up getting eaten anyway.
8th edition changed this with the introduction of Hive Fleet Adaptations, the Tyranid version of Chapter Tactics and they're one of the best internally balanced yet.
In Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2
Tyranid Hive Fleets are one of the most dangerous close combat assault factions in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2. The combination of pyro-acid batteries, tentacles and sheer numbers make combatting a Tyranid risky in close combat. Unless you are an Ork or the Imperial Navy, ramming a Hive Ship ain't the most productive of tactics. Moreover, some bio-forms have boarding tentacles that could quite literally, drown an entire crew in an unlimited supply of bug bodies until the vessel becomes a floating hulk. Tyranids are also extremely resistant to leadership checks, although the elimination of, let's say, a Hive Ship is enough for them to go feral.
To make matters worse, all Tyranids could regenerate damage over time, something only Necrons could mimic and they are all stealth initially until they get close due to the Shadow of the Warp masking their signatures. Unfortunately, this is where the advantages end. Like in the fluff, hive ships are god-fucking slow, other than the quick burst of speed at close range, the Hive Fleets are always at the mercy from long-ranged assaults. Moreover, they lack shields...sort of. Instead of shields, a hive ship could create swarms of lesser creatures that could quite literally eat the bullet. Whilst these swarms work splendidly against small attack craft, a large enough barrage could just bypass the swarm and hit the ship directly if not, incinerating the swarm in the process. The Tyranids are also incredibly short-ranged, tieing with the Orks on the faction that can't hit shit across a couple of dozen of kilometres.
Factions you do NOT want to fight against as a Tyranid player are the Fleets of Commorragh and the Necron Fleets. The former for being way too fast and agile to constantly keep out of range from the Nids, whilst also packing so many criticals and having one of the best defence/boarding troops, that it can cause entire Hive Fleets to meet critical cardiac arrest; doesn't matter how many bio-ships you have, DEldar are some nasty business. The latter for being tough as fuck and having weapons that could quite literally bypass all armor and shields to get deep into the fleshy bits, making bio-ships cry themselves to sleep as their entire protective swarms get vapourised by a single barrage of gauss and lightning attacks.
- Lexicanum's list of all canon Hive Fleets
- Tyranid Hive Fleet Creation Tables, a set of roll-tables for generating your own Hive Fleet
|Vessels of the Tyranids|
|Battleships||Hive Ship (Ancient One)|
|Cruisers||Void Prowler - Cruiser (Razorfiend |
Dark Prowler - Void Fiend) - Devourer
|Escorts||Escort (Escort Drone - Vanguard Drone Ship |
|Bio-titans||Viciator - Dominatrix |
Hierophant - Hydraphant
|Leader Organisms:||Broodlord - Hive Tyrant - Norn Queen |
Swarmlord - Tyranid Warrior
|Small Creatures:||Gargoyle - Genestealer - Hormagaunt - Ripper - Termagant|
|Biovore - Hive Guard - Lictor - Neurothrope - Pyrovore |
Ravener - Tyrant Guard - Venomthrope - Zoanthrope
|Monstrous Creatures:||Carnifex - Dimachaeron - Exocrine - Haruspex - Malanthrope |
Maleceptor - Mawloc - Tervigon - Toxicrene - Trygon - Tyrannofex
|Gargantuan Creatures:||Cerebore - Dactylis - Hierodule - Malefactor - Nautiloid - Viragon|
|Flying Creatures:||Harpy - Harridan - Hive Crone - Mucolid Spore|
|Spaceborne Creatures:||Tyrannocyte - Mycetic Spore - Ether-Swimming Brood|
|Bio-Titans:||Dominatrix - Hierophant - Hydraphant - Viciator|
|Floral Structures:||Capillary Tower - Reclamation Pool|
|Other Organisms:||Bio-Weapons - Cortex Leech - Mieotic Spore |
Spore Mine - Sporocyst - Zoats
|Unique Creatures:||Deathleaper - Laius Horror - Old One-Eye - The Red Terror|
|Tyranid Hive Fleets|
|Major Hive Fleets:||Hive Fleet Behemoth - Hive Fleet Kraken - Hive Fleet Leviathan|
|Minor Hive Fleets:||Hive Fleet Colossus - Hive Fleet Dagon - Hive Fleet Gorgon - Hive Fleet Hydra - Hive Fleet Jormungandr |
Hive Fleet Kronos - Hive Fleet Moloch - Hive Fleet Naga - Hive Fleet Ouroboris - Hive Fleet Tiamet