I still have a battered copy of the second edition of Space Hulk, a £40 big box boardgame from the 1990s that now sells on ebay for around £200. Set in the grimdark sci-fi universe of Warhammer 40,000, the game is unfolds aboard huge spacecraft adrift in the depths of space as hulking power-armoured Space Marine Terminators fight off packs of ravenous aliens in tight corridors. The game draws heavily from the Alien franchise — this included the Genestealer design inspired by H.R. Giger’s iconic xenomorph as well as the tension-elevating mechanic of using of “blip” tokens to represent swarming dots on a radar screen. Although the box contains 20 Genestealer models, they are only placed on the board when within line of sight of the Terminators. Until then the tactical decisions must be made based on unknown numbers at each blip. I do love asymmetric knowledge at the game table.

When I collected the box from my parents’ house, I found some of my early attempts at miniature painting inside, probably circa 1998. In this post, I put them side by side with new examples of identical models from the box. Let’s (hopefully) see some progress.

My original attempt was actually pretty faithful to the box art, with the bright red armour of the Blood Angels chapter. With the new Blood Angel and Ultramarine I felt free to experiment, particularly as they did not need to fit in with a larger army. These older models are also a good example of my previous comments that less detail can allow greater creative interpretation. I wanted to produce much richer armour, which I built up through multiple layers of different contrast paints — successive layers were darker but increasingly watered down, and the topmost layer was mixed with a wash to change the flow properties to gather more in the recesses. The result of that layering is a pearlescent finish to their ceramite armour plates, most visible on the Ultramarine’s blue shoulder in contrast to the matte black of the Blood Angel. The lighter helmets draw attention to the faces (initially a happy accident as the red armour became a darker hue than initially intended, so I avoided the face with the final coat) as do the glowing eyes. The glazed red on the Ultramarine is more obvious but I prefer subtler object source lighting on the Blood Angel, the green just catching the raised edges of the cheeks. As a photographer, OSL is definitely something I am interested in exploring more.

Interestingly, there is no gold paint used on any of these models. The aquila on the 90s paint job is a yellow not even trying to mimic gold. The gold details on the new models have been underpainted in silver then layered with a translucent yellow and then darker washes. This approach allowed for very different tones to the warm gold of the Blood Angel (with a red brown wash) and the colder tone of the Ultramarine (using a wash of brown and blue). The plain black bases are because they are going to be replaced entirely with new ship corridor bases in the future.
Work in Progress: Terminator arms
There was failed experimentation along the way. Initially I had intended to use non-metallic skulls and a black aquila on the chest in the style of newer Blood Angels imagery. However, with the darker armour the black aquila just did not work, looking unfinished, so I abandoned it in favour of the more classic gold. That in turn made the aged bone colour of the shoulder honour badge and other skull motifs feel too weak, so I reworked them in a more stylised gold and bleached bone. Since that proved successful, the same approach was incorporated into the Ultramarine paint scheme from the start.
Again I think the original attempt was relatively faithful to the box art if a little too dark in the purple skin and too light in the blue carapace. The colours are extremely flat with very little layering beyond the bone of its claws. And shout out to those old school green bases. My first new paint job from the Space Hulk box was the middle Genestealer, which is probably closer to how I have always pictured them. Saturated skintones in unusual hues are great for aliens. Continuing my previous comments about seeking varied skintones, I found a lore-consistent approach with the inversion on the right side. When separated from their brood, Genestealers lose their colouring and shift to the traditional blue and purple appearance that aids with concealment in corridors, so some adopting a dark purple carapace with blue skin seems equally plausible. Sure, an in-universe justification for the appearance of fictional characters isn’t strictly necessary, but I enjoy that aspect of worldbuilding anyway.