Saturday, March 9, 2024

Painting ISS Vanguard

It has been a long time since I finished a full set of miniatures. I have been painting off and on, but it hasn't been complete sets. For example, my sons and I have painted a few Frosthaven and Oathsworn figures but not all of them. I have some Massive Darkness 2 figures primed that have been sitting on a box awaiting inspiration for some time. 

In any case, I'm here to break the streak with ISS Vanguard. My older boys and I really enjoyed Etherfields. It came with a promotional comic about ISS Vanguard that piqued my interest. Somehow, I heard about how Awaken Realms had re-opened the pledge manager for the game between Wave 1 and Wave 2, so I jumped in. I received my copy many weeks ago, but I knew I did not want to bust it open until we finished Oathsworn. We are now two chapters away from doing so, and so I have finished this core set of figures just in time.

ISS Vanguard Box Art

Most of the things I paint are based on concept art, and I like to match the colors of the figures to the artwork. This is especially important in board games so that figures are easily distinguishable. The eight human figures in ISS Vanguard don't have any published concept art, however, so I had to come up with a different way to handle them. Awaken Realms offers a service where they "sundrop" miniatures, which essentially means that they are given a high-quality wash. Their approach makes it clear that the figures are in pairs, two for each of the four playable sections: security, recon, science, and engineering. I liked the idea of painting them in matching pairs, and searching for inspiration online revealed that many others painters did as well. This Reddit post was my favorite, where the painter featured the distinct section colors on each model but otherwise used a high-contrast scheme with white armor and dark detailing. Coincidentally, a friend shared a video on Facebook last night called, "White plastic and blinking lights: the sci fi toys of the late 1970s and early 1980s." I didn't watch the whole thing, but it did get me reflecting on why I believed that white armor with bright colors should match a science fiction setting.

The figures were slightly frustrating to paint. There are many fiddly details on the armor, but not all of it is meaningful. It seems like the kind of thing that would look great when sundropping because that leaves it as monochromatic detail without having to be specific about what pieces logically or thematically connect. I used the aforementioned Reddit post regularly to try to plan out where I wanted splashes of color. There are a few parts that I would consider recoloring if I had the paints on hand, but a lot of the colors were custom mixes; it wasn't worth the risk of having a bad match to recolor it.

I used zenithal priming from the airbrush to prep the figures. I then painted all of them with a slightly warm off-white color, mostly white with a dot of grey and of buff. I used a wash over the whole figure to darken the recesses, then hit the highlights with the off-white armor color.

Let's look at the figures in pairs.

Engineering Section

All miniature painters know that yellow is a challenging color. Fortunately, a white undercoat made it manageable. The one on the left could probably use slightly more yellow, but I do like how it looks in isolation, and one will never have both of these out in the same mission anyway.

Security Section

I thought a lot about whether the little "pet" on the left should be white like the armor or a different color for contrast. I ended up keeping it white to suggest that it's made of the same stuff as the bulk of the armor. 

I like the poses of these two. These figures all make good use of scenic bases. Part of me prefers blank bases, since I can then decide whether or not I want to add features and suggest that the characters are in particular settings, as I did most elaborately in my Temple of Elemental Evil set... whose images sadly seems to have been eaten by a grue, in a horrible example of why you should not trust "the cloud." Here, however, we can see that a pose like that recon figure on the right would really not be possible any other way. The engagement with the scenery makes it worthwhile in a way that those engineering figures feel more like it's in the way. 

Recon Section

The Recon Section also has wonderful, dynamic poses. I was worried that the smokey jet trail of the one on the right might be too much, but I think it turned out fine. I chose yellow for the flowery thing on the left figure in part to complement the dark blue of the strap and mask details and partially so that it has similar colors to the jetpack character

Science Section

The yellow figures may have taken the most time because of the troubles getting yellow to be bright enough, but the Science Section was awfully close because of all the stuff in their scenes. I had some similar thoughts about the claw arm as the security section's pet, and I ended up going the same way here: if white plastic is what they're using to build lightweight rigid armor, then let's use it for the claw arm and the pets, too.

The alien biomatter being picked up by the one on the right looked fungous, so I picked out some colors inspired by that. Of course, a giant mushroom here on earth would not also have green leaves sticking out of it. 

ISS Vanguard (?)

The last figure in the box is a big space station. I presume it is the titular ISS Vanguard, but the parts of the rulebook that I have read don't actually reference it at all. It's not clear to me if this is used in play or not. I wish it did, though, since that would have given me some idea of how much effort I should spend painting it.

As with the human characters, I looked around online and found a few ideas for painting this piece. I kept the "nearly white with spots of color" motif. One of the challenges here is that the way a space station would be lit is quite different from how an away team would be, but I didn't want to paint it so starkly. I ended up using a cold off-white here to differentiate it subtly from the warm off-white of the characters. A wash deepened some of the recesses, then some highlights and spot colors. It's fine. I waffled a bit on whether to just paint over the silly translucent bit, but I chose against it in part because I have no idea if it is significant to the story. Who knows, maybe the campaign plot hinges on understanding that people are using pure translucent blue as a power source? I wanted the blue to match the beautiful tone used on the box cover, but I didn't quite get it.  It's not purple enough, but it does match the translucent parts.

All Eight Characters

Thanks for checking out the photos and the story here. I'll include some more individual pictures below for people who want to see more detail, including the backs.