Aragorn’s next stop in his tireless hunt for Gollum is The Hills of Emyn Muil, located hundreds of miles south of the previous quest. The key focus of this quest is on clearing Locations, which has earned it a rather poor reputation among the community as being boring and a bit of a slog. I never used to have any particularly strong feelings about it one way or the other. Actually, I’m quite looking forward to giving it another try, just because it has been so long since I last pulled it out of the box.
The quest starts with two Locations in the staging area: Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw, each with threat equal to 2 times the number of players, 5 quest points, and worth 5 victory points. This quest has only one stage, which requires just a single point of progress. In order to win, the players must clear all Emyn Muil Locations from play and collect 20 victory points, which are found on the aforementioned Locations. Any time there are no Locations in the staging area, the first Treachery revealed each turn gains Surge. This mechanic is—I’m sure—a helpful attempt to dig up another Location for you in case you need a few more victory points. It is definitely not an evil ploy to make sure the game drags on forever in the event that the active Location is the last Emyn Muil Location standing between you and victory. Definitely not.
There are a few Enemies in the encounter deck, but nothing terribly taxing. There are a few nasty Treacheries here too, like Rockslide, which deals 2 damage to each questing character (ouch!). Bring buckets of willpower, maybe some Treachery cancellation or healing, and some Location control. Make sure you can handle a little light combat. All in all, though, it’s a pretty straightforward quest.
The Nightmare version keeps the general theme of the original, but makes a few key changes. First and foremost, you are now only allowed to place 1 progress on each Location in the staging area each round, so that nerfs a lot of Location control cards right off the bat. The second major addition is a really big Enemy, the Tunneling Nameless Thing, which has 4 threat, 6 attack, 4 defense, and 10 hit points. At 3 copies per encounter deck, you’ll probably see at least one of these in a given game, so you can’t really skimp on combat anymore. Fortunately, it has an engagement cost of 50 and engages only when you travel to a Location, so you can choose when you’re ready to deal with it. Of course, you can’t wait too long, because if you’re not travelling to Locations you’re not making any progress towards beating the quest.
Building the deck
My usual strategy of using the Location to inform my deck theme fails me a bit here, since the Hills of Emyn Muil are kind of in the middle of nowhere:
I mean, if you go far enough South, you hit North Ithilien, so I guess I could try a Gondor theme, but that doesn’t seem to fit with the whole Hunt for Gollum thing. We’re closer to Mordor than anything else, but I think it will be a while before we get enough Allies to fill in an Orc deck.
Instead, I’ll take this as an opportunity to just build a fun trait deck. How about Noldor? I like their playstyle, and somehow it doesn’t feel too thematically jarring for the quest.
My partner plays an Erestor deck all the time, and it’s a ton of fun. I considered trying something similar here, but I think I’d like to try something different for variety’s sake. I’d still like to use the core Noldor mechanic of playing with the discard pile, though.
Since the quest cards do mention us hunting for Gollum, I’ll still start with Aragorn (invoking the Wandering Aragorn Rule). I’ve been leaning pretty heavily on the Lore version of Aragorn lately, so I’d like to use a different color. There aren’t many Leadership Noldor Heroes, but there are a few nice Leadership Noldor Allies, so I’ll use Leadership Aragorn to fill that void. Plus, that gives me access to Sword That Needs Errata for some extra willpower, always a plus in this quest.
Arwen is a natural pick for my #2 slot, since I’ve been re-imagining the hunt for Gollum as a couples adventure since day 1. I’d also like access to all of the Noldor goodness that exists in the Lore sphere, so my third slot will have to go to Glorfindel, Galdor, or Elrond (having already eliminated Erestor for the time being). I could go with Elrond for his ability to pay for Allies of any color, which would be nice. But Elrond usually needs a bunch of toys to get good use out of those beefy stats, and I’ll already have Aragorn taking up a bunch of deck space with his own toys. I think I’ll go with Galdor instead; both for his lower threat and also because I haven’t used him much to date and I’d like to change that.
With my Hero roster filled in, the rest of the deck should come together.
Deck: The Counsel of Elves
Aragorn (Core Set)
Arwen Undómiel (The Dread Realm)
Galdor of the Havens (The Grey Havens)
2x Elrond (The Road Darkens)
1x Erestor (The Long Dark)
3x Galadhrim Minstrel (Trouble in Tharbad)
1x Gildor Inglorion (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
1x Glorfindel (Flight of the Stormcaller)
1x Lindir (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
1x Lindon Navigator (The Grey Havens)
3x Sailor of Lune (The Grey Havens)
3x Veteran Sword-elf (A Storm on Cobas Haven)
1x Celebrían’s Stone (Core Set)
3x Lembas (Trouble in Tharbad)
1x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Sword that was Broken (The Watcher in the Water)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Daeron’s Runes (Foundations of Stone)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Elven-light (The Dread Realm)
3x Fair and Perilous (Across the Ettenmoors)
1x Lords of the Eldar (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
3x Quick Ears (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
3x Stand and Fight (Core Set)
2x Tale of Tinúviel (The Dread Realm)
Player Side Quest (4)
1x Double Back (Escape from Mount Gram)
1x Gather Information (The Lost Realm)
1x Scout Ahead (The Wastes of Eriador)
1x Send for Aid (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
3 Heroes, 52 Cards
There are a few major cards that I’m looking to get my hands on as soon as possible:
- Quick Ears, to cancel any early game Tunneling Nameless Things that come out before I have a bunch of expensive Allies down to help me deal with them
- A Test of Will, so that I can quest without fear of the Rockslide Treachery
- Sailor of Lune, who is immune to the effects of the Rockslide Treachery (as long as I keep an Event on the top of my discard pile, which is pretty easy)
- Stand and Fight, so that I can dump Allies with impunity and still play whichever ones I need at any given time
Anything not on that list I dump from my opening hand using Galdor’s ability—even Sword that was Broken. There are 3 copies of it in the deck for a reason.
I can typically keep on top of clearing one Location per round once I get an Ally or three down, and especially once I find and play a copy of Sword that was Broken (which usually happens by about midgame). I generally pay to ready Aragorn as long as I have a copy of Quick Ears in hand (otherwise I only ready him when I expect combat). Arwen’s extra resource typically goes to herself, but can go to either Galdor or Aragorn if it’s needed. Galdor unfortunately tends to build up extra resources by the endgame for some reason, so my cost curve might still be a little off.
One trick I can use to great effect is to keep one of the 1-attack Eastern Crows engaged with me. They slowly bleed cards out of the encounter deck as shadow effects, meaning that it’s possible to see the Tunneling Nameless Things get discarded harmlessly. Once all 3 of them are in the discard pile, I can kill off the Crows and feel mostly safe from combat for the rest of the game.
I also discovered that Side Quests are really nice in this quest. I only need to place 1 progress on the main quest in order to win, and anything beyond that goes to waste. Side Quests allow my excess progress to go towards something useful. Plus, each player Side Quest is worth 1 victory point, which can help me to reach that 20 victory point requirement a little sooner.
What’s that Galadhrim Minstrel doing hiding in the decklist? She’s not Noldor! Well, she makes a surreptitious appearance because all of the most important cards in this deck are Events, and she can help me to fetch them, bringing a little more consistency. The Minstrel’s presence doesn’t bother me too much though, since Elves of all kinds tend to make a habit of hanging out together.
In a more general sense, it’s strange to think that Aragorn and Arwen might have brought an army of elves with them to comb the hills just outside of Mordor. It’s more likely that most of the elves in this deck are representational in nature; they’re stand-ins for the knowledge, training, and advice that the pair have received from the elves throughout their lives. Hence the deck name, “The Counsel of Elves”.
Win ratio: 4/5 (80%)
I had a lot more fun with this quest than its reputation suggests. Some of that might be due to the additional challenges added in Nightmare mode, but I think it is also a much better quest played solo. The chances of this quest ending in Location lock or a never-ending slog as Location after Location is revealed from the encounter deck goes up quickly with each additional player. With only one player, though, I’m guaranteed to be able to clear Locations as quickly as they appear so long as I keep exploring them at a steady pace.
The one game that I lost was due to the shadow effect on Rockslide, which forces the attack to go undefended. Most of the Enemies in this quest don’t hit for that much, so it’s generally not a problem, but in this particular game I was having a little trouble clearing Locations since my Allies hadn’t materialized yet. This caused an issue because the Enemy I was defending against was Orc Horse Thieves, which gets +1 attack for each Location in the staging area, so it was swinging for an unusually high 5 attack. Early game Hero loss? Scoop.
The rest of my games were wins, and most of them were pretty interesting. During some of them my threat got dangerously high such that I was frantically digging for Elrond’s Counsel or desperately hoping to avoid the many Doomed 2 cards in the encounter deck. In one game, despite my greatest efforts, I had to face 2 Tunneling Nameless Things simultaneously. Many Galadhrim Minstrels died in the process, but by using several copies of Fair and Perilous and Tale of Tinúviel (in addition to failing to quest successfully once) I managed to scrape together just enough attack power over the next few rounds to kill them both.
In my final win, the encounter deck played a mean trick on me. It was definitely the last round, since I only needed to clear the final Location to win. The staging area was empty, so I quested with everyone except Arwen (who had taken some damage and couldn’t survive a Rockslide). I had committed 23 willpower to the quest against 0—certain victory. My first reveal was Rockslide, killing off a few of my Allies, but I only needed 5 progress, so I still had more than enough. I started to pack up my cards, and politely nodded “gg” to the encounter deck when I remembered that the first Treachery gains Surge while there are no Locations in the staging area (due to the passive effect on the quest card). I put my cards back down on the table and cavalierly flipped over the next encounter card.
Instead of just killing off a few Allies, now it was a total board wipe. The only survivors were two plucky Sailors of Lune, and Arwen. Now I had made only 4 of 5 required progress; the game was not yet over! The next round, I committed everyone and braced for impact as I flipped the encounter reveal…
Orc Horse Thieves! My 7 willpower against their 3 threat meant that I had won! But alas, it was a bitter victory indeed, for Aragorn and Galdor both lay slain.
I was pleasantly surprised with how fun this quest was to play. I also really enjoyed Galdor’s “targeted mulligan” ability, even if I didn’t get a chance to use his second ability in any of the games I played. I’ll definitely have to use him again sometime.
Next week we finally manage to catch up to Gollum in Nightmare The Dead Marshes. Let’s capture that little slinker once and for all!