Everyone’s favorite Location Management quest, the Hills of Emyn Muil is generally thought of as a boring slog, and for good reason! It’s meant to mimic the labyrinthine rocky lands that Gimli complained about in The Fellowship of the Ring film. But, as Aragorn told him, “That is our road.” So, I suggest we recover our strength, and build a deck specifically to find our way through the labyrinth.
I recall when my wife and I played through the cycle originally, it annoyed us so much because it was so easy to get location locked. But, I’ve come up with a deck to specifically avoid that, using some cards that I’ve never used before looking to take on this quest for this series.
Lore Aragorn continues the trek through this cycle, mainly because there are some convenient location management cards in Lore. There isn’t anything tricky about his usage here, he’s just an all-around quester, defender, and attacker. Some cards that will go to him are of course, A Burning Brand, and a new inclusion, that I haven’t used before, the Dunedain Pipe. Since I am using two new heroes for this quest, and am without Arwen Undomiel for the first time, I felt the Pipe was a good way to replace Elven-light as a means to draw, or filter my hand. It’s also fun thematically because all three of my heroes are Dunedain. This is probably the least “involved” Aragorn has been so far this series, because nothing here really plays into his strengths, but that’s okay!
Along for the journey this time are two heroes I haven’t used before: Thurindir and Idraen. First, for Idraen, she replaces Arwen Undomiel as our Spirit hero, and conveniently can be given the Warden of Arnor attachment, which will place 1 progress on the first location revealed each round. This is great to help get through the locations with incremental progress, but also can outright get rid of at least one of the Emyn Muil locations, The Highlands, which also allows me to avoid its travel effect.
Idraen is also nice because she has built in readying for this quest, since I’ll hopefully be clearing one location each round, so she will be able to ready and serve as an attacker or defender since she has the same stats as Aragorn.
The other Dunedain companion is Thurindir, the side quest guy. Since this quest only has one quest card, and only needs 1 progress on it, side quests are good for this one! Thurindir brings along three side quests, Gather Information, Scout Ahead, and Double Back. Thurindir gains willpower as the side quests are completed, so he really becomes a strong questing hero.
Managing the Locations
Since this quest is all about exploring locations, cards that manipulate or manage locations are a necessity here (like healing in the last quest). One card, Strider’s Path, was a thematic inclusion for Aragorn, and is nice if there’s no active location. Another is Secret Paths, which is very helpful to blank locations in the staging area, especially ones like East Wall of Rohan. Warden of Arnor is a key card that will go on Idraen and make progress along the way as locations are revealed from the encounter deck. The combo of clearing The Highlands with it immediately is too fun, and since this quest is mostly a bore, it’s always nice to see those little victories along the way.
For allies, the Dunedain Pathfinder has been a steady presence in this cycle, and I really enjoy using him, even though he might not stay in play if you don’t find a location. In this quest, however, that is not really an issue, as you’ll almost always see a location in the top 5 cards of the Encounter Deck. His fellow Dunedan, the Northern Tracker, is the real MVP here, and I want to cheat him into play as soon as possible with Elf-stone, as it is difficult to pay for his cost with just one Spirit hero and no resource acceleration. If I can get him into play early thanks to Elf-stone, then I will easily clear the two starting locations, Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw, without having to travel to them, because their effects are not great when active.
With the inclusion of side quests, the East Road Ranger is a great ally to have as well, since she can quest for 3 when the active quest is a side quest. If no side quest is around, she still quests for 1, and has a good 2 attack and 3 health, for any pesky orcs that might try to steal her horse. Of course, rounding it out, Arwen Undomiel is included as an ally to buff Aragorn’s defense.
A sneaky inclusion is Backtrack, which can come in handy when stacking useless progress on the main quest. The card is only in at two copies and is a fun way to clear a location near the end, that maybe puts me above the victory point threshold to win the game.
(You could also play the side quest, Explore Secret Ways, to maybe blank the threat of some locations in the staging area, but I found that this worked out far too infrequently in testing.)
Since the staging area starts with 4 threat and 2 locations, I would generally love to see a Secret Paths in my opening hand. Warden of Arnor is also good to see, as I can start placing progress early on locations revealed from the deck. Any form of card draw is necessary, as I don’t want to just top-deck the entire game, so Dunedain Pipe, Ancient Mathom, or Daeron’s Runes are all good to start with. Hopefully, at least one ally, as well.
Unless my opening hand includes some combination of card draw and Warden of Arnor, I’ll usually mulligan, but with Gather Information as my starting side quest from Thurindir, I can always pick a card I didn’t see, but want, in my opening hand. That side quest makes the opening hand options more forgiving, as I can always grab Warden of Arnor, or Elf-stone if it didn’t show up.
One thing of note is that I will travel to one of Amon Hen or Amon Lhaw in the first round, depending on what is in my hand. If I have many attachments, like Warden of Arnor, Elf-stone, and Ancient Mathom, I will stay away from Amon Lhaw, of course. But, if I have A Test of Will or Secret Paths, I’ll stay away from Amon Hen.