SPOILER WARNING - this review contains a whole bunch of spoilers.
My expectations have been somewhat managed (i.e. lowered) by the expansion packs so far, with some middling heroes and player cards of dubious use, but there are some good player cards in this set, and appropriate to the scenario too. Gildor almost feels like a hero all of his own, there are some other cool allies - horseys! - and the Rohan theme continues to be the clear favourite of the Mirkwood cycle.
But Brand, Son of Bain, is the new Hero in The Hills of Emyn Muil and it has to be said, it’s difficult to want to play the guy. I mean, bless him but this fella makes predator look like a beauty pageant runner-up. He’s so ugly he could turn milk. Literally, his Mum had to tie a steak to his neck so the dog would play with him. Etc.
Despite being able to make onions cry at a glance, Brand is also a bit limp when it comes to his special ability, which is useless in fact, in solo play. Given that I always run the scenarios solo before putting mates through them, Brand had to take a back seat (like really far back, with a bag on his head) in last night’s session.
So up stepped Legolas, Prince Imrahil (thought I’d give Arry a rest and see what all the fuss was about – not much as it turns out) and – yawn – Eowyn. Glanced over the one single card Emyn Muil scenario, given that NOT reading scenario cards beforehand is basically tantamount to suicide in this game.
‘Muil specific SPOILERS:
You need to collect 20 VPs of Locations and Enemies to win, so clearly threat reduction is required to keep you steady whilst you search the encounter deck for VP cards. This encounter deck is location heavy, but you have Sauron’s Reach and Dol Guldur orcs thrown in for good measure too, which means some nasty combats and mini bosses like the illiterate Chieftan and his Beastmaster cronies, plus a bunch of evil treachery to boot. And treachery appears particularly nasty in this scenario as it gets Surge if there are no Locations already in the staging area.
Many Locations in this pack have VP values attached so you’ll need to explore them for VPs, so you might actually be glad that treachery will Surge you into the next expanse of land which Gollum is running through.
Collecting VPs also adds a sorely needed sense of achievement to the game because normally the only advantage to gaining Victory is taking that card out of the encounter deck. And given that we rarely re-shuffle the encounter deck before it’s game over, this was of little consequence. If you’re one of the crazy people who use FFG’s existing scoring system you might be pleasantly surprised to see your scores sky-rocket off the back of this mission.
Initially I was sceptical of the one card scenario idea – it seemed a little lazy – but to have more stages for this scenario would really drag it out. The quest is a slog as it is, with your heroes ploughing on through the snow and rockfalls and up and down dangerous hills. But it actually plays out quite nicely. In the same way that Hunt For Gollum was simple but gentle fun, Emyn Muil provides a semi-challenging but fun adventure for your heroes with some interesting locations, the occasional (uphill) battle though with only one new enemy, and the occasional event which will kill off a hero or two without warning.
So how did Eowyn, Leggy and Princey fair? Well, I’d obviously prepared for this scenario by chucking in the Trackers and Guides, and threat control, the required Steward, tactics songs, all the Dunedain attachments, and a whole bunch of low cost allies that I’d be able to churn out quickly, coupled with Faramir and Radagast for the big hitters.
In the first game the Pretty Prince of Parties got himself some Unexpected Courage, but as he was mostly questing and there are fewer enemies this wasn’t absolutely required. Steward went onto Eowyn mostly because I had a big Spirit draw with my first hand. My 2 cost Allies started appearing and coming into play quickly. FWIW I think I don’t play to the Prince’s strengths because I tend to plan my decks/games around NOT losing allies rather than having them leave play to trigger effects. Cards like Valiant Sacrifice – whilst probably very useful – don’t see much game time because I’m not fond of cards which rely on a bad result (i.e. ally leaving play, even if it’s a Sneak Attack or Ally ability) to work, I’d sooner have another weak-ass Gondorian instead.
Legolas was occasionally useful for helping to clear locations, but mainly for being the one who wasn’t getting injured by treachery because he was hanging back all the time. Eowyn was her usual invaluable self.
It’s worth noting that because I’d neglected Lore and any kind of healing Eowyn bit the dust in the two games I played, and Prince Charming also fell in the first game due to some vicious treachery draws. But in both games this was a late occurrence, and with Legolas hanging back with a horde of allies to quest for him I was able to keep going and net all the Locations I needed, and in the second game killing Chieftan Uthak for the win. Also Faramir bumping up legions of Snowburn Scouts and Gondorian Spearmen to serious questers was a sight to behold.
I don’t claim to be an expert deck builder – “keep the card costs low if you’re using three spheres” is pretty much my main rule – so I wouldn’t deign to post any deck setups I use as there are plenty of cool ones already in the forums. But all in all, even though I was losing heroes and taking hits, it didn’t feel too challenging. And even when I was down to just Legolas in the second game I wasn’t panicking or feeling the pressure too much because he had so many mates with him, including Radagast to help pull in some creature allies.
But it was enjoyable nevertheless, and I enjoyed the new Location effects and card interactions. The game gives you a good head start on that VP count by having a couple of potentially nasty Locations in the starting set up but after that you’ll mainly be parsing the deck for more VPs. To that end I would probably enlist Denethor in the next attempt.
In summary: a good addition to the set I’d say. Ease yourself down from Rhosgobel/Osgiliath/Dol Guldur or step up from the cake-walk of Mirkwood/Carrock to enjoy this scenario at the pace it’s meant for. Thematically it feels cool to be literally scouring the hills for Smeagol’s less friendly alter-ego too.
I’m looking forward to visiting Dead Marshes and Returning to Mirkwood, but does anyone else feel that Khazad Dum is casting a long, long shadow??