The Elvenking faces a difficult task in the Fourth Age. The lands of the Firstborn are scattered, and their population is dwindling as ever more seek refuge in the West, leaving Middle-earth to the devices of Men. Though Sauron has been overthrown, war has not ceased, and the Elves that remain must struggle to hold their own lands against many threats.
The Elves may be united as a single faction (under the kingship of Thranduil, the strongest Elven lord remaining in Middle-earth), but thanks to the long distances and difficult terrain separating them they
actually play as two or three distinct regions. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each region will be an important part of success as this challenging faction.
In the west, the Elves still hold lands about the Gulf of Lune, the lastfragments of what once was Gil-galad's kingdom. Forlindon, Harlindon, and of course Mithlond offer the only access to the Sea for an Elven ruler at game start, and Mithlond in particular allows recruitment of some strong Elven troops. Unfortunately, the population in the Lindons is decreasing faster than anywhere else in the Elven Realm, meaning any recruitment choices must be made carefully.
This also tends to be a fairly safe region for the Elves, at least in the early going. The nearby Dwarves in the Blue Mountains are good trading partners, and the presence of the Shire and Reunited Kingdom in
Eriador means the Elves can enjoy the benefits of non-hostile neighbors for a while. However, Adûnabâr also has a presence in the North: if they can manage it, they will attack you.
In fact, Adunabar's 'presence in the North' has expanded in recent years– to include Imladris. Elrond's haven of lore, largely abandoned at the beginning of the Fourth Age, has fallen to Cultists eager to prove
forcibly that the time of Men is at hand. The task of re-taking Rivendell may fall to the Elves of the Grey Havens, if they can raise an army strong enough to march the breadth of Eriador and defeat
Adunabar's forces. If, on the other hand, the Elves tarry, they may find it impossible to rebuild the former glory of Elrond's House.
South of Rivendell lies the now-desolate land of Eregion, or Hollin. In Ost-in-Edhil Celebrimbor ruled these lands, and enjoyed the friendship of the Dwarves of Moria. Ost-in-Edhil has long lain in ruins, but an Elven prince of sufficient will and strength of purpose may be able to reclaim it and rebuild some of this ancient legacy.
Across the peaks of the Hithaeglir lies the land of Lorien, expanded at the end of the Third Age to include East Lorien in the southern part of the Greenwood. Though Lorien and East Lorien may appear close to one another, the mighty Anduin flows between them, and the only reliable
fords are south at the Undeeps or far to the north in the lands of Beorn's descendants. Reinforcing one province from the other will take time.
These lands are also perhaps the most exposed of all the Elven provinces to attack. Kingdoms of Men will arise and fall to the south and east, as factions like Rhovanion, Rohan, and Adûnabâr clash over the Brown Lands and factions like Dale, Rhun, and Dorwinion lay claim to Rhovanion. For the most part, other factions will leave the Elves out of their designs in the early years, but should one faction achieve
dominance in the area, conflict will surely follow. Fortunately, the Elves of Lorien are used to guarding their realm; the player can expect to train flexible units of archers and warriors here.
In the north of Greenwood are the last provinces of the Elves, among which are the Elvenking's Halls themselves. Paths through the forest are few, making this region perhaps the best protected of all the Elven lands. And nearby factions – the Beornings to the west and south, and Dale to the north and east – are largely busy with their own affairs. While these Silvan Elves have no tradition of elite infantry like their cousins in the west, they are superlative archers. And, perhaps most importantly, the Elven population in these provinces may actually increase – if wisely governed – as the remaining Silvan Elves flock to their king's guarded lands.
Defense may be the order of the day, but an Elven leader must advance ifhe is to secure his people's future. And to advance successfully, he must to some extent rely on Men – specifically those Men known as Elvellyn who have allied themselves to the Elvenking.
Outside Elven Lands, it is not possible to train Elven units. Instead, an Elven leader will recruit various Elvellyn soldiers – spearmen, hunters, swordsmen, riders. These soldiers, though not as strong as
Elves, will help round out the numbers in an Elven army, therefore preventing (or mitigating) a population drain in Elven Lands. And Elvellyn regions benefit from higher population growth than the Elven Lands themselves. Since population is tied to provincial income as well as recruitment, it's clear that the Elves must establish some Elvellyn lands early in a campaign in order to avoid financial and military weakness.
Another option will present itself in the mid- to late-game, as the Elven Lands (particularly those in the west) continually dwindle thanks to low or negative population growth and the pressure of recruitment. An Elven leader may elect to invite Men into the province, increasing growth (and income) but of course losing the ability for the province to train Elven units. Such a transition is one-way, and clearly should be
an option of last resort – but it is preferable to ruling over a deserted province, where income and training are stunted.
In theory, it would be good to establish at least one Elvellyn province near each Elven region – the Lindons, Lorien, and northern Greenwood. In the first two regions, this is possible without starting a major war: independent, kingless Men have encroached upon lands north of Mithlond and all along the vales of the Anduin. These provinces make excellent first choices for expansion. Unfortunately, northern Greenwood has no nearby rebel settlements. Here, Thranduil will have to rely upon Elves
alone or bring war to one of his neighbors.
Of course, Adunabar is a natural foe of the Elves. With determination, it may be possible to conquer land from the Cultists in northern and eastern Eriador, linking the Lindons with Imladris and re-establishing
an unbroken realm in the North. Expect to face beasts as well as Men, some in the service of Adunabar, some slaves only to their own savage urges. Cleansing the northern reaches of these foes and re-opening the passes over the Misty Mountains will do much to strengthen the Elven Realm.
The frontier of Lorien and southern Greenwood is more uncertain. You maybe able to hold the lands about the middle Anduin, but any number of different foes could face you to the south and east. It may be possible to assist Rohan or the RK as they push into the open lands north of Mordor, and prevent a large Easterling power from dominating the western lands. But the princes of the Northmen to your east may fight their petty wars for decades while the wild men beyond them consolidate power. A strong Elven power from Greenwood to the Sea of Rhun might serve as a bulwark against their marauding.
And of course, directly south of Greenwood lies the Black Land itself, once more a stronghold for ambitious would-be overlords. Perhaps the last task of the Elves is to ensure that this Cult, this latest echo of Melkor's rebellion, is snuffed out for good. Thranduil himself remembers the horrors of Dagorlad at the end of the Second Age, and the battles under the trees at the end of the Third. Whether war takes them to the dark fences of Mordor, to the lonely Troll-haunted hills of Eriador, to the far lands of the East where they first awakened, or even to the bitter coasts of the Harad, the Elven folk may still have some part to play in the Age of Men.