Map 2 - The Emerald Ones
Size - Big
Level Cap - 18
First, the recent patches (1.2-1.3) has pumped up the NE castle garrison quite much agin and again, and improved AI behavior even further. On heroic 1.3 it is impossible to win the mission with the original walkthroug. Please see the heroic 1.3 update at the bottom.
Spoiler: view a screenshot of the surface
View a screenshot of the underground
In this map, you start in the SE corner, with a 1:3 town disadvantage. Needless to say your enemy is outgrowing you. Your ultimate objective in this mission is to collect 20 emerald dragons in Findan's army. I suggest that you defeat the red player before they overwhelm you, then slowly tour the map and recruit your dragons.
The three Inferno towns are linked by sea and a network of underground passages. The sea is divided in two down the middle of the map, so you are actually half a world away from the SW Inferno town. The large island in the middle has no close and easy landing beach, but you can reach it directly from the underground. The NE town is on an isolated island, and the only way to access it is by ship. However, the lack of shipyard makes the Inferno heroes there stranded, unless they manage to summon an unoccupied ship somewhere, which they will try to do.
You do have the freedom to decide which town to take first. However, on heroic your freedom is just an illusion. The tier-6 stack guarding the underground entrance to your north is too
costly to attack. That eliminates an early underground option. Your best choice for the first town would be the NE Inferno town. The AI builds it up fast, so it is best to rush it quite quickly.
In the first week, build whatever creature buildings and castle wall you can afford. You want to focus on troop production. Flag as many mines as possible (avoid the mines guarded by succubus mistress, if any) in the first five days and return to the castle on Day 7.
It is a good idea to immediately hire a secondary hero to pick up resources and flag the mines just secured by Findan. Don't forget to dump the tavern hero's starting troops on Findan. You might want to hire yet another hero for more troops, and to send him on boat to explore a bit and pick up the floating treasures. Your investment will soon pay off.
When Day 1 Week 2 comes, hire all you can afford, and send Findan to a ship with all you have. Sail north; your goal is the only landing beach of the NE island (1). If you must wait for more gold to hire a few more units, you can spend one extra day, but not two, or you can't take the NE Inferno town before Week 2 ends.
Note that the red heroes on this NE island will eventually come after you. However, since they have no shipyard there, they will attempt to summon an unoccupied ship. If you have a ship unoccupied, it might get summoned away by an AI hero. Even worse, since the AI now is on the ship, you can't summon it back.
Therefore, it is better to have two ships in advance. Wherever Findan lands, there is a backup ship (with a new hero in there) waiting just off shore. If you are fast enough, the AI heroes on the NE island will be dead before they get a chance to leave. During my two runs of this mission, the AI heroes elsewhere build thier own boat instead of trying to summon yours.
You should be able to reach the NE Inferno town before Week 2 ends. The garrison there has only one week worth of creatures, and so does your Findan. You should be able to take this town with only moderate losses. Also, this town usually has a capital (+4000G/day) built in there already - free for you now! You will also get a cut scene and one emerald dragon. If you would like, you can build up this Inferno town to have all tiers of creatures ready for hire, but don't bother with the upgrade buildings. The resource pit here offers +1 sulfur/day, which is really helpful because you don't own any sulfur mine yet. (The sulfur mine on this island is usually guarded by lots of tier-6 creatures, which is too hard for Findan at this moment.)
Now you've improved your situation from 1:3 to 2:2. Before adventuring further, you need fresh armies as well as the useful "Summon Creature" spell.
There are two ways to reach your next destination. The easier path from here is to go back to your ship at (1), and go back to your starting Sylvan town. You should have some new troops as well as the level 3 mage guild ready when Findan gets there. This way he doesn't waste any turn waiting for Summon Creature.
Your next target is stairway at (2), guarded by possibly a pack of pit lords. These tough creatures cast Meteor Shower (5x5 area), so don't crowd your units together.
Descend the stairway, and you are now at the eastern stairway of the underground region. The middle stairway (3) leads you to the middle Inferno town, while the NW stairway (4) eventually leads you to the SW Inferno town. The middle Inferno town is usually "undefended", while the SE Inferno town is usually heavily defended. The choice is clear - head for the middle stairway (3).
You emerge on the middle island/continent. There is a convenient mana well on the right, so this is a good place to summon some creatures. Keep going north and you will capture the second Inferno town quite easily.
At this moment the AI heroes in the SW castle will probably be heading towards you. In my games, their primary objective was the NE inferno town. Don't panic as their heroes are weak, and you don't need to leave Findan behind to defend.
Now you should start to save up your cash and hire a new hero in the NE Inferno castle. After the Inferno invasion lands at (1) and comes to you the next turn, hire all creatures you can afford in the town. That's probably ~3 weeks worth of full 7-tier troops! (And it is going to cost you an arm and a leg!). The poor AI hero only has 1-2 week worth of troops, and is no match of you. Chase them down!
Things are looking good for you now. Your next target is the final Inferno town. Now return to the stairway (don't forget to summon creatures again before heading down), and head for the NW stairway (4) this time. There is another stack of tier-6 creatures blocking your way. If you are not weakened very much, then you should be able to get through them. Otherwise, you can go back to stairway (3), return to your Sylvan town, and sail to the last Inferno town. Since patch 1.2 the AIs from the SW town are more eager to go out, so you might intercept a few of them on the sea.
If you take the (4) stairway, you will emerge on the NW island. On the east coast you will see a shipyard (5) where you can make a ship, or simply summon one on the shore. Sail south, and make a landing at the only beach on the SW continent (6). You can again summon creatures from your Sylvan town here, and face the hardest resistance of this mission. You get another 5 emerald dragons afterwards. Finally, you can build the dragon recruiting structure in your Sylvan town!
There is no time pressure anymore. Whenever you give Findan 20 emerald dragons, this mission is done. Every obelisk (marked with a red cross on the minimap above) will reveal you some emerald dragons somewhere else, with 3 dragons each in my game. They will always join you when you approach them. There is a witch hut at (7) that you may want to visit. Also, there are some stat bonuses at (8) and (9) which are worth picking up.
Heroic 1.3 Update
The NE town now starts with quite a large army, led by a low-level hero, Alastor. If you arrive here on Day 7, Week 2 (or Day 1, Week 3), as described in the above walkthrough, Alastor would have finished mine flagging business, and returned to the town. The AI builds up the NE town every day, so by the time you come here he simply overpowers you 4 to 1. There is no way you can defeat his army in a high-level castle assault, even if you can resurrect (patch 1.3 nerfed it a bit, plus the the surviving familiars will deplete half of your mana.)
Before patch 1.3, Alastor is quite weak and the AI builds up much slower. Therefore, you can usually intercept Alastor on the road. Even if he defends in the town, the town is not very complete yet, so you will have an easier time assaulting. Not anymore on 1.3 heroic.
What you can do is to rush here as fast as possible. On Day 1, build a ship, and hire one, or even two new heroes, combine the army, then send Findan and all units you can afford on the water. Most of these units will die, so you probably want to prefer 10 sprites over 2 hunters as the starting bonus. (10 sprites gets you more HP, and can make actions before they are killed.) The new heroes can go to the east and pick up a few resources that's not guarded. On your way to the NE town you can pick up some treasures. You will be short of wood for for the month, so hopefully you can pick up at least one pile of floating lumber.
Once you land on the NE island (Day 1 Week 5), Alastor is usually busy flagging mines here and there. He will try to rush back and defend the town. In my three trials of heroic 1.3 rush, Alastor is either at home (too bad, restart mission time), too far away to make it back, or he is almost home, but blocked by my Findan. In the last case he did nothing for the next turn, even though he can easily run me through. (His army is quite large!)
As long as Alastor is not at home, you have a good shot at the castle on Day 7. Try to kill the ranged units ASAP, so the AI's melee units will open the gate for your melee units to rush in. Your army parish quickly, so try to finish this fight as fast as possible. If you learned Resurrection from mission 1, you can save your hunters and most war dancers.
Once you take the castle, Alastor will ignore you and try to flag some more mines. Now, at the starting of Week 2, hire whatever Inferno unit you can afford to finish off Alastor. (This fight is impossible without Inferno units.) This NE island is then yours to flag. Findan's priority should be the Saw Mill at the NW corner. Hire a new hero to flag mines quicker, and rush Findan back to the boat and your Sylvan town as soon as the Saw Mill is flagged. The NE island will be under attack at the beginning of month 2, but you still have two weeks and half.
You will probably return to the Sylvan town around the beginning of Week 3. Hire whatever you can afford, and flag every mine on the island. Don't go to underground, as your NE town is about to get attacked soon, and you don't have enough units to defend. Return to the Sylvan town at the beginning of Week 4, hire all Sylvan units, make a long sail to the SW island, and intercept ship after ship of Inferno armies trying to make a run at your NE Inferno town. Before you depart, make sure you've learned Summon Creature, and set your favorite enemy. Try to conserve units as you face those Inferno armies, of course.
After you land on the SW island, the Inferno army on the central island starts to rush out. You can take care of them later. Summon whatever Sylvan creatures you can get, and assault the SW castle. This assault is not easy as usual (lv 33 town by now, and 2 or more weeks worth of full, upgraded growth). After that, you can take the central town with the help of the mana well (a good summon creature spot). The fight will be even harder than before, but you are not pressed by time after this.