Mae govannen! This next installment of my review series deals with the first FFG-created objective-ally to have a thorough back story: Lord Alcaron of Gondor. He appears in the adventure packs Encounter at Amon Dîn and Blood of Gondor of the Against the Shadow cycle, though he plays an imperative role in the entire story (warning: spoilers ahead!)
Lord Alcaron is a most interesting character. We, as the players, first meet him at The Leaping Fish, a tavern in Pelargir, at the beginning of the Peril in Pelargir scenario. He tasks the heroes with the deliverance of a scroll to Faramir and disappears, afraid of the brigands spying on the meeting. Now, I dismissed him at this point as a weak-minded servant of Denethor, but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Several scenarios later, we meet Alcaron again as we enter a village near the hill Amon Dîn and find him defending the townsfolk. The heroes help him to save the villagers, and as we accompany him back to the capitol, soldiers summon us to Osgiliath to defend it. Once the city is saved, Alcaron, a daring and proud man, urges Faramir to pursue the fleeing enemy into Ithilien. This the young captain does begrudgingly, and his hesitations are correct; both he and Alcaron are captured. The heroes chase their quarry and upon capturing them discover that Lord Alcaron is actually a servant of Sauron named Ulchor, whom the heroes must kill in order to rescue Faramir and win the scenario. This is where FFG’s back story enters. To paraphrase, it describes Ulchor’s existence in Gondor as “painfully long,” and reveals that he has acted as a pawn of Sauron in a plot to capture the Steward of Gondor’s two sons, Boromir and Faramir. Sixteen years prior to the scenario, Ulchor had possessed the body of a nobleman’s young son, who was slaughtered by orcs. He grew in the favor of the Steward and his court until no one would suspect him of any wrongdoing.
How did Ulchor achieve such a deception? According to the back story, Ulchor is a Black Nùmenorean, a race of sorcerers almost forgotten by all save Sauron. These Black Nùmenoreans were once men of the island Nùmenor who fell prey to Sauron’s words and attempted to forcefully acquire immortality from the Elves. The gods, called Valar, sent waves that swamped the island and most of its inhabitants; however, some followers of Sauron survived the Downfall. The race was nearly obliterated in Third Age 1050 by the fifteenth king of Gondor, and it can be assumed that Sauron held the remaining in his service. Sorcery granted them long lives; either Sauron’s power or some magic of their own managed this feat. It seems that Ulchor was able to perform spells and enchantments akin to Daechanar’s in the Angmar Awakenedcycle, and his powers probably came from Sauron himself. Regardless, Alcaron is a rich character who could fit into Professor Tolkien’s world as easily as any of Tolkien’s creations, and for this reason he receives a very high theme rating.
Thematic Relevance: 4 out 5
For a sorcerer, Lord Alcaron is not powerfully embodied. He is a 1 willpower, 2 attack, 2 defense, 3 hit point Gondorian noble whose worth is debatable. Like standard objective-allies, he travels with the first player and carries that unforgettable bold text “If Lord Alcaron leaves play, the players lose the game.” However, his abilities are most definitely scenario-specific. In Encounter at Amon Dîn, his text box reads,
“Response: After a villager token is discarded, exhaust Lord Alcaron to place that villager token on a location instead.”
Villager tokens represent the villagers that the heroes are endeavoring to save. A certain number of these are placed on locations, and if they are discarded, a dead villager token is placed on an objective. However, once a location is explored, its remaining villager tokens are placed on another objective representing the rescued villagers. If these outnumber the dead villager tokens at the end of the game, the players win the game. Therefore, Alcaron’s ability is not useless. That being said, I find it more of a convenience than a necessity. Encounter at Amon Dîn is regarded as one of the easiest scenarios of the game, and I, for one, have always experienced a wide margin between the villager tokens and the dead villager tokens without using Alcaron. The fact that he must exhaust to utilize this response adds another con to the list; simply put, the first iteration of Alcaron does not have an ability worth using. I usually find Alcaron ideal for defending in this scenario, as he is fairly solid. A little bit of healing here and there certainly wouldn’t hurt, but he can hold his own for a round or two. In Blood of Gondor, Alcaron bears the same stats and reads:
“Action: Exhaust Lord Alcaron to return an enemy engaged with you to the staging area.”
This ability certainly ranks higher than the first Alcaron’s. That being said, I would consider this more of a last-minute attempt to control enemies than something to use regularly. If one is swamped by enemies, it could be beneficial to return one to the staging area, especially since there are many enemies in this scenario; however, this could create difficulties when questing, as there are also high-threat locations and enemies that can clog the staging area. Therefore, returning an enemy to the staging area seems more like a short-term solution causing long-term problems. I have personally never used this ability, nor triggered the first Alcaron’s response, as I have never found the need. I usually save Alcaorn for defense or attack. Still, the merit of Alcaron’s abilities depends heavily on the decks the players are using. For example, If I were running a deck that struggled with combat but excelled with questing against The Blood of Gondor, I would probably use Alcaron’s ability very often and quest heavily to overcome the threat. If I were losing villager tokens rapidly in Encounter at Amon Dîn, I would use Alcaron’s ability to gain the upper hand. Taking all of this into account, Lord Alcaron’s two objective-ally versions have their own uses; nevertheless, these abilities are merely helpful, not necessary for success. It is this philosophy that spurs me to give Alcaron his utility rating.
Utility Rating: 3 out of 5
We come to the end of a review featuring a most fascinating and diabolical persona, Lord Alcaron. Despite my less than flattering comments on his usefulness, I always enjoyed having him around in the Against the Shadow cycle. His betrayal in The Morgul Vale absolutely shocked me; I wanted to tear his enemy card into a thousand bits and scream at it violently. To this day, I derive perhaps too much pleasure from destroying him and gloat over his defeat. I cannot look at either of his objective-ally cards without feeling a surge of anger, and I am utterly suspicious of every new objective-ally that appears (yes, I even doubted Amarthiùl’s trustworthiness until the very last round of the last scenario). Do I overreact? Eagles do not easily forget their enemies, my friends, even ones printed on cardboard. If you also have stories to share about your own personal experiences with the betrayal of Lord Alcaron, please share them below. Check back soon to read about the last objective-ally in the Against the Shadow cycle: Faramir!