Broken! Unbeatable! Unfair? Unbalanced? Too powerful!
Balanced. Necessary. Well-Designed. Excellent!

These are just a few reactions based on the most recently enhanced Minion Culture of ISENGARD. Since the release of the Realms of the Elf-Lords Starter Decks and Spoiler List, there has been a considerable amount of concern regarding Isengard: both in its newly designed tactical enhancements and the introduction of its “sub-culture” class of minions – the Isengard Orcs. Are they too powerful? Are they unbeatable? Will they cause a shift in balanced gameplay – or is it too early to tell?

Isengard as an overall culture has always been hailed as being slightly “above-average” at best. Comparatively, Isengard’s twilight-expensive Uruk-Hai do not have the recycling numbers of the MORIA swarms, cannot execute a focused corruption strategy like the NAZGUL and do not possess the direct damage skirmish ability and discard potential more strategically supported by SAURON’s own Orc class.

Because of their generally low vitality, archery – directed or total – is the Uruk-Hai’s main threat. With cards such as A Ranger’s Versatility, Armor, Valiant Man of the West, Mithril Coat and especially the Elven ” A Blended Race” the Fellowship can successfully keep the Damage +1 or “exert-to-use” capabilties of the Uruks at bay. Even Isengard’s most powerful effects such as Savagery to Match Their Numbers, Beyond the Height of Men and Caradhras Has Not Forgiven Us are unable to reach their full potential when the Fellowship is fortified with 4 companions or less.

The advent of the Isengard Orcs WILL change this power struggle in favor of the Shadow. With their abilities, above-average strength and HIGH vitality, they will severely shift the balance towards the Shadow come Site 4, and challenge the Fellowship’s ability to move a second time, giving the Shadow certain advantages in the later segments of the game.

And in my opinion – IT’S ABOUT TIME!

Why? Simply this: In overall contrast to the Shadow Player’s resources, there are more powerful and more versatile cards in the Fellowship’s arsenal which gives them a far greater advantage over any exsisting minion culture. Ultimately, a large, well armed, well fortified Fellowship can defeat ANY minion attack force, with the strength and numbers to spare for Frodo’s defense at Site 9 – especially when you have a fully healed Aragorn (Ranger of the North) or Sam (Proper Poet) who have the Manuever ability to become +1 defenders in the endgame.

The LOTR TCG is so well in tune with the “flavor” of the story that it seems almost uneventful when the Fellowship reaches SITE 9 with little or no resistance at all. Where is the sense of despair, the tension of the hunt and the essence of desperation?

This is where the Isengard Orcs will reach the pinnacle of their design. They have the ability of reducing the strength of the Fellowship within 1-2 turns and without the maximized strength of 5 or more companions, the Free Peoples Player will have to struggle with the fact that he or she must and will face a stronger and more dangerous opposition of Shadow Forces to truly defend the ring until the victorious or bitter end.

The Isengard Orcs are chaos amongst the order. They are the unknown threat created to exploit weakness in the Fellowship. They will bring forth that sense of tension and fear of moving forward that has been sorely missing from the game. They will force the Free People’s Player to stay fresh and keep sharp against a force so powerful; one mistake WILL change the outcome of the game.

I welcome the Orcs to the forces of Isengard and in my next segment – I will delve deeper into the inherent strategies of these Orcs and discuss exactly why we need them in this game – contrary to what many players believe.

Stay tuned for Part Two: Fuel on the Fire