Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 10/24/07 | Genre: Adventure
Baseball cards are not fun; baseball players hitting each other in the face with bats is fun. These must have been the thoughts of Richard Garfield when he created Magic: The Gathering. Almost fifteen years later Magic still stands at the forefront of collectible card games leaving behind it a wake of imitators. Now The Eye of Judgment has been born in the house that Magic built and hopes to find success on its own. While it does on many levels, it may just be another failure waiting to happen.
So, is The Eye of Judgment a good card game or is it just a gimmick? The answer is actually fairly difficult to pinpoint. As a card game EoJ succeeds on most levels. Contrary to many CCGs (collectible card games), the battlefield is open for either player. In other words players are not fighting from their own side of the table. Each player uses a deck of thirty cards consisting of spells and creatures. Like Magic there are quite a few colors in the game, each having it's own weaknesses and strengths. The field of play is made of nine spaces in a large square and each space has an element on the top side and bottom side (some spells or creatures flip a square to change it to its other element). The field is what gives The Eye of Judgment its depth. If you place a forest creature on a forest space it gains extra hit points but if you place it on an earth field, its opposing color, it looses hit points. As you can probably guess this brings a great deal of strategy to the field of play, thus creating a unique deck building style that require you to think about more than what creatures to use and combos. When cards fight, the direction they are facing effects the damage they take (some have blind spots and take extra damage). As a fan of turn-based strategy games this was an exciting feature and gives a much more strategic feeling than some other CCGs.
The card game is strong enough to stand on it's own, so are the camera and video game important? This is where the game starts to feel like a gimmick. It is hard to describe how cool it is to see your cards get summoned and actually stand on the cards as you hold them but - and this is a big but - does it really add any enjoyment to the game? Is a nice dinner really that much better when a man dressed as Elvis serves it in a theme restaurant? Not really, but it's still fun. That's how The Eye of Judgment feels. A story in the game may have made more of a difference, but as it stands now this is a gimmick. Albeit a cool one.
The Eye of Judgment sets its self apart from other CCGs by using the Eye camera... and this may be the biggest downfall of the game. It took me a good day or two to find a consistent set up with lights and position to get the game to read the cards every time. Here is how it works: when you first open EoJ you need to assemble the Eye, which is fairly easy, then lay out the map (the cloth map comes folded and should probably be ironed before using) and open your cards. Once you start the game it will prompt you to adjust the settings on the Eye to make sure it can read the cards. If you do not have good lighting it will often be difficult for the Eye to read the cards and at times too much lighting will can a reflection from a card making it unable to read as well. This all comes out as a very frustrating break in the action, as it will happen mid-game. After a day or two you should find the right set up and everything will work out just fine, for the most part, but the game doesn't read the cards as well as you would hope, especially with it being so heavily touted.
Now for the video game itself - this is not going to be kind. The Eye of Judgment missed the boat horribly. This is far from a game; this is a program. All you can do with EoJ is look at your cards and some history on them (more on that in a moment) and play either computer opponents or live players. There is absolutely NO story and that is where the game truly misses it's biggest opportunity. Magic, even without any programs to run it, is very heavily set in it's lore. Each time a new set comes out it is accompanied by books and although you don't play through the story there is a lot of it. The Eye of Judgment could have taken that foundation and really built on it. There is an option that allows you to look at your cards (while not playing someone else) and read up on the history of where they are from and the lay of the land and such. So with such a rich history for the cards, why is the game void of a storyline for single player play? It would not require much extra in the way of design, you would still play against computer AI that gets progressively harder, just let us have some story to connect to the world more deeply, something similar to Puzzle Quest, something that will add some value to our investment.
The Eye of Judgment has no single player story, so how does the rest of the experience hold up? As I mentioned earlier there are two modes of play: against computer AI or against other players online or off. The computer AI is fairly clever and can hold it's own. Even after you have a strong grasp on the strategy and a well built deck it will give you a challenge. You also have the option of having two of your decks (you can scan your decks into the game and save them) played by the AI against one another allowing you to quickly see what decks you like.
Against another person EoJ really gains some legs for replay ability. When you play someone in the same room as you, simply load up the game and start beating the hell out of each other, simple as that. For online play things are a bit different. People love to cheat at games to win and the fine folks at Wizards of the Coast and Sony solved this by requiring you to register your deck and scan in each card before you can play online games. This prevents what would have been a large amount of cheating. It's also noted that the cards could not be made with a regular printer, but they can be. As for online play itself... it's quite fun. In my play time I never saw any lag and since the option is there, it would have been nice to hear more people talk during online matches.
The Eye of Judgment is ultimately about the cards, which have decent art throughout. However, depending on your location, you may need to find them online. I've spoken to people in my area and online and several have mentioned that they are having difficulty finding cards to buy. Stick to purchasing online and you should be fine. Be warned though that even after the initial investment this game will continue to take from your wallet. Set 2 just launched giving you a whole new set of rares and phantoms to hunt for.
As a card game The Eye of Judgment succeeds. As a video game it fails. It's hard to say right now if it will ever really take off. A lot of great card games have come and gone (Rage, Jihad, Illuminati) and EoJ has a small group of people in it's customer pool (PS3 owners only). It may not last, but it's a nice break from Magic while it does.