Fans of collectible-card games (you know who you are) will find much to like in ''Eye of Judgement,'' a bizarre new offering for the PlayStation 3

By Gary Eng Walk
Updated November 04, 2007 at 04:00 AM EST

Eye of Judgment
(Sony; PlayStation 3; Teen)
The inscrutable subculture of collectible card games — raise your hand if you’ve heard of Magic the Gathering (we won’t tell) — goes high-tech with Eye of Judgment, a unique PS3 game that combines the geekiness of CCGs with, um, the geekiness of videogames. While traditional CCGs are played with nothing more than a deck of strategically-organized stack of cards and a vivid imagination, Eye of Judgment uses the PlayStation Eye webcam to read a special code embedded at the top of each card and translate it to a series of flashy animations on the TV screen. In order to make all of this work, a somewhat elaborate setup needs to be in place: you need to plug the Eye into a PS3, mount it on a tripod-like stand and point it down at the game board, a deceptively simple fabric mat divvied up into nine squares. All of this (including the Eye camera, normally a $40 accessory) come with the game, as well as a ”starter deck” of cards. (You can buy ”booster packs” of cards containing additional creatures and spells at 4 bucks a pop. Ka-ching!)

To play EoJ, you do battle (against an online player or computer-controlled opponent) by laying down cards on one of the squares. The first one to occupy five of the nine squares wins the game. Most cards are ”creature cards” that represent warriors and monsters with names like ”Infernal Sciondar Dragon” and ”Tritonian Ice Guard.” If you place a creature card immediately adjacent to an opponent’s creature card, the two will duke it out — in elaborate onscreen animations — until only one is left standing. There are also ”spell cards” that can help or hinder creatures already on the board. Whenever you employ a creature or spell, you use up ”mana” points, the currency of EoJ. The more powerful the spell, the more mana you must use.

One of the most crucial elements in the game is deciding when to send the (totally expendable) foot soldiers into action, and when to blow all of your mana on the big guns. Don’t be fooled by the simple nine-square gird, there’s a surprising amount of strategy involved here. Even deploying a card requires some thought, as you have to decide the best way to position it in the square (right side up, upside down, facing left, and facing right) because each creature attacks and defends in different directions. Each square and creature is associated with one of five elements. If you don’t match a creature’s element with a square’s, e.g. placing a fire monster on a water square, you weaken it.

No doubt, this is a lot to take in for CCG newbies; we wouldn’t blame anyone who runs away from EoJ in a fit of frustration. We were completely new to this kind of game, and even though we listened intently to the detailed video tutorial, the computer ruthlessly dominated us every time. It wasn’t until we started to play other novices online that we began to understand the many nuances of the game. Unfortunately, online play exposes the inherent flaw with EoJ: once you scan in and register your cards (a countermeasure to prevent cheaters from stacking the deck), the physical cards aren’t really necessary because the computer assumes the dealing duties and flashes your dealt cards onscreen. When you play this way, the physical cards become a gimmicky indulgence. ”Regular” videogames are still far more engaging than EoJ can ever be, but if you’re looking for something different, this Eye certainly has it. B-