Apr 25, 2011


Edit: Welcome to our newest game reviewer: Joshua Buergel. Joshua has been a long time reader and joins us having both a Motorola Droid and Xoom tablet along with a passion for strategy gaming. Please welcome him with your comments below.

Also note that Highborn is an Amazon Appstore exclusive for now.Review by Joshua Buergel

When the Amazon Appstore launched for Android, one of the earlier high-profile releases into the market was Highborn by Jet Set Games. Any game with a fantasy theme will usually catch my eye, thanks to a life-long habit of playing assorted fantasy RPGs, and the comparisons to “Heroes of Might and Magic” (HoMM) that I saw sealed the deal and I purchased the game. And promptly forgot about it. Not long after, I got a Motorola Xoom, and when I was installing all my purchased software on it, my memory was jogged and I sat down to give Highborn a play through, and I’m certainly glad I did.

The comparison to HoMM is certainly apt. Highborn, like HoMM, is a turn-based fantasy strategy game, featuring a series of missions organized into a campaign. In each mission, you are given a starting set of troops along with one or more heroes (there are three that appear during chapter one of the campaign). Each mission is played on a unique map, organized into offset squares (which offer the same six directions as a hex map), with a variety of different terrain types and map features. There are towns, which are the focus of the missions and usually need to be taken to advance in the mission; there are castles and wizard’s towers, which have defensive abilities and provide additional units; there are monoliths, which provide the ability to cast spells to influence combat; and there are monasteries, which provide monks who have a special unit that can heal other units. On each turn, you can move all of your units and then perform an attack or action with each of them.

Every unit in the game has an assortment of ratings, including current health, attack range, defensive ratings against magic and physical attacks and a few others. There are a pretty wide range of unit types that appear in the game, ranging from mundane units such as knights, archers and catapults all the way up to Cthulhu-ian creatures and assorted undead horrors. As I mentioned, there are also three heroes who appear in the various scenarios, who are stronger than standard units and each of which has a unique set of spells they can cast. If you lose a hero, you lose the mission and have to restart or restore from a saved game. The variety of units that appear and their interaction is one of the interesting facets of the game, and provides a fair bit of texture to the fantasy world in which the game takes place.

Highborn has a very high level of graphical polish and is clearly a professional product. In fact, the graphics are high quality enough that my Motorola Droid is simply unable to run it. Taps are dropped, dragging the map around goes crazy, the menu won’t pop up - it’s essentially unplayable. On my Xoom, however, the game plays very smoothly and looks fantastic. There are a few minor problems with text display on the Xoom, where occasionally the last line of text in some areas will be cut off. Sometimes, text will overlap an adjacent graphic a bit as well. Those incidents stand out as a rough spot in an otherwise very attractive and high quality game. The sound similarly is professional, although I played through the majority of the campaign with it off.

The writing deserves a separate mention. Highborn is written using a very self-aware sort of humor, a style that can be very difficult to pull off without seeming very smug. That style of reference-packed meta-humor has been tried by many games and often falls flat, but here, the writers did quite well and manage to not overwhelm the player, and the dialogue is often genuinely funny. It’s possible I just have a soft spot for any game that makes a Keep on the Borderlands reference, but I did find the writing to be genuinely entertaining.

The interface of Highborn is well done, although there were a few things I wish had been added. A button to take you to the next unit that has not yet acted would have been helpful, although the game does warn you if you try to end your turn before moving all of your units. An undo button would also have been useful, as there were a few occasions where I moved a unit and discovered I would be within range of an enemy castle and was unable to retrace my steps. The combat, which based on the description sounds like a HoMM-style tactical subgame, is actually just a simple animation that shows you the results. Overall the interface is quite good, although a couple simple refinements could have been outstanding.

A larger issue is that the AI in Highborn is not particularly strong. On a couple of occasions, the computer might have been able to kill a hero by concentrating its forces better, but chose instead to spread out its efforts which is a recipe for disaster in a game like this. The forces in the mission were somewhat unbalanced in favor of the computer, which I would have expected going into the game, but not enough to present a real challenge in the missions in chapter one. I did not have to restart any of the missions in the chapter, and aside from a couple of moments where I left a hero more exposed than I wanted, I was never particularly in danger of losing any of them.

In the end, I think Highborn is very good, especially for $.99. As it stands today, with one chapter of missions without a lot of difficulty, I’d give the game 4 stars, but it’s a rating that will easily climb much higher depending on how difficult the missions in later chapters become. However, given the difficulties running the game on my Droid, I can only recommend it for more recent, powerful phones or for Honeycomb tablets. Anybody with one of those higher-end devices who enjoys fantasy games should give it a try.


  1. Well, welcome Joshua. Great that this blog has attracted reviewer with such good tastes ;).
    As for the reviewed game - too bad is US only.

  2. Peter, thanks! The US-only part of the Amazon Appstore is the biggest drawback to it, speaking as a developer. I like a lot of the things they're doing with the store, and I hope they sort that out quickly.