Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit is like taking a bath in a giant mug of chamomile tea, a mystery adventure game with puzzles that are perfectly balanced to sit in that sweet spot between patronizing and so hard that you bring shame to your family with your stupidity. One minute you’re trying to con a girl scout out of some lemon juice, the next you’re investigating the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Now that’s range.
Your heroine through the historical chaos is Milda, a girl from Chicago who ends up in Lithuania to check out the house her grandfather left her in his will. In classic point and click style even getting there means figuring out what to do with a seemingly random inventory of objects and the world around you. There’s a nice mix of the ridiculous, involving mouth-numbing chewing gum and a trumpet, and the logical, like printing out a specific color of flyer to impress someone. Milda feels like more than just a tool to combine items with too, from her complicated relationship with her mother to her relationship with her friend Dana, she’s just as much of a mess as the rest of us.
Things get interesting when you get to Lithuania and realize that your grandfather was investigating a strange legend from Lithuanian history. Think the Da Vinci Code but with European aristocracy rather than kinky albino Catholic monks. This blend, of real history and locations with myths and mysticism, keeps the game grounded and give the puzzles a strong foundation, so that even when you’re trying to figure out what you need to do witha tank of helium and a goat, the stakes feel real.
It also means the game makes great use of historical documents that are packed with clues. Sometimes the game will give you a fairly sharp nudge in the right direction, but there’s enough there that you can figure out a lot on your own too. You have to love an adventure game that gives you the space to show off your advanced intellect. Churches play a big part in the investigation, and you can flick back through the relevant documents to guide you in the right directions. Not turned on by paper? There’s even the odd action sequence – featuring the KGB, guns, and hidden caverns no less – to keep you on your toes.
Dressed to impress
There are some nice touches too that just help make the game feel a bit more 2022 than 1990. Although it has very little bearing on the gameplay (apart from a particular scene involving a bus full of sports fans) you can rummage through Milda’s suitcase to change her look, from classic adventure game beauty to punky hottie with a pixie cut. Along with her evolving relationships – characters can check in with you via text, and even if your dialogue choices have no consequences it still works as an emotional tether – it’s just another clever bit of game design that bonds you with Milda, and keeps you invested as you dash from one location to another.
Along with other intriguing adventure games on Steam like Norco and Chinatown Detective Agency – and news that Return to Monkey Island is coming later this year – it feels like we’re about to see an explosion of new and exciting games in the genre. So prepare you brain cells, start reading up on Lithuanian history and dive back into point and click paradise with Crowns and Pawns. And don’t worry, no goats were harmed in the making of this adventure.
Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit is out now on PC.