When I saw Crowns & Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit, I immediately thought it was some sort of Sims-like game, with its bright, colourful palette and inviting, simple gameplay. And although the gameplay is indeed a simple, point-and-click adventure, it’s packaged so charmingly that I found it difficult to resist.
The game begins at a computer screen (like most of our days) in sunny Chicago, where Milda, while customising her character in a game called Crown Kingdom, receives news that her grandfather in Lithuania has passed away, and she’s been named the inheritor of his property there. After stepping away from the desk, we’re introduced to the game’s mechanics: hold the mouse’s scroll button to highlight points of interest in that particular environment, and left-click to interact with one of them. There’s also your phone and inventory in the top corner.
At this particular moment, your friend Dana is putting on a little art exhibition downtown to woo a potential investor. Dana’s both supportive and intrigued, and promises to fund your trip abroad if she secures the advance. After interacting with the nearby girl scout at the lemonade stand and the blues musician, you’re quickly on your way.
However, something suspicious is happening at your grandpa’s old place in Europe, with books strewn across the floor and the sound of one of the windows being smashed. A mysterious caller threatens you to leave as soon as possible, and avoid taking with you a potentially secret, incomprehensible message from your grandfather.
This sets up an engaging mystery that may be common to this genre, but one that is rarely executed so well. The delightful art style is attractive, and the voice acting is even better, with interesting characters and depth added in small spoonfuls throughout. The puzzles are also great while not being overly-challenging and tedious.
For example, one at the beginning involves stopping the aforementioned musician from playing, and the solution lies only through extra interaction with the girl scout. And a simple instruction informing you how to merge notes in your to-do list is in fact the game teaching you to combine things in your inventory, allowing you to combine the necessary tools to solve puzzles later on.
Milda is also a great protagonist, with just the right amount of self-awareness and curiosity needed to balance games like these. When you’re texting Joris, a polyglot acquaintance in Lithuania, before you head out on your travels, the game lets you prescribe Milda’s inner personality through different message styles.
Strangely enough, Crowns & Pawns reminded me of The Forgotten City. While that particular game is a remarkable achievement in conveying ideas of morals, choice and collective responsibility, Crowns & Pawns is about the individual, the family unit and the secrets within. It involves clues dating back to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 15th century, to the recent endeavours of the Soviet KGB. This is a fun mystery, and I can’t wait to see what developer Tag of Joy brings us next.
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