Adventure Game Hotspot


Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit review

Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit review
Richard Hoover avatar image

Like a Broken Sword game in Lithuania, this epic adventure rules

When Chicago resident Milda Kovas learns that her Lithuanian grandfather has died and left her a house in his home country, she takes off across the ocean to put her late relative’s affairs in order. But all is not what it seems upon her arrival, as she’s contacted by a menacing voice on an old walkie-talkie demanding she turn over important papers … that she knows nothing about! And so the stage is set in Tag of Joy’s point-and-click 2.5D adventure Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit. Feeling very much in the Broken Sword and Indiana Jones vein, Milda’s tale sees her tangling with ex-KGB agents while searching for a lost Lithuanian crown reputed to have supernatural powers. Excellent production values, including lush visuals and splendid audio, round out this exciting blend of fact and fiction.

The story opens in unique fashion with Milda at home creating a character for a game on her phone. This serves the practical purpose of allowing players to customize Milda’s appearance as well, as she intends to create a character that looks like her. Milda’s clothes, hair, and tattoo can all be customized, and when her best friend Dana calls the customization continues with a choice of profession for Milda. She can be either a computer programmer, a photographer, or an assistant to a psychologist. These decisions aren’t just there for flavour either, as they have a direct impact on some of the game’s puzzles.  But more on that later.

While Milda is talking to Dana, a letter arrives informing her of the death of her grandfather Rokas in Lithuania. Rokas has willed his house to his granddaughter, who has been struggling to make ends meet in America. After helping her artist friend impress a financier to sponsor her in an art exhibit, Milda scrapes together the funds to travel to Lithuania and arrives at her grandfather’s house. It is here that the threatening voice contacts her via walkie-talkie with demands she knows nothing about. As the young woman continues digging into her grandfather’s affairs, she learns that he was researching an ancient, lost Lithuanian artifact: the crown of Vytautas the Great, a legendary leader and warlord who died in the 15th century before his coronation. With ex-KGB agents on her tail, Milda sets out to find the crown, rumoured to possess the power to bend the mind of others to the wearer’s cause. Naturally, there are a few surprises in store along the way.

Although Milda is definitely the focus of the story, she’s not doing her adventuring completely alone. She’s helped on occasion by her friend Joris in Lithuania, and by Dana who stays in touch via text messaging and the occasional call on Milda’s cell phone. These interactions further bring the characters to life and their easy breezy kidding with one another is fun to behold. Joris is an expert in languages, which serves Milda well when various documents need to be translated. He’s also there as a sounding board on what should be done next. As the investigation proceeds, Milda finds herself needing to analyze a painting and Dana, with her art background, is quick to lend a hand (or critical eye as the case may be).

Milda’s journey takes her to various historical places in and around the capitol city of Vilnius, though she never has to rough it in the “the field,” making her something of a light weekend adventurer as opposed to a serious obtainer of rare antiquities like an Indiana Jones. Even so, she takes several side trips to other European cities, which are accompanied by the classic red traveling line on a map that simply screams “adventure.” Stopping off at dusty libraries and old churches, you can feel the weight of history all around. Which is not to say the game is stuck in the past, as Milda also visits more contemporary places like a neighbourhood bistro and the local travel office. All of these hand-painted areas are wonderfully depicted with clean lines and bright colours. The characters are rendered in real time as 3D models but have been textured with a similar style to the backgrounds so that they fit right in.

In addition to looking beautiful in their own right, many of the locations you’ll visit are lightly animated or contain other interesting visual details. Pigeons wandering around, pecking at the ground, can be seen in both the United States and Lithuania. Cheering crowds and skaters are on display at a hockey game that Milda has to rig. While still in Chicago, Milda visits the Cloud Gate, a large sculpture that looks like a bean; hence its informal name. As she walks around, her reflection and that of the other characters can be seen in its mirrored surface. The visual combination of backgrounds, characters, and these extra details is simply excellent, and that’s by no means where the game’s production values stop.

Crowns and Pawns caught my attention even before I started playing, as I had to hang out at the main menu just to listen to the title theme. An adventuresome, instrumental ditty that’s simultaneously light and mysterious, it plays over a still background of a room in Milda’s grandfather’s house that’s clearly been ransacked. I loved that this immediately put me in the right frame of mind for the story to come. The great soundtrack continues throughout with instrumentals accompanying much of the gameplay. From the slower, more inquisitive pieces when Milda’s digging into the history of the crown, to the more action-oriented cues during encounters with the ex-KGB agents, the music always felt appropriate to me.

Adding to the impressive audio are the characters’ voices. Everyone is fully voiced and the performances are topnotch. Milda is always perky and she continually sounds like she’s having a fun time. And if the voices were recorded separately, you’d never know it from Milda’s interactions with her friends. Their conversations have a bouncy, bantering back-and-forth that flows perfectly. The baddies maintain the high quality of voice acting, sounding suitably threatening. Even supporting characters are nicely nuanced, with a bus driver emotionally recalling the days when he was teased as a child being a particular standout.

The gameplay is clearly inspired by the great point-and-click adventures of the past. The interface is intuitive, using the left mouse button to interact and the right to examine, but with the added bonus of middle-clicking to highlight all hotspots in the environment.  You’ll acquire an inventory of items that provide the solution to most of the puzzles. Obstacles aren’t limited to inventory combinations, however, as there’s a good dose of logic puzzles, trial-and-error combinations, clever examinations of old documents and paintings, and even an audio puzzle. The latter may cause problems for those who are hard of hearing. While most of the game provides closed captioning for sound effects by displaying them in the game’s optional subtitles, oddly the one puzzle that’s based on sound does not provide such visual feedback.

Among the more novel puzzles are the ones centered on the customizability of Milda herself. At several points, Milda’s wardrobe must be changed to make a good impression on other characters so that they’re inclined to help her. Elsewhere, her occupation also comes into play midway through the game when she needs to determine a username and password at a library. For this, the solution is different depending on which job path you’ve chosen for her. I would have loved to see more such career-related challenges peppered throughout the game but, alas, it’s only this one.

The wide variety of puzzle types in Crowns and Pawns helps to keep things fresh throughout the seven or so hours of play time. That said, during the middle section of the game, I did feel that things bogged down a bit under the weight of the puzzles. In the early going, after investigating Rokas’s house, you’re shown that the bad guys are already dogging Milda’s footsteps. However, then they drop out of events completely until the latter third of the game, when they at last reappear and the tension rises. In between is when Milda has to do the heaviest of her research into the crown, and it feels like some of the puzzles were contrived just to extend this section of the game so the climax wouldn’t come too soon.

For example, at one point Milda has to make a 3D print of an ancient seal. The printer she uses is an obtuse piece of tech, requiring her to feed in cubes of material of various sizes. The challenge is that she must get precisely the correct amount of material; otherwise the printer spits all the cubes out and indicates either too much or too little was put in, resulting in quite a bit of trial and error. Another task sees Milda having to retrieve a bottle of wine stolen from a church. Doing so means first tracking down where the bottle is, then preparing a fake one for dubious reasons to do the swap. Given that Joris first greets Milda with a bottle of wine, indicating the ready presence of such beverages, it does veer into the realm of moon logic to create the forgery. A few less puzzles of this sort and a few more close brushes with the bad guys would have been welcome during the middle of the game.

Final Verdict

There is much to recommend about Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit. With its basis in fact, wonderful visuals, engaging characters, and a rarely explored Lithuanian setting, it’s simply a fun experience. While the middle act could have been a bit stronger, the story of a young woman swept into a grand adventure with mystical treasures and ex-spies is engaging and enjoyable overall. The customization aspects of the main character are a great novelty and I hope the developers employ this to a greater extent should they return to Milda’s world in the future, which the end game certainly hints at. Those who are looking for a solid, historically driven adventure along the lines of Broken Sword will definitely want to check this one out.

Hot take


Ex-KGB spies, a centuries-old magical artifact, a unique Lithuanian setting, and character customization that goes beyond just the cosmetic all make for a satisfying outing in the beautifully rendered Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit.


  • Intriguing, culturally distinctive and historically based story
  • Impactful character customizations
  • Clean and vibrant visuals
  • Excellently voiced characters and fun music


  • Middle act sags under adventure game-y puzzles and lack of tension

Richard played Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit on PC using a review code provided by the game's publisher.


Want to join the discussion? Leave a comment as guest, sign in or register.

Leave a comment