Rising King: An Interview with Saar Shai

Back in 2013, around the time I was ready to publish Vanor, I ran into the Kickstarter campaign for The Agents. After pledging to back the project I got a message from the creator, Saar Shai, who told me that he is from Israel. Shortly afterward we also connected on Facebook where I learned we have some mutual friends in Israel’s gaming scene.

After two successful runs of The Agents, Saar launched a new project on Kickstarter: King Down. I decided it was time to sit for a short interview.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I’m a gamer who designs games for a living. I love playing games and I love creating them. Luckily, I’m able to do both a lot of the time.

How did you come up with the idea for The Agents? How long did you work on the concept?

The concept itself took a day to formalize. Designing the rest of the game took a year.

The idea came to me suddenly as I was thinking about different cards in different games, and how in almost all of them – playing a card has only one effect. I was wondering whether it would be possible for a card to have different effects on different players, and whether that can depend on “how” you play the card, such as in what direction. That’s how I came up with “double-edged cards”. And since it included manipulating cards, the theme of secret agents naturally came from that.

The Agents

Why did you decide to turn to crowd funding? How long did you work on the campaign before launching it?

At first I tried to reach game publishers and see if they might be interested in picking up the game. It was very demoralizing. These guys are not receptive to new games, even though that’s kind of their job. While eventually I did get some attention, the eventual profit from signing with any of these companies would be absurdly small. So I decided to try crowd funding, as I had some experience with it in the past. I worked very hard on the campaign for several months even though it was unclear whether I actually had an audience for such a game. Luckily, I found a huge community that supported it.

What parts of running the campaign were especially challenging?

You have to really work hard (and smart!) at reaching out to the media and groups of early adopters before you launch a campaign. It took a lot of time and energy. Then, once the campaign is live, there’s a lot of public relations management that has to be done in order to maintain a high level of transparency and communication. It’s a full time job, really.

The Agents proved to be very popular, to the point of a second printing. Did you imagine it’ll be that successful?

Not really, and the goal that I set for the first campaign can be a testament to that. I was expecting (and hoping) to be able to cover the cost with $6,000. I was shocked that we eventually raised $300,000. It was a complete surprise.

You’ve pitched King Down as a chess variant. What made you interested in that kind of game?

Let me correct you there. I only said that King Down can be described as “the prequel to chess”. However, I really tried to stay clear from making it a chess variant. I did some research and found that these types of games are not well received and that gamers do not look fondly on them. So I made King Down a whole new game that simply takes inspiration from the pieces and board of chess.

One of the reasons I wanted to use chess pieces and board was that it would allow players to play it with their own chess set by only buying (or printing) the cards. I’m a strong supporter of open-source and I thought it would be good idea to have the components of the King Down easily available to anyone, even without buying the game.

Additionally, I was always very curious about the world behind chess, the story behind the “undeveloped” theme of the game.

Lastly, I wanted to create a game that has miniatures, and I tried to think about which classic games include them. Chess might be the most classic game, so I felt naturally drawn to it.

But no, it’s not a chess variant. 😉

What is the process of creating the models for King Down?

It was a fascinating process that was very fun and rewarding. I’ve been working closely with Dream Catcher Studios to fill the world of King Down with wonderful visuals. Rafi and Nadav, the founders, were introduced to me by someone from my play-groups, and we immediately connected over our love for fantasy movies. Dream Catcher mainly produces visual effects, not art for games. However, it was interesting for them to take on the challenge of doing something different, and I believed that they could bring a new and exciting take to the development of the game.

It was such a great experience thinking of the designs for the characters and breathing life into the world of the game. We wanted the miniatures to look elegant and powerful, so that players can really connect with them during the game. We wanted them to have a unifying style but for each piece to have a unique twist to it. We wanted their appearance to tell a story. That defined the creative process for us.

King Down

King Down got funded in the first day of its campaign, and is still generating support. How does that make you feel?

Even though the campaigns for The Agents were such a huge success, I was still very worried that King Down won’t do so well. So obviously I’m very relieved and grateful for the recognition. Mostly, I’m very happy and excited to have so many people play it because I believe it’s going to be an amazing game.

Is there a significant difference between the funding campaigns of The Agents and King Down? It seems you had more physical components for King Down than you had at the start of The Agents campaign.

Yeah, King Down requires much more funding because of the complex physical components it includes, namely miniatures. I’ve had to do a lot of research and preparation in order to figure out a manufacturing plan and keep costs down. The up-front production costs were also much larger this time around, which is another reason why I’m so delighted that the campaign is doing well, because I took a big risk on it.

What are your plans for the future? Do you intend to produce more tabletop games?

Absolutely. I have an entire lineup of new games that I want to bring to life. Stay tuned for exciting announcements about releases scheduled for 2015!

Thank you!


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