Space City Pinball League Season 7 Week 3: Still in it to win it

So after a one-week break, we once again had our league night on Monday. With the return to Monday nights, a lot of familiar faces from the previous seasons returned that hadn’t been around for the first couple of weeks, which is a good thing. The game lineup this week was slightly different: AC/DC, Attack from Mars, Batman 66 (later taken out of the rotation due to technical problems), Ghostbusters, Houdini, Medieval Madness, and Star Wars.

This week, I would be playing in a group with Jamie Jenkins, Greg Thurmer, and David Pollock. Jamie and David, I’ve been grouped with several other times; both are skilled players and worthy opponents. Greg is apparently a relative newcomer to not just the league, but pinball tournaments in general, as I can’t find him on the IFPA player listing.

Before we got to playing, Erich made some announcements. He mentioned the incident last week with our group on Houdini. He didn’t mention names (including mine, but those who read my blog know it was me and the group I was in), but it is now established precedent that players are supposed to just let the ball drain in that situation. Hopefully, Houdini is done acting like it’s haunted, though.

The other major announcement is that instead of May 28, we will be playing on May 30 as the bar will not be open due to Memorial Day. Which is a huge relief, as I didn’t like having the regular season cut down to seven weeks last spring (and it also screws with the calculations for how many points one needs to make A division; the cutoff was 75 counting the best five weeks, and I can only roughly translate that to 90 for six weeks, with the reality that in other seasons with the best six of eight weeks, it’s been closer to 95 points).

And on to playing, we went. The first game of the night: Ghostbusters, complete with the ridiculous unbalancing video mode. I would be playing third behind David and Greg, and ahead of Jamie. The first ball wasn’t much of anything, I put up a whopping 872K+. By the time it got back to me for my ball 2, though, I was starting down scores of 7.5M+ and 4.6M+ from David and Greg, respectively. It only got worse on ball 3, with 30.1M+ and 17.7M+ from David and Greg, and 70.3M+ from Jamie. I was able to eek out a third place, signing off with 18.8M+ but I was rather dissatisfied. Two standings points for a third place is not how I want to start off the night.

We would next play on Attack from Mars, where I was hoping to fare a bit better.I played fourth, which gave me a bit more time to regroup and get down to actually winning games. The first ball was a dud for the first three players; Jamie led with 280M+ when my first turn came up. I would put up a good solid 1.01B+ and Jamie would only get to 606M+ when it came back to me. I would sign off with 1.54M+; I was still leading when my turn came up to play ball 3 and just plunged it (only because there were other groups waiting; I try to play out when I can). So, it’s now seven standings points after two games, and I’m feeling a lot better.

The galactic adventure would continue on Star Wars. I would be in the somewhat unfortunate position of playing first. Now, there are situations where I don’t mind playing first, and I have been known to select first player as I can just focus on doing my best without the distraction of other scores ahead of me. Well, my first ball wound up being a dud, 2.9M+ to Jamie’s 130M+ with the other scores higher but still well under the 10M mark. I’d get to second place after ball 2 but Jamie would start running away with it with 402M+. I would sign off with a respectable 206M+ good for second behind Jamie’s 515M+. Ten standings points after three games is pretty good, but ideally, I want at least twelve if not more.

We’d shift from the space-themed games to Houdini for our fourth game. I would be playing second. Greg would put up 5.6K+ for his first ball, a relatively low score on this game. I wouldn’t do much better with 6.4K+, good for third by the time it got back to me as Greg would get to 17.5K+ and David would run up 16.9K+. The second ball would go better, as I’d get the infamous reversed flippers multiball which I’d do rather well on, bumping me up to 47.6K+ but David would run up 141.8K+ which I’d need to beat to have any hope of winning. I’d break into six-digit territory but wind up short with 109.3K+. Still, second place isn’t terrible and it would put me at thirteen standings points on the night with one game left to go. (In perspective, averaging sixteen standings points per week has historically been good enough to get in at the bottom of A division.)

We would wrap up on Medieval Madness, where I would go fourth. Nobody playing ahead of me would break 1M on the first ball. The game had an awful right lean. But rather than complain about being handed lemons, I opened up Quinn’s Lemonade Stand and started serving it up. I’d jump out to an early lead with 2.3M+, noting the ramps were a lot easier to hit with the table being out of balance like this. The other adjustments were relatively elementary and the right outlane didn’t turn into the drain monster I’d otherwise expect. I’d get to exactly 6,105,000 after ball 2, which no other players were able to beat. I would try to play ball 3 but drain relatively quickly, signing off with a 6.5M+. Normally not a score I’d be proud of, but it was better than the other three on the board. I’d wrap up with eighteen standings points. A great performance, but would it be good enough to stay at the top of the standings?

Phil Grimaldi’s group would also conclude the night on Medieval Madness, and he only needed third place to tie me for first in the standings after putting up 20 standings points in the first four games (first place all the way across). I stuck around long enough to follow the game. Phil would sign off with 44.6M+ after the third ball, and one of the newer players, Guy Feemster, would make a valiant comeback attempt but wind up short with 35.1M+, with the other two players in the group posting scores under 6M. Guy put up a 16 last week, so it’s possible he is A division material as well and we just don’t know it yet. I’ve put up scores of the same caliber as the 35.1M+ on Medieval Madness in league/tournament play yet wound up busting out.

It was a fun two weeks at the top of the standings, but Phil’s amazing 25-point week now puts him in the lead by three points. I’m now tied for second with Jeff Mleynek, and still ahead of many other notable A division players from seasons past.

Tonight’s the last week we play in April; the next two Mondays are Astros home games, so after tonight we don’t play again until May 7. I’m looking forward to it; this is the most exciting season for me so far.

Space City Pinball League Season 7 Week 2: Is this thing haunted?

The weather in Houston left some doubt as to whether or not tonight’s league night would even happen. It was determined that first, most of the rain was going to miss downtown, and second, the availability of a reschedule date would be effectively non-existent, so things would go ahead as planned.

And so it began. Practice ended at around 7:05 pm, the usual announcements were made, and groups went up a short time later. There was about the usual number of players so the weather was apparently a non-factor.

I was grouped with Bryce Gilbert, Chris Dyer, and Marc Gammons. Of the three, and looking at last season’s and last week’s numbers, Marc is probably the player I had to worry the most about. I’d like to think that every week, things are going to be straightforward, and I can march on to victory playing my best game. Sometimes, of course, the spirits inside the pinball machines have other ideas…

Funny I mention spirits, because we would start off on Ghostbusters. I had a couple of fairly decent games on this title during warmups/practice (the 93.6M+ pictured, and a 49.3M+ and 35.0M+ that are not). This game, however, would be anything but decent. I couldn’t make a skill shot to save my life. Marc, on the other hand, would cheese his way to a first-place score by getting an easy 59M+ from the video mode on his third ball. While it is harder to make skill shots (the timer is shorter than the one at EinStein’s). This, combined with the difficulty in getting intermediate scores due to the entire display being used for the skill shot selection (something that most other Stern titles don’t do, with Wrestlemania being perhaps one of the only other exceptions I can think of), has me really hating the Ghostbusters pinball as released and updated. It’s a shame because the theme is great, and the gameplay wouldn’t be so bad if the scoring issues could be fixed. Anyway, 15.5M+ is good for third behind Marc’s score and Chris’s 37.7M+, so I start off the follow-up to my white-hot 23-pointer last week with a whopping two standings points.

On we would go to AC/DC. Not much to say here, except I had a decent game but accidentally tilted at the end of the third ball, only to finish in second by less than what my bonus would have been. Five standings points after two games. Not a very ambitious start and I’m starting to wonder if I’m finally going to be dropping back to my historic levels of performance.

That wonder would continue through the first couple of balls on Batman 66. I would start ball 3 with 38.0M+, behind Bryce’s 62.7M+ and Chris’s 71.5M+. A situation that, in months and years past, usually meant I was finishing second if I got lucky, and usually I wouldn’t get lucky. However, I was carrying forward a bonus hold and a bonus multiplier hold from the previous ball. I basically just had to keep the ball in play long enough to rack up a decent bonus, and I had a real chance to pull this one off.

Suffice it to say, I had a ball that most players would dream of. I would get quite a few points from modes, as well as two multiballs (the first one didn’t go so great, though). I would save balls I didn’t think were saveable. After a couple minutes went by, it was obvious to everyone watching that something special was happening. I, eventually, would sign off with 378.9M+, good for not only first place in the game, but high score #4. Ten standings points after three games, meaning I can still put up 20 on the night if everything goes according to plan.

Our fourth game would be Houdini, and here’s where the really weird stuff would start to happen. The first two balls would go by rather uneventfully, until it was my turn. I played my ball, ran up a score of (I think) 62K+ and then the game would immediately kick out Chris’s ball (the game, like most modern games, has a combination automatic/manual plunger). I would reflexively trap up while Chris got to the flipper buttons. Obviously, I would never intentionally play another player’s ball, and the last thing I need at this point in the night is an automatic last place finish by forfeit. Fortunately, everyone would be okay with the game as played (hey, I’m certainly not going to object, having the lead so far and the advantage of being last to play). It turns out that I would technically not even need to play my third ball but we were still waiting on our last game, so I went ahead and played out and signed off with 127K+, a good 13K+ over the other three scores combined. (Incidentially, the game did the same thing and kicked out my third ball at random for no apparent reason, the same way it did for Chris earlier in the game, which removed any doubt that the game actually does this for some reason.)

After a bit of a wait, we would finish out the night with a game of Guardians of the Galaxy. I put up 25.9M+ after one ball, only to see Chris put up a 24.1M+ keeping him easily within striking distance. I would add a bit more of a cushion in ball 2, bringing my score to 43.1M+, and Chris would answer with a relative dud ball. After I signed off with 49.3M+, the final dramatic conclusion would see Chris wrapping up with 28.2M+ much to my relief. Going into ball 3 knowing I had at least second place did help, though I would have liked to win by a more decisive margin. But, a win is a win, and I would wrap up the night with 20 standings points, my best start ever in a Space City Pinball League season. I’m four standings points ahead of Phil Grimaldi, seven ahead of Tim Hood and Jeff Mleynek, eight ahead of Craig Squires, nine ahead of Bryce Revnew, David Dronet, Fred Revnew, and Jerry Kennedy, and at least ten ahead of anyone else not named.

Judging by history, I need only about 90 to 95 standings points for an A division playoff spot. It’s possible the level of competition this season could increase or reduce that, and ideally I want not only an A division playoff spot, but the #1 seed; failing that, no worse than #4. I’m not going to count my chickens before they hatch, but even if I miss two weeks, I don’t see myself finishing with fewer than 90 standings points. And I plan to be there every week.

The next league night is not until Monday, April 9, because April 2 is the Astros home opener. (Go Astros!)

Space City Pinball League Season 7 Week 1: Making a statement

I arrived at Eighteen Twenty Lounge well before the scheduled league start time of 7 pm. A lot of familiar faces were there. And quite a few familiar games from last season made their return. The most notable new arrival was Houdini, the new game from a new company, American Pinball. The remainder of the lineup was mostly the usual suspects from last season: Dialed In, Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy (new to the league), Batman 66, Ghostbusters, and AC/DC Vault Edition (which was removed from league play due to a malfunction).

I would start the season off with a very fortunate grouping: I would be placed in a three-player group, with my opponents being Clay Harrison and Agustin Montes. I’ve been grouped with both of these players exactly once before at different times: Agustin back in Season 4 Week 6, and Clay in Season 5 Week 7.

After a short delay waiting for Agustin to arrive and then for a game to become available, we would begin on Dialed In. The first ball was relatively low-scoring for everyone, with no player scoring over 10K (I had 9,310, Agustin had 9,510, Clay had 4,920). Ball 2 was a relative dud for me (the phone scoop was supposedly lit to start multiball but it didn’t happen; not sure if it was a bug or just bad timing on my part), leaving me starting ball 3 well behind at 23,250 to Clay’s 56,490 and Agustin’s 64,790. Fortunately, I would break through starting multiball and running up a considerable tally, eventually signing off with 125,760. One game down, five standings points on the board. Things are looking good.

We would next compete on Star Wars. This is a game I’m not too confident playing, but it seems like I do relatively well on it every time I touch it. I would begin with 114.2M+, which could have been a bit more had I not botched the skill shot. This would be good for an early lead, but by the time ball 2 was over, Agustin would come back with 187.5M+ to my 170.4M+. I would sign off with 284.1M+ without getting a single multiball during the entire game. I was a bit nervous about this holding up and in other groups, it might well have been beaten. But Agustin only managed 245.7M+ and so I would finish the second game with a perfect ten standings points.

On we would go to Batman 66. This would be a relatively close, low-scoring game. I played last in the group, so I would have the benefit of knowing how well I would need to do on ball 3 to win. Clay had posted a 25.4M+, Agustin had finished with 18.4+, and I started ball 3 with 11.8M+ which was certainly within striking distance of the lead. Unfortunately, I was only able to muster up a 20.9M+ good for second place. There went my chance at a perfect 25. However, a total of 13 standings points after three games is still damn good.

Our next game would be on Ghostbusters. I’ve grown to dislike this game, at least as set up at EinStein’s. Well, the settings seem to make the difference: nobody else cheesed the video mode for ridiculous scores the way they would at EinStein’s. We did not get a single video mode during our game, and it was a relatively low-scoring game all around. I would start off with a first ball of 11.6M+, while Clay and Agustin both put up sub-1M duds to start. I would finish up with 30.3M+ and Clay would take second with 16.5M+. Four games and a very respectable 18 standings points. Up until this point, I had never finished a league night with more than 21 standings points with the new 5-3-2-1 scoring. I was on the brink of making history.

We would wrap up on Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, the same title on which I put up 167.7M+ good for a grand champion during the 2018 February EinStein’s Drainiacs. I felt confident wrapping up the night on this game given that performance and how I had been doing the whole night. This would be another relatively low-scoring game, but I would take the lead after ball 2 with 11.9M+, which by the time I started ball 3 I knew would be good enough for at least second place as Agustin only managed 5.5M+. I would have a relatively productive ball 3 and wrap up with 16.1M+ total, not exactly a score I felt confident would hold up until the end. But Clay could only muster a total of 11.7M+ so it was more than enough. Five games, 23 standings points, one happy player.

I would hang around after my games to see if either Phil Grimaldi or Melvin Jiles, both in position to tie or beat my 23 standings points, could do so. Phil would almost immediately post a last-place finish in his fourth game taking him out of the running; Melvin was never really in contention to take first on his game of Ghostbusters after Chris Palis put up well over 60M on his first ball. Tim Hood was the last player who could possibly have tied my 23 standings points, and he would finish the night with 21. (I don’t know the details of his last game.) I would get in a couple of games on Houdini before I left.

This is the first time ever I have started a league season at the very top of the leaderboard, and the most standings points I have posted in one night. I will concede that the scores I put up weren’t the best and, for that matter, really weren’t typical of a 23-point night, nor were they representative of the best I am capable of. They were good enough, but I’m not going to stay at the top with scores of this caliber week in and week out.

One thing’s for sure, I’m looking forward to week 2.

Space City Pinball League Season 7 Preseason: An era of new beginnings

Can you believe it’s already been four months since the end of season 6? The start of season 7 of the Space City Pinball League at Eighteen Twenty Lounge is upon us in a few short days. It’s an exciting time and there’s a lot to consider when looking ahead at what’s in store.

I’ll get to my own situation in a bit, but it’s a safe bet that most of last season’s A division is likely to return. Most of them are at Texas Pinball Festival right now, so I probably can’t get confirmation even if I tried. In addition to being one of the better players in the league, Erich Stinson is the new director of the event at Eighteen Twenty Lounge, so he’s a given to return. I mean, we can literally go down the list and I don’t have any real doubts until we get to about 24th or so, well into B division: Phil Grimaldi, (Erich as mentioned previously), Bryce Revnew, Cory Westfahl, Austin Knight, Fred Revnew, Rob Torres, Jeff Mleynek, Frankie Griffin, David Pollock, Billy Joiner, Jason Cortez, Ruben Zepeda, Marc Gammons, Melvin Jiles, Jamie Jenkins, Joe Cuellar, Brad Berryman, (me), Matt Quantz, David Dronet, Blake Dumesnil, Chris Gonzales, Chris Dyer. Below that we start getting into players I am not as familiar with that may or may not be coming back, as well as quite a few players who played 3 weeks or less, and most of them did not play week 8, some didn’t play week 7. (Technically I’m not that familiar with a couple of the names I did mention, but everyone who qualified in A division played at least six weeks out of the eight and thus I would assume is likely to return barring evidence to the contrary.)

Some idea of what kind of momentum everyone is going to be riding into the new season (not intended to be a complete list of tournament finishes, just the higher/more relevant ones): Phil won the Texas Pinball League finals for the spring season (in addition to placing first in the Houston qualifier); Bryce finished ninth at the Texas IFPA state championship and second at the December monthly tournament at The Game Preserve; Cory won the Three Strike Tuesday on January 30 and February 27 and also took fourth at the most recent Einstein’s Drainiacs; Erich finished sixteenth (last) in season 7’s A division playoff, with no WPPR ranked tournaments since; Austin finished twelfth in season 7’s A division playoff, also with no WPPR ranked tournaments since; Fred finished fourth in the TPL finals and won the most recent Einstein’s Drainiacs as well as the Three Strike Tuesday on February 6 and March 6; skipping down a bit, Matt won the Three Strike Tuesday on March 13 as well as finishing fairly consistently near the top at Einstein’s Drainiacs (fourth, seventh, sixth, and sixth again) the past few months.

I’ve probably missed a few finishes that would otherwise be considered notable in there. (Note that this does not include results for the Texas Pinball Festival tournaments, as they were still ongoing at press time.) You can look these up for yourself if you’d like. And then, you can compare them to my performances since winning B division back in November: four appearances at Einstein’s Drainiacs finishing fifth (of 15), twelfth (of 12, as in last), ninth (of 16), and fourteenth (of either 15 or 17) respectively. Out of those four months, two players who finished higher in the fall 2017 league season finished lower than me at an Einstein’s Drainiacs tournament: Jamie Jenkins, once, in December; Joe Cuellar, twice, in December and February. Both Jamie and Joe have win percentages of 60% against me in Matchplay (Jamie with five games, Joe with fifteen).

It’s really tough to look at the statistics objectively and put that next to my own concept of myself as a competitive pinball player. Keeping in mind that B division first place is really seventeenth (out of officially 35 players as submitted to IFPA, though there were 50 overall that showed up for at least one league night), there’s a pretty consistent pattern, and it shows my skill peaking at slightly above average, and often dipping down to anywhere from average to near bottom. I know I’m capable of playing well. It’s just a question of if I can string together enough of those games to win a three- or four-strikes tournament like Three Strike Tuesday (which I have yet to play in) or Einstein’s Drainiacs, or for that matter, enough league nights to qualify for (and hopefully win) A division.

We’ve got an exciting season ahead, and it should be thrilling not just for the players, but for those following along as well.

Eighteen Twenty Lounge
1820 Franklin
Houston, Texas
Regular season: 19:00 (7 p.m.); March 21, March 28 (Wednesdays), April 9, April 16, May 7, May 14, May 21, May 28 (Mondays)
Finals: 18:00 (6 p.m.) June 4 (Monday)