Space City Pinball League Season 9 Week 1: Leftover turkey?

This new season saw the return of many familiar faces and many familiar pinball machines. New to the league were The Beatles and the remake of Monster Bash; returning from prior appearances were Metallica, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Deadpool, and Iron Maiden.

I got to play The Beatles very briefly during warmups. It’s a very simple “street level” playfield design reminiscent of 1960s electromechanical (EM) games, with an EM scoring motif to match. The only feature really “modern” about it is multiball (and I do realize there were a handful of EM games that did feature multiball, but on the whole, I would think most players would consider multiball a feature most associated with the solid state and later era). I look forward to getting to play it in league play (hopefully, next week).

I say this because our group would wind up drawing the five games all returning from prior league weeks, with neither of the two “new” games. I would be grouped with Bryan Buckley, Tandy Lofland (a relatively new player who first played Season 8 Week 4), and Jeff Mleynek.

We would begin rather unassumingly on Metallica (I played first). All around it was a pretty low scoring game. I would put up a 3.1M+ second only to Bryan’s 3.5M+… until Jeff blows it wide open with a 34.8M+ pushing me down to third. This was a lousy game for everyone until Jeff’s third ball, but it’s really no excuse for laying an egg like this. So I start with a third-place finish and three standings points.

Next up was Ghostbusters (I played first again). The only good thing to happen during this game: none of the other three players got a video mode. Unfortunately, neither did I, finishing with 2.2M+ behind even Tandy’s third-place 2.3M+. Ugh. Really not the look I want to start the season: four standings points after two games (in a 7-5-3-1 scoring league).

The woeful inadequacy would only continue on Deadpool (I played fourth): 1.1M+ after two balls. I would squeak into third place with 20.3M+. Three games, seven standings points, and I have yet to finish any higher than third.

Next up would be Star Wars (I played second). Finally, things begin to turn around a bit, as I would sign off with 169.0M+ eeking just past Bryan’s 158.9M+, but still well short of Jeff’s 268.5M+. But hey, finally I finish in second for once, putting me up to twelve standings points.

We would finish the night’s contests on Iron Maiden (I played third). Again, Jeff runs away with it. I would post a halfway decent 11.7M+ (despite rage-tilting my third ball) good for second. That would make the sum total on the night seventeen standings points, just a shade better than third places all the way across.

For the first time in three seasons, I would begin a season failing to win a single game out of the five played.

Even as I sit here writing a blog post about this, I need to be ready to clear this out of my head tomorrow night and treat it like a whole new match. Which, in a manner of speaking, it is. There’s still a lot of season left at this point, and I need to make the most of it.

Space City Pinball League Season 9 Preseason: The excitement of a new year

So once again, the next season of our favorite pinball league is upon us. I haven’t kept up a whole lot with the tournaments that have happened between then and now, but there have not been too many. Most of them happened in the previous year and thus were for last year’s WPPR (World Pinball Player Ranking) points. This is the first time I can remember that a league season has started this close to the beginning of a calendar year, so it will be a unique experience trying to start the year off with a bang.

I am still on the fence about how much effort to put in towards making a serious run at the IFPA championships (state, then potentially North America and world should I keep winning). After last season, I certainly feel like anything is possible now; realistically, I had doubts about where my peak was going into the season, but I resolved to myself to just play my best and see where it got me. And it wound up getting me a lot closer to where I wanted to be than I expected. It was a heck of a ride, even if I wound up a bit short of where I really wanted to go.

Which brings me to another thing I’ve been thinking about: my intense competitive spirit, which has been both a huge strength and a huge weakness over the years. It is easy to get so wrapped up in the hunt for a championship that one forgets the purpose of playing in the league is to have fun. I certainly don’t want to be remembered as the guy that ruined the atmosphere and camaraderie. Being fiercely competitive but keeping it friendly and social is a difficult balance, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to have found at least some difficulty with this balancing act.

We are always looking for new players, dues are $10 but not collected until the second week of the season (it’s another mini-season with only four weeks of regular season before the playoffs).

Eighteen Twenty Lounge
1820 Franklin
Houston, Texas
76X6QJ5W+8W (what’s this?)
Regular season: 19:00 (7 p.m.); January 14, 21, 28; February 4; Playoffs: 18:00 (6 p.m.) February 18

Space City Pinball League Season 8 Playoffs: One turkey of a finish

Another regular season, another A division finish. I had been looking forward to this day since this “mini-season” started just four short weeks prior. I made sure to eat well and leave with plenty of time to spare for a few warmup games.

I got the night started with four warmup games on Deadpool, the last of which was a solid 247M+. Not good enough to enter my initials, but good enough to get me in a confident, winning mood. The question remained, though, would it be enough to carry me through the entire playoff tournament?

As usual, 4-2-1-0 scoring with the two leaders from quarterfinals and semifinals advancing. Game lineup (not in order of play): Deadpool, Attack from Mars, Star Wars, AC/DC, Ghostbusters, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Maiden, Metallica. This was pretty much the usual suspects. The quarterfinals would see me grouped with Fred Revnew, Elizabeth Dronet, and Jim Mueller, and we would be playing Attack from Mars, Star Wars, and AC/DC in that order. I would elect to play first in all games where I had the choice and would wind up playing in the leadoff spot across the entire tournament.

My first ball on Attack from Mars was a dud, with a puny 51.5M+ on a game where decent scores start at a billion. Not good. By the time it got back around to me for ball 2, I would be staring down a 1.37B+ from Elizabeth. A rather large margin, but not an insurmountable one. I proceeded to go to work. I would somehow manage to complete all the shots needed for Total Annihilation within the span of that one ball. Even though it was a relatively low scoring TA, I would see the lead with a 3.97B+ total, tacking on a few more points in a multiball on my third ball to sign off with 4.60B+, good for first place for 4 standings points. (I came within one shot of a second TA in one game, something I’ve never done on a real AFM machine that I can remember.)

My game on Star Wars was overall relatively low scoring. 54.4M+ is usually not a score I’m that proud of, but when two other players I’m up against score lower than that in the second game of a playoff tournament, I’ll gladly take it. At this point, it’s me with 6, Fred with 5, Elizabeth with 3, John with 0. John can’t advance and Elizabeth would need first place and hope Fred finishes no better than third.

I never really got much going on AC/DC. 5.9M+ would be good only for dead last, but John and Fred ran away with it in their respective games, enough to put Elizabeth back in third. I would advance to the semifinals with Fred. I’m starting to feel pretty darn good.

The semifinals would match me against Fred, Matt Quantz, and Cory Westfahl. We would play Ghostbusters, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Iron Maiden. I’ve gone on ad nauseam about Ghostbusters. I was disappointed to see it in the lineup when I arrived. I was hoping I could go the entire tournament without playing it. Now, I’m hoping I could make the ridiculous video mode on the skill shot enough times to put up a decent score.

To say the least, that didn’t happen. I put up an embarrassingly bad 3.4M+ with all three of the other players topping 100M. I’m just disgusted at this point, but I pull it together for the next game.

Right on cue, I start Guardians of the Galaxy with a rather lousy 3.5M+ ball. Cory puts up a 34.8M+ and Fred puts up a 7.8M+. (Matt put up a score very close to mine, basically a tie at this point, not really worth worrying about.) My second ball wouldn’t be much better, bumping me to only 5.1M+, behind everyone else but a particularly distant 50.6M+ from Fred. But this is Guardians of the Galaxy, and based on past experience, if I can get Groot Multiball started, I’m still in it. If I remember right I have either two balls locked or the second lock lit.

Well, I get Groot Multiball started. I concentrate on just keeping the balls in play and trying to make as many jackpot shots as I can. The next few minutes seem like a blur, but I finally get a chance to catch a glimpse the score counter after the bonus countdown: 82,279,870. Enough of a lead that I could feel like maybe it would hold up. Matt signs off with 11.4M+. Fred signs off with 56.0M+. Finally, Cory signs off with 45.8M+ and I have a first-place finish.

The semifinals would conclude with Iron Maiden. The standings are 4-4-3-3 with the 4s being Matt and I. Basically, a second place or better and I’m assured at least a tiebreaker; two points or more ahead of Matt (either a first place no matter what Matt does, or a second place with Matt finishing last) and I’m definitely in. I don’t really have much to brag about through the first two balls. I would start ball 3 with a 19.2M+ behind Fred’s 23.5M+ and Cory’s 53.8M+. The last thing I wanted was to deal with a tiebreaker after this nerve-racking round.

I would start a Warrior Multiball, good enough to rocket me up to 68.3M+ which would hold up for second place and assure me an advance to the finals. I was already assured my best ever finish just making it out of the quarterfinals, and now I am looking at finishing in the top four in league play for the first time ever.

Fred Revnew, Phil Grimaldi, and Bryce Revnew. AC/DC, Ghostbusters, and Guardians of the Galaxy. The opponents are not a big surprise. The games, on the other hand… left a bit to be desired. I had just played the latter two of these games and played the first in the quarterfinals.

There’s really not a whole lot to write about in these last three games, because it got pretty ugly pretty quickly. I would eke out a third place on AC/DC. I would finally make the video mode skill shot on Ghostbusters for once out of the six balls played, but it wouldn’t be enough to even eke out another third place. I’m still not mathematically eliminated from third place after that. Then, on Guardians of the Galaxy, I put up a decent score of 42.3M+, only to watch Bryce, the eventual winner of the tournament, rocket past it with a 744.1M+, with both Phil and Fred able to sign off with higher scores as well. So fourth overall it would be. Phil would once again finish third, with Fred taking second and for the first time in league history a father-son duo would finish first and second in two consecutive seasons. Not only this, but there’s another first of note: three different champions in three consecutive seasons. The last time that could have possibly happened was in season 3, the one after Preston Moncla (commuting from Beaumont!) won.

Honestly, after the three disappointing games of the final round, I was just glad for it to be over. That’s extremely out of character for me, and I don’t really even know why I felt that way. It could have been just fatigue. It didn’t feel normal to me in the moment, but maybe it is normal for how I am now versus how I would have reacted five, ten, or more years ago to a similar situation. Only time will tell.

I take some comfort in looking at the pattern of my playoff finishes thus far (post describing playoffs linked for ease of reference, where available):

  • Season 1: League DNP (N/A)
  • Season 2: B divison quarterfinal bust (25th)
  • Season 3: B division, playoffs DNP (32nd)
  • Season 4: B division 3rd place (15th)
  • Season 5: B division quarterfinal bust (29th)
  • Season 6: B division 1st place (17th)
  • Season 7: A division quarterfinal bust (15th)
  • Season 8: A division 4th place (4th)

If the past is any indication, I have at least a 2nd place finish to look forward to sometime in 2019. I believe the best is yet to come. I’ll have some more thoughts on the most recent season next week.

Space City Pinball League Season 8 Week 4: Barf bags are in the seat pocket in front of you

This week was relatively meaningless as far as I was concerned, at least as far as whether or not I would make it into A division versus B division. The only real question is how many under me would improve more than I would, or how much I would improve to move up. I almost considered sitting this week out but I was unhappy with the low seed I wound up at after last week and did not want to move down any further if I could possibly help it.

Like last week, there was an older game in the mix: Austin Powers. Like most of these old games, I had not a clue what I was doing on it, and decided to just wing it. More on that when I get to it.

The full game lineup: Star Wars, Metallica, Guardians of the Galaxy, Austin Powers, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Deadpool. In perhaps the best “luck of the draw” I would get all season, I was grouped in a three-player group with Chris Palis and Erich Stinson.

And so the night began on Metallica. I would be playing first for this game. As badly as I needed a good game to start off the night and make the most of my opportunity to advance, I was only able to put up 2.1M+. That’s just not going to get it done even if I’m playing against a couple of amateurs, which Chris and Erich are most definitely not.

So, on we went to Star Wars. I would once again play in the first player slot, and this time cruise to a 318M+ finish good for a solid victory, most of it on the third ball. It was a clutch performance I really needed as I was really starting to lose confidence after the first game, and even surpassed my 285M+ score on the same game in warmups.

Next up would be Austin Powers, where I would be “blessed” with the third player slot. I say that in quotes because I never really got much going on this one. This game is from the era where a lot of pinballs produced by Data East/Sega/Stern felt like playing “a pinball [game] made out of a sponge” as one poster to Usenet’s rec.games.pinball said once. I signed off with a puny 29.2M+ when both of the other scores were well over twice that.

Things were starting to go better during my next game on AC/DC, where I would play second behind Erich and in front of Chris. I was all in position to try and put a comeback together on ball 3, only to have a cannon shot bounce off the drop targets, straight into the right outlane. My reaction would have gotten me a warning for swearing at some of the larger tournaments.

So the situation going into the last game on Iron Maiden was as follows: I have 10 standings points and would need a first place to improve my overall total to 72 (making week 3 the drop week). Second (or third) would mean the 15 points from week 3 stands and the 14 (or 11) would be my final drop week. I am also sitting in 12th place, giving me the 12th seed (of 16) in the forthcoming A division playoff.

The game we played on Iron Maiden was not without its irregularities. Chris got a ball stuck, which ended prematurely. Erich then played his ball as normal but then had two balls to play in single ball mode for a considerable time (he thought he still had a multiball mode going). The ball ended when one of the two balls drained and then on my turn I had two balls served up. Phil Grimaldi, the acting league official (since Chris would have normally made this ruling were he not playing), came over to make his ruling. Erich was not penalized, however, Phil needed to play the first part of my ball in an attempt to drain the excess ball served to the plunger alley. As it turns out, he was not able to do so and I was awarded a consolation ball in addition to Chris.

At the start of the third ball, my score was a mere 16.5M+ to Chris’s 101.6M+ (with consolation ball pending, if necessary) and Erich’s 101.1M+ (final). In one of the most dramatic clutch performances of the season, I ran up the score to 145.2M+. Not only would Chris have to play his consolation ball after all, but there was also now a chance I would not need to play mine. Indeed, Chris barely put up around 6M, nowhere near enough to close the gap (I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of this score, so I am subbing in a portion of a screen grab from matchplay.events showing the final computed score).

It turns out the two points I gained from placing first on Iron Maiden did not affect my final standing (and thus seed for the playoffs), and I would still finish in 12th. (Had I choked and came in third again, however, I would have dropped to 13th behind Elizabeth Dronet.)

That brings us to the playoffs later tonight. The A division playoffs start at 6 pm, at the usual spot, Eighteen Twenty Lounge (1820 Franklin). If you are in the area, feel free to come on out and watch the excitement. It’s going to be a great time no matter who wins.

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