Game Preserve 2016 February Tournament: It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll

This adventure begins with a journey through the Houston area’s wonderful traffic. I was using Google Maps directions to guide me around traffic as best it could, and it directed me onto the Hardy Toll Road at Little York, taking a side street to get past the worst of the backup on Little York itself.

Once I got onto the mainlanes, it was smooth sailing until the toll road was closed due to construction at FM 1960. I decided at that point the best course of action was to stay on West Hardy Road to Louetta, then cut over to I-45 there. Google Maps told me, in effect, “don’t bother getting on the freeway, just take the feeder the rest of the way to Sawdust.” Which I did, and which turned out to be a great move (traffic wasn’t really moving again until after the exit for Sawdust.)

I arrived at around 4:10pm. (I had messaged Phil earlier saying I was on my way and that traffic was horrendous; his reply, which I didn’t see until after I had arrived at Game Preserve, was that he wouldn’t be starting until about 4:20pm.) I managed to fit in a couple of warm-up games before the pairings and a rule change were announced. (The rule change was the shift from 4-2-1-0 scoring to 3-2-1-0 scoring during the qualifying rounds, with three-player games being scored using 3-1.5-0.)

My first round game was on Tri Zone with Matt, Erich, and Brian, a game I usually feel pretty confident playing. The game itself seemed to be in good mechanical working order, though the general illumination had some bulbs burned out. My hopes of getting off to a good start quickly went out the window. I was only able to manage a rather embarrassing 49,270, with Brian’s 122,150 being good enough for third place. I don’t know if it was just nerves, getting really unlucky bounces, or a combination of both. It was quite disappointing to be at the bottom of the heap to start things off.

The second round game was originally Junkyard with James and Sarah. However, in the middle of James’s second ball, the wire came off of a kicker coil. Rusty, who had already completed his game at this point, made a heroic effort to try to get it up and running again mid-game, but the fix attempt wound up not working and we would start over again on Space Shuttle. This was a tough break for James, who had the lead at the time of the malfunction on Junkyard (I had a decent second place score), and who would wind up finishing third with a 142K+. Sarah would take second with a 178K+, and I rang up a decent score of 952K+. I would have liked to at least light up the millions digit in the score counter, but what I had was plenty to win.

On to the third round: Congo with Justin Niles, Chris, and James. Not surprisingly, Justin did about the same thing when I played against him in the first week of the league, posting a decent 372M+. I struggled to get into a rhythm and managed to post a 69M+ good for third, with Chris eeking out second with a 76M+. So if you are keeping track so far, that’s three rounds and I have 4 ranking points (0, 4, and 1 in order). I’m starting to wonder if I will even qualify for A-division at this point.

For the fourth round I was dealt Roller Disco with Joe Reyna, Justin, and Jaina. I like Roller Disco, though it is a rather difficult game to really get into a rhythm on. For those who have never seen this game, it’s a wide-open widebody playfield with two sets of lower flippers and two separate sets of inlanes. The game play bears some resemblance another Gottlieb classic, Black Hole, except there’s no lower level and no multiball, and the playfield on Roller Disco is nearly symmetric whereas Black Hole derives many more subtle nuances from its asymmetric playfield.

I manage to squeak out a third place here with a paltry 90,130 (Justin taking a very unsurprising first here with a 231K+), but the real noteworthy part of this game came with an early stuck ball I had. Joe did this whole act with “you’re going to have to bump it off of there, I’m not grabbing the keys.” I tried some subtle nudges that wound up not freeing the ball, then one that did… only to have the game tilt about two seconds layer. In a qualifying round where I got off to a terrible start and needed everything I could get, that left me Quite Obviously Not Amused. (Joe, of course, laughed his ass off.) I feel that kind of thing may pass for a joke in a social or “beer league” game of pinball, but that kind of nonsense to a fellow player is, at least in the pinball culture I grew up with, something one Just Doesn’t Do. (I’ll get back to this later)

On to round five, Lord of the Rings with Rusty, Joe (again), and Brian. The real shocker here was Rusty bolting out to an incredible lead by the end of ball 2. I had little hope of catching him, but I was going to try. As it was, I did well enough to snag a solid second place with 9.3M+, far behind Rusty’s 24.2M+ but comfortably ahead of Brian’s 7.4M+. On the third ball, I managed to get some multiball modes going, and I never really quit until I lost the ball. Had I been able to keep it in play, I was ready to do what I did back in November on my first ball on Lord of the Rings against Phil.

Going into round six, I’m starting to have some hope of making A-division but prepared for the reality that I might not for the first time under this format. I drew Rock Encore against Jaina and William. I put up an embarrassingly bad 282K+. However, William was only able to put up 223K+ and Jaina put up only a 220K+, so as badly as I did, that was still good enough for a first place. An ugly win scores the same 3 standings points as a more elegant win, so I’m not complaining.

Finally, round seven. I’m in 10th place in the standings, with a possibility of moving into the top 8 for A-division playoffs, but there was a chance if the wrong players won, I would not. I had to find everyone and begin my game, so there wasn’t too much time to analyze scenarios. I was assigned Party Zone with Ruben, Kevin, and Melissa. Fortunately, I drew the fourth player spot, which somewhat gave me improved odds of winning, knowing exactly what I needed to do. I caught a bad break on each of my first two balls, but still had a competitive score going into ball 3.

Early in my third ball, I got a (worthless in tournament play) extra ball from the Supersonic Robotic Comic. Just about anything else would have been better. I was unhappy enough that I flashed my middle finger at the score display, which drew a couple of chuckles from my opponents (well, I’m glad someone found it amusing). Later on, I lit the Eat-Drink-B.Merry sequence, from which I scored 3 million points, enough to secure the win. After plunging off the extra ball I would wind up with 8.6M+, good enough for first place, and enough to edge out Ruben for the 8th spot in A-division. Winning the game without starting multiball was perhaps the best thing to happen to me all night, and perhaps the biggest highlight of the tournament. Again, it’s not the prettiest win, but an ugly win and a pretty win count for the same 3 points.

My moment to get amused, however, came when I saw Joe Reyna had missed A-division by a good three places, winding up in 11th. Sure, maybe Joe wasn’t playing to make A-division. But I have to say, I found it hilarious. Call it karma, call it the pinball gods doing their thing… either way, it all worked out in the end. He who laughs last laughs the hardest, indeed.

Phil announced to all the players as the last rounds were finishing up to be back at 8pm for the playoffs. I took my meal break at Taco Bell, reflecting on how I had done so far. I was relieved to have made the A-division playoffs, though I was still unhappy I had barely eeked in, and that with a final round game where I probably didn’t deserve to take first place. I set the bar pretty high for myself, and this performance in the qualifying rounds didn’t measure up to it.

The semi-finals saw me grouped with Phil, Rusty, and Brian, with the other group being Erich, William, David, and Justin. Rusty wound up with the #1 seed with 17.5 points, which was a real surprise to me as up until now I had thought he was a good player, but not of the caliber that could win the A-division of a tournament outright. Obviously that has now changed and there is yet another player to watch out for.

The first game was on Party Zone. Unlike my previous plays on this table, I couldn’t get anything going at all. A perfect microcosm of this game was the shot that I attempted into the cottage lane (to light multiball once it is made three times), which bounced right back out, and right down the middle. I would sign off with an absolutely dreadful 3.5M+, less than half of the 7.7M+ third place score by Rusty.

The second game was on Rock Encore. It’s a table that by now, I’m starting to despise. Nothing I did got any appreciable amount of scoring going, and my final score of 194K+ didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being good enough for even third place.

We ended the night on what would be a relatively meaningless (to me) game of Roller Disco. Going into that game, I was the 0 in an 8-3-3-0 point split, with the top two players advancing. The only way I had any chance to advance was to win with Phil (8 points) coming in second. This would put me in second overall, with the point totals then becoming 10-4-4-3, forcing a playoff with either Rusty or Brian (whoever came in third). Neither of those happened, with Rusty finishing first with a 223K+, Brian finishing second with a 159K+, my 120K+ being good enough for third, and a rare fourth-place finish by Phil with a 78K+.

So there you have it, my best impression of the Houston Oilers translated to a pinball tournament. If you remember the Oilers, it’s not a comparsion I should be eager to make, though it is accurate. A tie for seventh place is definitely not what I had in mind when I walked in to The Game Preserve. It ties the lowest finish I have had at any tournament held at The Game Preserve; twice in the past, I have come in seventh place, once back in 2014 October, and again back in 2015 July. The only two tournaments where I have finished lower than seventh were the 2014 Oil City Open main tournament, where I came in 14th (though I did salvage some pride that trip by coming in third in the side tournament), and the Houston Arcade Expo tournament where I ranked 30th in qualifying (though keep in mind the field in the latter is much larger).

And the search for the elusive first place continues…

(Gallery includes some post-tournament scores. I will be adding captions as I have time later this week.)