Space City Pinball League, Season 2 Week 5: Kicked by a glitchy kickback

Another week, another league night. This week we were promised a “surprise blast from the past.” I was thinking we were going to get to play something, like The Addams Family, Attack from Mars, Earthshaker, Whirlwind, Space Shuttle, or Genie. You know, a true blast from the past.

The game wound up being The Sopranos, one of the earlier titles after the Sega factory became the Stern factory. I got to watch it being played, but would never get to play it the whole night for a variety of reasons. The dot matrix animations still have that “late Data East/Sega era” look to them, and it’s not just the orange gas plasma display as opposed to the more modern red LED display that the new Sterns have. I’m not sure how to describe it exactly; maybe it was the dot matrix animation artist working on the games from that era, and/or the font(s) they were using. (For whatever reason I find the Williams/Bally displays from the same era, up until Pinball 2000, much more appealing.)

Anyway, I was manually late-added into the group originally consisting of Rusty Key, David Pollock, and Cory Westfahl. I had not played against any of these players in league play yet, and was sick of the software’s “random” groupings putting me against at least one other player who I had played in earlier weeks. So, I asked Phil to put me in that group and he agreed. (I forget what the alternative was, it may have been the group Ruben was in.)

So things get off to a slow start given that we are waiting for a machine to open up for our first game. Luckily, The Walking Dead opens up relatively quickly. Rusty and David happen to blow it up with scores of 23,131,430 (first) and 23,049,360 (second). By some miracle I eek out third with 13.9M+ despite barely making the extra ball shot and (I think) not getting a multiball mode going at all.

If only I could say it got better as the night went on. It did, but not in our second game on Metallica. I managed a paltry 11,300,020, only good for fourth. Rusty, on the other hand, took first place again with a whopping 119.5M+, which was good for one of the high scores, and is a league record for this table. Anyway, so that’s two games, 3 standings points.

Our next game was on Kiss, and I put up some respectable scores during warmups, so certainly I should be able to repeat that performance, right? I manage a personal best for league play. Unfortunatsely, it’s a paltry 4.0M+ good for fourth (again). This time it was David with the runaway first place of 44,993,630, missing the 45M mark by less than the value of one pop bumper hit. Three games, 4 standings points… and one pinball player/blogger wondering if he needs his head examined.

Next up would be Game of Thrones. Oh, and did I mention this was the game on video for the week? Well, as you will see when you watch, it’s a performance I’d rather forget: all of 2,303,380. The malfunctioning kicker really didn’t help. Given I’ve put up much, much higher scores on this game, this was a huge disappointment. Obviously, this was yet another fourth place finish, putting me at 5 standings points on the night after four games. I would need a first place finish on The Hobbit to still be able to drop the 9 points from Week 4 (which is bad enough already).

And so, we would play the last game of the night on The Hobbit. I got the only stuck ball of the night. I had run up a 40K good enough for an early lead after ball 2. The ball had gotten stuck about ½” up on a lit kickback (on the bottom of the outlane switch), which is held in place by a post during play. The post had dropped because the game had fired the kickback already. Phil’s ruling at the time of the incident (the “ruling on the field”) was that the ball was essentially over and it was “normal course of play.” I’m obviously not happy about it, but I try not to let it throw me.

I start ball 3 with a deficit of around 13K and change to overcome. Thankfully, I have a great ball and get all kinds of points everywhere I need them. Knowing I have more than enough points, I relax a bit and pile on to my lead, signing off with a total of 90,003. Note that last week, I scored a bit higher and it was only good for third place. This time, next to Rusty’s 27,977, Cory’s 50,687, and David’s 53,629, I would finish the night with a first place victory. Five games, 10 standings points.

(Of note, Phil later admitted the ruling was incorrect, and he also noticed I won in spite of it. Like I would expect most players to be, I’m not as easily upset about these kind of rulings when they don’t wind up costing me a game.)

It could have been much worse, of course. As it is, I still slip back a bit and I am now 11 points back from the cutoff from A division to B division. I would possibly need to gain 12 points, depending on which player I need to out-seed due to the tiebreaker (season outscored percentage; mine is currently 41.63% and this loses against all but one player currently at 44 adjusted points, and is probably behind most of the other players higher than me).

The takeaways from this week are:

  1. I feel I have finally gotten the hang of Kiss and The Hobbit, two games I felt were not exactly my strongest games last week (and in the case of Kiss, going back to week 1).
  2. I can win games in the clutch at least some of the times in league play, and even in the face of an adverse league/tournament official ruling.
  3. I have underestimated the competitive level of pinball in Houston in general. There apparently has been a lot of pent-up demand for tournaments and leagues and any illusion I had of just waltzing in and taking first place in a tournament within a couple of months was quickly dispelled. We’re at a little over a year, and the best I’ve been able to pull off is a second place.
  4. If I really want to make the A division playoffs, I have little room for error. Probably more like no room for error, in reality.

Here’s hoping I finish the season on a high note.

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