I had been waiting for this tournament for most of the previous month. One of the reasons for it was that this tournament is my first time showing off my butterfly necklace (as I somewhat obtusely alluded to in my previous post “The dawn of a new era”), the first picture in the gallery. Yes, the initials are kind of jumbled in that picture, which I didn’t realize at the time. I may take a better one later.
My attendance at this tournament served the additional purpose of an opportunity to finally get my trophy won at the end of the previous SCPL season which tournament organizer Matt Quantz was kind enough to bring down to Einstein’s Pub.
With that out of the way, on to the narrative of the tournament’s events. There were a total of 15 players, many of them well-known in the Houston area pinball/classic arcade community, and a few I had not seen before but who have played in the monthly tournaments at The Game Preserve. The format of the tournament is a four-strikes knockout tournament. Players finishing in third or fourth place receive a strike, with four strikes resulting in elimination. (Later in the tournament, second place finishers in the necessary two-player groups would receive a strike.) The games were the same line-up from my visit on November 24: Attack from Mars, The Champion Pub, Iron Man, Star Trek, The Walking Dead, Theatre of Magic, Ghostbusters, and Game of Thrones.
My tournament experience would begin innocently enough with a game on The Champion Pub, grouped with Jamie Jenkins, Matt Quantz, and Chris Palis. I last played this on Pinball Arcade some months ago, and the only other place I’ve played a real table of this title was at the Costa house back in 2016. My inexperience with this particular game showed straight through. I was barely able to put up a 3.4M+ good enough for third next to Chris’s 5.5M+ and Matt’s absolutely amazing 18.6M+. One ball ended when the ball save stopper dropped about one-tenth of a second before the ball got to it (I think this was ball 2). So, strike one, and on to…
The draw for round 2 would group me with Raleigh Palis, Chris Gonzales, and Laurie Bender, on Star Trek. The funniest thing happened here, I made a joke about the “Star Wreck” games back in SCPL Season 5 (Week 7 and the playoffs if you want to re-live those farces). And then I completely bungle ball 1 with a whopping 516K+. I joke to Raleigh, “I think I might have jinxed myself.” I would sign off with an otherwise decent 11.6M+, but that too would only be good for third place behind Raleigh’s 21.2M+ and Chris’s 32.0M+. Strike two, and we move on.
Round 3 is where things would finally start to come together; they definitely needed to, because otherwise, my time in this tournament would be short indeed. I was grouped with Laurie Bender and Jamie Jenkins on Attack from Mars. After a relatively uneventful first two balls where I squeak out 1.02B+, everything comes together: an extra ball (which, in this tournament, gets played, not plunged), a normal multiball, a Total Annihilation, a Strobe Multiball, and probably some other miscellaneous high-scoring shots in there as well. I would sign off with a 6.94B+ good for a crushing first place over Jamie’s 1.51B+ and Laurie’s 1.25B+. I finally feel like I have my groove back.
Round 4 is probably the unluckiest thing to happen to poor Laurie in the entire tournament. She would be grouped with me for the third game in a row, this time with Chris Gonzales joining us, on Iron Man. And I would do just well enough to squeak out a second place with 4.16M+ to her 3.19M+ (Chris, of course, crushed us both with a 14.27M+). I know I’m capable of better than that, and I hate just getting by with barely enough points to not get another strike. Not much to really say on this one, as other than my multiball it was a relatively uneventful game for everyone.
And on we go to round 5: Ghostbusters with Joe Cuellar, Chris Palis, and Craig Squires. For those of you reading this long after Stern has updated the code for this game, this is the version that allows you to get a video mode off of the skill shot, which is an easy 59.9M+. I caught on to this and was able to make this skill shot twice in this game, resulting in a win. It’s an incredibly cheap win, and I don’t like to win games cheaply, but this is how the other players were putting up scores in the range they were. I started ball 3 with 65.2M+ and needed to beat Chris’s 106.7M+ to avoid getting another strike (which I did), thanks in part to a second play of the Don’t Cross The Streams video mode.
Round 6 was another game of Attack from Mars with Craig Squires and Jamie Jenkins. I pretty much ran away with this one with a score of 3.3B+, leaving the real battle between Craig and Jamie for who would get the strike. (It wound up being Craig, for the terminally curious.)
Round 7 would find me grouped up with Chris Gonzales, Chris Palis, and Jamie Jenkins on Theatre of Magic. I would only put up 309.7M+, most of it from multiball on the third ball, but this would be more than enough to win. (Decent scores for this game start at around 400M, with the replay level on this machine, set to 600M as of whenever I checked that day.)
And we would move on to round 8, another game of Iron Man, this time against Jeff Mleynek and Cory Westfahl. Jeff put up just short of 11M on his first ball, leaving me with the daunting task of catching up. My first ball was nothing short of abysmal, with a paltry 825K+. My second ball wasn’t much better, so by ball 3 I was looking at closing in on Cory’s 8.77M+ with a score of only 2.19M+ from the previous two balls, so a margin of around 6.57M. In tournaments past, I would get too nervous in situations like this and make a dumb mistake. Given that I didn’t even know the rules to Iron Man that well, I feel I did rather well by starting a multiball and making a decent run at Jeff’s score of 15.08M+. I wouldn’t quite score that high, but I would sign off with a 10.71M+ good for second place, avoiding the third strike for yet another round.
Round 9 was Star Wr–I mean, Star Trek again, this time against Matt Quantz, Jeff Mleynek, and Frankie Griffin. Again, I had an absolutely disastrous first ball, piling up all of 1,003,090 points. (Hey, with a score that small, every point counts.) By the time I was up to play ball 2, Matt had put up 40.79M+ and Jeff had wound it up to 33.30M+. By the time my third ball started, I was looking at having to beat Jeff’s 37.91M+ score to avoid a strike, and beating Matt was more or less out of the question as he had signed off with 115.4M+. I had already locked in second place with 44.73M+ before plunging my extra ball and would sign off with 51.52M+, way short of Matt’s score but enough to take second and avoid a strike.
We would move on to round 10 on Game of Thrones with Jeff Mleynek and Matt Quantz. Again, Matt ran away with this one early, with his score after the first ball over 100M (I don’t have an exact score, the picture I took shows Matt with 125M+ sometime during ball 2). It was going to be hard enough to catch Jeff with his 22.74M+. I had a paltry 658,720 from two disastrous balls going into ball 3. I didn’t even come close, signing off with 5,335,640. That meant a third strike, with one more meaning I’d be done for the night.
Round 11 would be a two-player game of Ghostbusters with Cory Westfahl. I was doing good to try to keep this one close. Unfortunately, I have no intermediate scores in this game (Ghostbusters is notorious for making it difficult to see scores between balls). I do remember not being able to start the video mode from the skill shot on ball 3 (to be fair, neither did Cory). It did not help that the video mode I was able to play on ball 2 was impossible to get the full value from (too many ghosts too quickly on one side). I dislike video modes enough as it is, but making the entire game and my entire tournament life depend on one is outrageous. I signed off with 63.1M+, normally a good score but Cory had 98.1M+. That’s strike four and the end of the road for me. You could say I got busted like a ghost, I guess…
I finished fifth, with Matt in fourth, then Frankie in third, Cory in second, and Jeff eventually taking it all. (I did not stick around to watch the rest of the tournament, I simply went to close out my tab, then got my trophy from Matt after he finished his first ball on Attack from Mars.) Fifth place is a bit disappointing, especially given how it happened. If I had played against Cory on just about any other game there, I felt like I would have had a better shot or at least a fairer shot at winning. But it does feel good to have won games I know I would have lost in prior tournaments.