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

Note: Due to recent events, Shawn no longer recommends participation in Space City Pinball League events until further notice. Please see the Bayou City Pinball League website for alternatives.

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!)