All Articles by Shawn K. Quinn

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Space City Pinball League, Season 2 Week 4: Insert Tolkien to continue

The more astute observers will note this entry is two weeks after my entry about what happened in week 3. Due to weather-related concerns on March 8, week 4 was postponed until this week (March 15). It was well worth it, though, as we got to play the new game from Jersey Jack, The Hobbit. I had heard about this game and was genuinely excited for a chance to play it.

I had one chance to play The Hobbit during warmups; my other warmup games were on Wrestlemania (this time an LE) and The Walking Dead. Curiously, I wound up being in a group that did not play The Walking Dead during league play. My first game on The Hobbit wasn’t that great, so I’m glad my paltry score of 24,926 came during warmups. (Jersey Jack games are very low scoring, and unlike Stern games, score using the ones digit; the “free game” award on The Hobbit was at 190,000 at this point.) The other games in the lineup were Game of Thrones (LE), Star Trek (Pro), and Kiss (LE).

So, we would get down to business at 7:30pm. I would be grouped with Ruben (again), Robert (again), and Michael. We would start out out the night playing Kiss. This was another game where I really never got much of anything going. I would manage all of 3.3M+, good for fourth (last) next to Michael’s third-place 4.2M+, Ruben’s 5.0M+, and Robert’s amazing 29.8M+. Not a good start, to say the least.

The second game was on The Hobbit. Phil was running video of everyone playing The Hobbit (which is on YouTube now), so I was just a bit more nervous than usual. Surprisingly, I was able to settle into a groove and run up 90,457. A lot better than my warm-up game, but again Robert and Ruben were able to top it with scores of 184,261 and 115,184 respectively, so I would wind up in third. I honestly feel like I did better than my third-place finish would indicate. However, both Robert and Ruben were able to get multiball going whereas I was grinding out points from ordinary one-ball play. Had I been able to get a multiball going I might well have been able to pull out at least enough for second.

On we would move to Star Trek. I was able to stay in this game the whole way. I was facing Robert’s 13.0M+, Michael’s 14.0M+, and Ruben’s 22.4M+ with a score of 9.3M (I think, it was definitely between 9M and 10M). I got a reasonably good start to ball 3, but wound up signing off with a 11.3M+ which wasn’t good enough for anything higher than fourth (last). This is probably the most frustrating game of the night, as I had a legitimate chance to come in higher and I was not able to convert. I know I need to work on this as it’s only going to become even more frustrating to have this happen as the stakes get higher. So after this game, that’s a fourth, a third, and a fourth in a four-player group. Four standings points in three games.

Our fourth game of the night would be Wrestlemania. Having played the Pro version in week 3, I felt more confident about being able to put up a decent score and maybe turn the night around. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Again Robert and Ruben would finish in the top two slots with 32.3M+ and 8.4M+ respectively, and I would manage 7.6M+ good for third, saved only by Michael’s even worse score. Given my performance on the Pro version of Wrestlemania in week 3, this is disappointing but to be fair the LE version makes the wrestling ring much tougher with the spinning disc.

We would wrap up on Game of Thrones. Despite mistakenly picking the wrong house (I wanted Martell but wound up with Stark from accidentally hitting the button too soon) I would rack up a pretty solid 95.5M+, good for second behind Ruben’s 112.7M+. I was aided by a multiball where I hit quite a few jackpot shots (I originally wrote “just about everything but the kitchen sink” but that’s kind of exaggerating). This was also a winnable game at the end, but I couldn’t keep the ball in play long enough on the last ball to actually make it happen. This would bring me up to 9 standings points (more on that later).

I wrapped up the night with a round on Ice Cold Beer and a game of Ladybug on a multi-arcade unit, both also set on free play. I was too exhausted to play much else. I don’t think fatigue was a factor towards my lacking performance; my only second-place score of the night was the last game. If it were about fatigue I would have simply gotten worse as the night wore on, certainly not better.

Anyway, about the standings. If the league season were to end now, I would be in B division, 5 points from the cutoff for A division. Not a good spot. If I can make the remaining weeks and do better, it’s almost certain the 9 points from this week will be dropped from the final tally in favor of a higher score. (The two lowest scores are dropped, though I effectively have a zero for my week 2 score since I was unable to attend.) The margin for error here is more like a distinct lack thereof, if making A division is still part of my plans. Of course right now it is, but that could well change between now and the end of week 8.

Either way I feel I will be a better player for the experience. I wish a league like this had been around in Houston in the 1990s. For all I know, there was one and I just never knew about it, or they were targeting a slightly older demographic. (Most of the players in SCPL appear to be no younger than about 30. It is difficult to say when my pinball skills were at their peak, or even whether or not I have peaked. I definitely remember putting up some monster scores in my early to mid-20s though.)

I’m learning that league play is a different beast. It requires a lot more focus and consistency than tournament play. Winning a tournament just requires that you be the best player that one day; winning a league season requires one to be a reasonably good player week in and week out (well, in this case, at least 6 out of the 8 weeks of a season) and then to be the best player during the playoffs.

Four down, four to go… here’s hoping the last four weeks are good ones.

Space City Pinball League, Season 2 Week 3: Follow the yellow brick road?

Earlier in the day, I really looked forward to returning to pinball league night. I had missed week 2 due to illness (there were a couple of other reasons as well, but feeling ill was probably the overriding concern of mine). I had gotten the news that Wizard of Oz would be in the lineup. Indeed, I was able to get in a few games during the warmups, including one score of 287,992, also good for Yellow Brick Road Champ of 26 (I think? I didn’t get an actual picture with the score, silly me). I also got in a rather smashing 245.6M+ on Game of Thrones in warmups. Unfortunately, for the most part my good fortune did not carry over through to actual league play…

The announcements were started with the news that Wizard of Oz would not be in the lineup for league play due to it “acting strangely” during warmups. To be fair, the outhole kicker was taking multiple tries to put the ball in the plunger lane for whatever reason (weak or failing coil?) and there was a point where the game went down and would not boot back up. I suggested to leave it powered off for about five minutes and then turn it back on, which fixed that problem, but not the others. So the lineup wound up being KISS, Mustang, Game of Thrones (LE), Wrestlemania, and The Walking Dead.

I was in a three-player group this week with Bruce and Robert. I knew very little about either of my opponents going into this, so I was hopeful I would be able to put up a decent performance and get back toward the top of the standings.

Our first game was on KISS, which I had some familiarity with from the first week. Surprisingly, for whatever reason, I had just a decisively awful game. I would sign off with a 3.6M+. Bruce managed a somewhat better 7.8M+, while Robert would blow it up in multiball with a 62.5M+ good enough for first place.

I would do better on The Walking Dead. I certainly felt like I was in pretty good shape with 24.4M+ before Robert’s third ball, but it would only be good for second as Robert would barely eek out a first with a 26.8M+. Bruce posted a 16.5M+, which is not an awful score by any means, but would still only be good for third.

Moving on, the 245.6M+ I posted on Game of Thrones LE in warmups had me pretty confident going into our league game on the same machine. Unfortunately, confidence doesn’t mean a damn thing in the absence of execution when it matters. I would post a 3.9M+ which is just a putrid score compared to Bruce’s 36.2M+ and Robert’s 54.9M+.

The night was not over yet. Our next game was on Wrestlemania. I jumped out in front to a huge lead on ball 2 as I had the ramp shots back up to the ring dialed in and mastered the ring flippers. (This game uses two player-activated kickers as flippers, and they are a bit difficult to get the hang of for players new to this particular table.) I would wind up with 37.8M+, eeking out first place against Robert’s 36.2M+. Bruce posted a respectable 26.4M+ but again it was only good for third.

Finally, it was time for Mustang. Robert set the pace with a 56.3M+ that was just uncatchable barring a miracle from either me or Bruce. I did eek out second with a 27.6M+ and Bruce would again post a respectable score (24.7M+) only good enough for third.

I would finish the night with one first, two seconds, and two thirds, for a total of 13 league points. This is an improvement over week 1 where I only put up 10, but still a bit disappointing. The real disappointment is a personal record I’ve set for myself in tournament and league play, and it’s the biggest disparity between my best score on a machine in practice/warmups versus the actual tournament/league play itself. My league night score was 1.58% (about 1/63) of the highest score I was able to post during warmups. It’s supposed to be the other way around, of course. This is a record I hope I don’t beat any time soon.

I am starting to like Game of Thrones and Wrestlemania, and in general I am starting to warm up to the newer Stern games. For quite a long while, I still preferred the last Williams, Bally, and Gottlieb games over what Stern was producing. In fact, I am only now discovering great Gottlieb titles I had only read about on Usenet rec.games.pinball, that I really wish I had gotten a chance to play “back in the day.”

I’m not sure why I didn’t like Stern games, though I’m pretty sure bad memories of South Park (technically a Sega game, but it was no secret Stern was a continuation of Sega the way Sega’s pinball division was a continuation of Data East) didn’t help. There are still a few of the earlier titles from after the Stern takeover that I am not a huge fan of, and many of them I never really got to play; having two of the major manufacturers fold up shop did not do wonders for location pinball, not to mention the last two games from one of those manufacturers was using a completely new concept (Pinball 2000) that I am actually quite grateful never caught on. Imagine how much a Game of Thrones, KISS, Mustang, or Wrestlemania would suck being crammed into a Pinball 2000 cabinet.

Wizard of Oz was definitely fun to play. This wasn’t the first time I got to play a Wizard of Oz; that was, of course, the qualifier for the Houston Arcade Expo tournament (which see). I am still surprised I managed to post the score I did then, though I am glad I was able to beat it even if it counted for bupkis as far as league standings are concerned. I am glad we have Jersey Jack deciding to join what many declared a dead or dying business. Heck, I am glad we have other manufacturers who have decided to step up the plate. All we need now, are operators willing to take a chance on location pinball again (and the location owners and players to make it work).

(Before leaving, I did play some Ice Cold Beer and get a 1750; that is what the last picture is. I have done better than that, but I consider that score a highlight of the night.)

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.)

Space City Open: A day of redemption

So today was the Space City Open, a long awaited pinball tournament. First, before I get into the meat of this post, Phil was kind enough to host this tournament from his house with his quite well-maintained and diverse collection, and I would like to extend my thanks to him for doing so.

I went into this tournament with the most positive mindset I could put myself in. I’ve been having a pretty lousy week, to say the least, and it took quite a bit of energy to block all of that out this morning and afternoon and focus on the goal at hand.

For the most part, I feel like I succeeded in maintaining focus through the ups and downs. I had some great games and moments in this tournament; I also had quite a few not-so-great games and moments.

We’ll start at the beginning. We had 14 players, and there were eight different games: Diner, Dr. Dude, Dracula, Firepower, Iron Man, Tales from the Crypt, The Simpsons Pinball Party, and Whirlwind. Phil does have other games there, but those were the eight chosen for the tournament. (Judge Dredd was also on the list but due to technical problems it was a last-minute scratch.) The tournament format was a seven-round match play tournament.

Groups were drawn, and I wound start the first round on Iron Man with Brian, Blake, and Dick. I’m pretty sure I’ve never played Iron Man before today, so I had no clue what to do as far as strategy. So, I just sort of winged it, basically just trying to make the shots that were lit and taking hints from the score display as the game went on. This worked as I took first place in this game and was off to a great start. I put up a 9.1M+ with the next highest score being 7.3M+.

My good fortune would be interrupted by an absolutely crummy game of Dr. Dude against Ruben and Rob. I could barely muster a 1.9M+, but there was still a contest between Ruben and Rob with the former eeking out a victory with 5,049,580 versus the latter’s 4,910,970. I just could not get it going. I would have a decent start to a ball, and then BAM! Right down the toilet. I finally got the Mix Master lit (the next-to-last step before multiball) and then lost the ball down the left outlane (I think).

I would quickly return to form in the next game on The Simpsons Pinball Party against James and Garrett. It was not an easy victory by any means as I also began this game with outright disasters on my first two balls (of a 3-ball game). However, I managed to get a monster of a ball going on my third ball of the game, stacking several modes and both multiball modes. I was pretty sure I had won the game early on but kept playing because I was “in the zone” and needed to ride the wave to build my confidence back up. I would sign off with a 29,926,940 (oh, so close to 30M) with the runner-up (Garrett) finishing with 5.7M+.

On to the fourth round. I drew Diner with Rob, Danny, and David. I know the ruleset of Diner even though I have had very little experience actually playing it. This game brought the only stuck ball of the tournament for me; I managed to get the ball wedged behind the spinner. It wasn’t going to budge with any reasonable amount of nudging (defined as any amount that would not set off the tilt sensor), so we had to pull the glass and put the ball back on the plunger lane. This was a minor distraction in the grand scheme of things; I managed a 1.7M+ for second place next to Rob’s 2.1M+ and sub-1M scores from David and Danny.

The fifth round was probably the most dramatic moment in the qualifying rounds. I drew Whirlwind against Phil, Rob, and Blake. (For some reason the software liked to keep putting Rob and I in the same group.) Phil got off to a fairly early lead, and my back was against the wall going into my third ball. Again, I started off with a couple of lackluster balls, and I wasn’t building on that great of a score going into the final ball of the game. I was facing Phil’s score of 5.1M+ or so (it may have been a little higher) with a score of somewhere in the 1M to 2M range. I was able to complete multiball and score a “Million Plus” shot (scoring 2M). I would sign off of this game with 6,056,720 and could only sit back and wait for Phil to complete his last ball. To my amazement, Phil drained fairly quickly and after his end-of-ball bonus, his score only added up to 5,841,910. It held up! I managed to win a game against Phil! I couldn’t believe it.

Round six saw me playing Dracula alongside James and David. By contrast this was a pretty ho-hum game and the scores were nothing really spectacular, but I did manage to win with a 21.9M+ with David in runner-up at 11.1M+.

For the seventh and final round, I drew Tales from the Crypt alongside Cory, Garrett, and David. This was another game where I had the first two balls go rather badly. It wound up being mostly for moot, but I did score 146.7M+. It was only good for third alongside Garrett’s 237.8M+ and Cory’s 246.5M+.

So after a brief intermission, we began the semi-finals. Our first game was on The Simpsons Pinball Party. To say the least, I did not get off to a good start at all. I managed only 1.2M+, which probably wouldn’t have been enough to beat a couple of grade-school kids much less the tournament finalists. In fact, I would dare say this is the worst game I’ve ever played in a pinball tournament, ever.

The silver lining to that cloud was that I got to pick the next game. I thought about it for a few seconds, and then selected Whirlwind, as this was one of two games where I had outscored Phil in the qualifying rounds (the other being Dr. Dude which I was much less familiar with). I was able to put up a 4.6M+ to Phil’s 6.1M+.

Ruben then selected Dr. Dude for the last game of the semi-finals. Basically, this game decided who would advance to the finals, as Phil had pretty much clinched his spot in the finals at that point. It was a pretty uneventful game until the last ball. I got a multiball going, and was able to get enough Mix Master bounces to score the jackpot (which on this game is a flat 5 million). Not only was this good enough to beat Ruben’s score, it was good enough to beat Phil’s as well, which was a much-needed confidence boost.

The finals began shortly thereafter. I was playing alongside Phil, Garrett, and Brian. We would start, again, on The Simpsons Pinball Party. I didn’t do much better, with only 4.9M+ good enough for third. If I was able to come close to the score I had put up earlier, I might have been able to eek out second and top the 16.1M+ put up by Garrett. On the other hand, Phil’s 76.9M+ was going to win barring a miracle.

The next game was Whirlwind, selected by Brian. I was only able to put up a 3.1M+ to Phil’s 8.8M+ and Garrett’s 4.8M+. Had I been able to make at least one Million Plus shot during multiball, it might well have been a different game altogether. This finish was good enough for third place in the round and kept me in a position to at least salvage a decent showing. The question was, could I refocus and get it done?

Brian selected the machine for the third and last game of the finals, which was Firepower. It’s a game I feel very confident playing, having been the very first pinball game I remember playing as a young kid (I think I was all of 5 years old when I played it the first time). I selected to go first, which I felt would give me an advantage in this situation. Whether it actually did or not is up for debate, but I had an absolutely great game with a good multiball during my third ball. I would sign off with 310,200, good enough for first place on the game and putting me in second place overall for the tournament. Second place was Brian’s 188,260, and third was Garrett’s 106,110. Phil managed all of 15,270; not that it really matters, as the only way he was in danger of not winning was if he finished last and Garrett finished in first place, and even this would only have forced a tiebreaker for first.

I am glad I was able to salvage a second place finish, but it’s still one place short of where I want to be. It was disappointing to do so well during the qualifying rounds and semi-finals only to run into the trouble I did during the finals. It’s not even a case of putting up an otherwise decent score and then having someone (like Phil) come in with a monster score that dwarfs it. A sub-5M score on The Simpsons Pinball Party is embarrassingly low and I am still frustrated at myself a bit, as I picked a really bad time to “lay an egg.”

I experimented with strategy in Whirlwind a bit. I was having difficulty making the plunger skill shot. Back when I was a teenager playing Whirlwind at arcades (such as Fame City and the Time-Out at Northline Mall, if anyone remembers those), I had mastered the art of plunging really short, and sweeping the drop target bank for 600K (the best you can do with just a plunge is 500K knocking down the middle and bottom targets). For the third ball in the finals, I simply went for a full plunge to feed the upper flipper and try to make the million and multiball release ramp shot. Of course, I missed it, and eventually had to settle for the right saucer shot to start multiball. I figured this gave me better chances to win the game than a possible 300K (which was the best I had done on the skill shot on this game all day) and the ball cradled on a lower flipper if I was lucky, or down the outlane if I was not.

Oddly enough, I think Whirlwind was the only game where strategy as such required that much thought. On all the other games, it was either very obvious strategy, or in the case of Iron Man, I was just winging it. There’s a point at which the strategy becomes so obvious to me that I no longer even think about it. The tables that come to mind where this is the case for me would include High Speed, Firepower, Black Hole, Beat Time, Liberty Bell, and Roller Disco. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, and it is likely no coincidence that every table on that list was made before 1987. Earthshaker, for example, has enough complexity to it that the strategy is not always obvious to me (though one can rarely go wrong pounding the ramp shot to oblivion, one reason it’s not well liked as a tournament game). As counterexamples from the EM era, Fireball and Blue Chip stand out as examples of tables with relatively deep strategy. I could probably write a whole post about strategy in pinball, and at some point I may do exactly that.

In conclusion, I had a great time despite the result. Phil was a great host and hopefully this is the first of many tournaments he will be hosting at his place. The crowd was fantastic despite the turnout being a bit low; fourteen players was still enough to have a very fun and interesting tournament. And, I’m not giving up the hunt for the ever-elusive first place. I didn’t expect it to be this hard to catch.