Tournament pinball vs. Pinball

What got me off my butt to finally start working on this website was episode 4 of the Loser Kid Pinball Podcast. Josh and Scott had Jeff Rivera on as a guest host, and they were talking about what machines stayed and what machines left their collections. At 36:30 Josh started talking about how he had really wanted Fish Tales, but when he finally got it, he only kept it for a few months. He said that it was just left ramp, right ramp. Jeff agreed and said he didn’t keep his long either.

This blew me away because Fish Tales is an amazing machine, except when you are playing in a tournament! In tournaments people prioritize safe shots that are worth good points. And in Fish Tales that is ramp, ramp, ramp, ramp, ramp … until you light Monster Fish and can safely hit the left orbit from the right flipper for big points. Then you get control of the ball, and do it all over again. Just doing this over and over can get you a respectable score safely… and is totally boring!

Remember, this is in tournament play where you don’t play extra balls. This is to keep game times short so that the tournament can stay on schedule or end at a reasonable hour. Here are other things that are often done to reduce play times:

  • Set tilts tight
  • Make outlanes huge
  • Make it play fast and brutal (clean with sensitive slings)
  • No ball saves
  • Hard rules settings
  • Modifications to the playfield to make less controllable

Now lets see what you can go for when you can play extra balls and the short ball saver is on. (FYI I am a bit of a Fish Tales geek. If you don’t care about the details skip to the next section.)

  1. Hold the left flipper button in when you plunge then immediately hit the drop target (super dangerous without ball save) or lock for Fast Cast
  2. After left inlane hit right orbit for Longcast and increase available captive ball awards
  3. Combo the Longcast with drop target or lock for Fast Cast
  4. After right lit inlane hit left orbit for Fish Finder with various awards including lighting the extra ball
  5. Lock three balls to start multiball
  6. Collect three multiball jackpots to light the captive ball of 100M repeatable super jackpot!
  7. Collect three more multiball jackpots to light the captive ball of 200M repeatable super jackpot!!! (I think this keeps going but I have never finished a third set of jackpots)
  8. After completing the four fish standups (dangerous) hit the left orbit spinner to collect fish and eventually get Feeding Frenzy.
  9. The captive ball is a dangerous shot but awards:
    • Hold bonus
    • Video mode which is super fun and can award an extra ball
    • Rock the Boat for tons of points on repeated boat shots
    • Light extra ball
    • Instant Multiball
  10. The magic: It is possible on a single ball to Longcast to qualify and collect five captive balls for the light extra ball and instant multiball. It is super hard, but means it is possible to play forever!
  11. Oh yeah, you can do ramp, ramp, ramp, Monster Fish too.

So you can set up a Fish Tales for tournament play and have one safe thing to do, or set it up for fun and have a huge variety of shots and goals! 

Seeing pinball through the tournament play filter often limits what people find to be useful or valuable to shoot. Repeatable safe shots are boring but win you tournaments. Risky shots can be satisfying, like the Addams Family 4-way combo or the Iron Maiden inner loops, but can lose you tournaments. 

After all this you may think I hate tournaments. But I don’t. I love tournaments. Tournaments got me back into playing pinball after a 15 year hiatus. They introduced me to the Oakland/SF pinball scene and gave me a ton of great pinball friends. They taught me new skills like post passing, dead bouncing, and tap passing, that never would have occurred to me when I was playing in my own little pinball bubble. Tournaments are great social gatherings and are still the only time I play pinball with more than 2 or 3 friends.

So for me, there are two different kinds of pinball. Tournament pinball is a competitive, risk/reward, controlled, sometimes boring version of pinball. “Pinball” is playing the whole game, reaching wizard modes, going for GCs, getting into the flow, and hearing (not seeing) the Addams 4-way combo!

I can play in one or two tournaments a month. I can play Pinball forever!

About David Lee

I play in the East Bay, mostly in Alameda, Oakland and Emeryville. Oakland Pinball Warriors is my main monthly tournament, and only occasionally make it to San Francisco for tournaments. My IFPA ranking bounces around 500, depending on how many tournaments I get to. I am DavidLee on Pindigo and LEE on scoreboards

One thought on “Tournament pinball vs. Pinball

  1. Hey David, great blog – enjoying your posts! Agreed about tournament play – but you can also be like me and so stupid dangerous stuff that’s fun and then lose b/c of it (which is not fun). I am not super serious with my tournament play but love it and often do the stupid but fun thing. Of course if I was smarter and safer I’d probably play better – see you around!

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