The End of the Madness!

So the Medieval Madness COVID-19 experiment has ended. Almost two weeks ago TJ Beyer took MM to a new rental home, and I am back to being pinball-less.

The rental was April 21st through December 6th. 229 days!

We didn’t have MM at home. Our apartment has tight narrow winding stairs, and that was too much to ask of TJ. We also have a downstairs neighbor, and over the last seven months I have found out how loud pinball machines (and Davids playing pinball machines) are.

Instead we had the machine at our holistic healthcare office. First floor right by the parking lot with a nice wide commercial door. Nice easy delivery!

After the first day of play, Suzie distributed a nicely worded letter to all our neighbors. And we had no complaints!

Having Medieval Madness at the office turned out to be amazing during the pandemic!

Throughout the various levels of shelter in place and social distancing, playing MM at the office not only gave me a pinball outlet, but also gave me a place to get away from home.

Suzie and I have been fairly strict when it comes to limiting our exposure to COVID. In order to keep our patients as safe as possible, we have limited our activities to reduce our risk of exposure. This means for the last 10 months my only activities outside the house and office have been going to the farmers market, Trader Joe’s, and a small local health food store.

So in all of this isolation, just getting in the car and driving to do something fun made it feel like I had a little freedom. There were days where I worked at the office for eight hours, went home and had dinner, and then went back to the office to play pinball for a few hours. It’s strange how the mind can compartmentalized the difference between work and play, but it always felt like going to play pinball, not going back to work!

And to be honest, I don’t think it would have been the same if we had the machine at the house. It is very different than going into another room. You have to put on shoes and outdoor pants! You have to get in the car and drive away from the house. Once again it is a strange mind trick, but during COVID anything that keeps us sane is helpful.

Another added benefit to having MM at our office was that our patients got to play pinball. Not only could they play during their appointments, but a number of our families got to have pinball parties at our office. During the shelter-in-place we scheduled times where whole families could come and play pinball together. This allowed families to get out of their houses and have a safe and fun activity. I know that the kids had a ton of fun and the parents got a little relief.

How the Madness Ended

After five months and 40ish successful Battles for the Kingdom, I started to get a little tired of Medieval Madness. I still kept going to the office to play, but it got to be a little less fun.

I was trying to run up the King of the Realm count, so it wasn’t a good day of pinball without beating the game. I would head to the office with the intention of beating the King of Payne, not to simply have fun playing pinball. Once again those crazy mind tricks.

When I realized MM had become less fun, I considered letting it go. But I wasn’t quite ready. Every time I talked about it, Suzie could see on my face that I still wanted to keep it.

So I had to play mind games again. I had to decide that beating the game 40 times was more than enough, and that I should just play for fun. I relaxed into it. I went to the office to play pinball, not to run up the win count.

And it worked! I didn’t play as often, but I had more fun playing. There was still the drive to try to beat the machine, but just for the fun of it, not because I wanted my win count to increase.

So I got another couple of months out of MM, but gradually I got to the point where I was only playing about twice a week. At that point it didn’t seem to make sense to keep renting it, and Suzie saw in my face that it was time to let the game go.

Do I want a Pinball Machine?

I often get asked what machine I would like to own. And people always seem to be surprised when I say that I don’t want to own my own machine. I was wondering if renting MM was going to change my mind.


For me, I have goals when I play pinball. I am not just flipping. I am planning. What do I want to do next. What is the next thing I am shooting for. Where am I going in the game.

Normally it works out like this. First I need to get an extra game, because that lets me play longer on my available money. Then I want to get to the wizard mode. Then I want to get the grand champion (GC).

If I were to own a game (or even if I am playing where the machines are on free play), that first goal is gone. And strangely a lot of the intensity over how I play goes away. It is almost a different game.

Here’s an example. I own a pinball machine. I have 45 minutes to play pinball. It takes about a half an hour to get to the machine’s wizard mode. I have a crappy first ball. Do I play ball two, or hold down the start button and reset to ball one? Maybe. Now same situation but I am at a bar paying a buck a game. No way in hell! I am fighting tooth and nail to make that replay score! And if I can keep winning games for the next 45 minutes and never get close to the wizard mode, it is time well spent!

But renting a machine during the pandemic was absolutely perfect! The pandemic was a special situation. I couldn’t go out and play on location. The Pacific Pinball Museum isn’t open. I couldn’t go visit friends with machines to get my pinball fix. So the rental might have saved my sanity!

A few details:

Approximately 1500 games played! A couple of weeks before TJ took the game away the high scores reset, and he said the auto-reset occurred at 1500 games. I played a lot of the games, but Suzie and our patients accounted for a bunch.

My grand champion score was 599,140,480! Good enough for 5th on the Pindigo global list! My second highest score, 598M, was hours before TJ took the game away. On both games I looked up and saw I was close to breaking 600M, and of course I drained immediately!

I was King of the Realm 59 times! Once I was the King of the Realm twice in the same game. After that my (totally unreasonable) goal became trying to beat the game three times in the same game!

And yes I am a timelord in addition to the King of the Realm!

A Strange Medieval Madness Tip

I still love MM. I still think it is one of the greatest games ever. And it even showed me that you can always learn something new.

Medieval Madness is nearly perfect. In my opinion there is only one flaw. When the right troll is up, the ball can get stuck behind it. Like really stuck. No shaking short of a massive tilt will get the ball out.

In most situations the machine can compensate for the problem with a ball check. You just have to wait enough time without hitting switches, and then it will raise and lower the drawbridge and trolls to free stuck balls. It might mean you don’t get to complete trolls, but usually it isn’t a big deal.

It is a problem when you are in Royal Madness and especially when you are Battling for the Kingdom. Royal Madness has a 20 second time limit between making lit shots, so if you are already short on time the ball check might not be fast enough and it could cost you the completion extra ball. Even worse, when you are down to single ball play while Battling for the Kingdom you only have a 10 second timer. There is nothing worse than getting to the wizard mode and failing because the ball got stuck behind the troll! It is also the reason why I always try to have two troll bombs before starting Battle for the Kingdom.

So here is the tip (and the lesson I learned). Keep the keys in the coin door lock!

Five months into the rental I was Battling for the Kingdom. I had no troll bombs, so both trolls were up. I am down to one ball and of course the ball gets stuck behind the right troll!

Usually I try to shake it out and resign myself to failure, but this time I immediately decided to try to get the ball unstuck by opening the game and taking off the glass. I turned the key and opened the coin door. (Experienced pinball owners might already know what happened). I was shocked when the flippers went dead and both trolls powered down and dropped back down into the playfield! The ball went live, I slammed the coin door closed, managed to save the ball before it drained, and completed the wizard mode!!!

So if you have access to the keys when playing MM, keep them in the lock in case you need to save yourself from the greedy right troll!

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

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