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Table games related to pinball have been around since before the 18th century. These classic ball games developed into electronic masterpieces with hundreds of game types and designs to choose from, giving us the pinball machines we know now. Then, as the arcade scene began to rise in the 30s and beyond, pinball play became quite the art and led to numerous competitions worldwide.
Does pinball require skill? Yes and no. If you simply want to play at a pinball machine for fun, little to no skill is required. However, if you plan to compete in pinball competitions, immense skill is required. There is always a slight element of luck involved, but as a player’s skill and consistency improve, the luck factor becomes almost irrelevant.
If you’ve ever played pinball, you’ll know that sometimes it just seems like the luck of the ball being pinged in the right direction. Well, to some players, luck has nothing to do with it. To be an elite pinball player, you’re likely in the top 100 in all worldwide competitions. Now, those players did not get there overnight; it took hours of table time and uncanny skill to achieve their level of gameplay.
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Does Pinball Require Skill?
If you’re just going to a barcade or run across a pinball machine in town and play for fun, then you’re likely to realize that pinball is a lot harder than it looks. To be good at any game, it requires some level of skill and takes practice. Some players have a natural talent when it comes to pinball, but that alone won’t win them any high-level competitions.
To start, master pinball players must first acquire the skill of aim and single flapper hits. Beyond those obvious skills, the list of moves and special tricks is seemingly endless. Players find their way with consistent gameplay and by watching players that are better than them.
Beyond skill, there is a need for knowledge. There are thousands of different pinball games in the world today. That means thousands of scenarios and boards to understand and maneuver through. That in itself takes time to get to know the intricacies of each game and its new set of rules.
Skill vs. Luck
Many of the master pinball players will argue that it is all skill. However, on certain game boards, luck does play a role. You can’t bank a successful pinball career off of luck, but it should always be considered.
For novice players, luck will play a larger component in their game. As they become more skilled, the amount of luck that they need to have a good game will taper off. Experts from the International Flipper Pinball Association estimate that pinball gameplay is at least 80% skill and 20% luck.
This may be because many of their top players consistently dominate scoreboards around the world. Their skills and consistency outweigh any luck involved. It not only takes a quick reaction time and good aim, but also mental stamina and knowledge of pinball games.
Skills the Top Pinball Players All Have
When it comes to being in the international top 100 of pinball champions consistently, there are some mad skills to consider. Not all top players will be the best at all of these skills, but each player has strengths that carry them to high scores.
Some of the most common gameplay skills include:
- Aim: This is the first skill that any pinball player will want to learn. It requires that you wait until the ball is on a particular part of the flapper before you make your hit. This allows you to send the ball to the area you are aiming for versus just hitting it around the board.
- Single Flipper Hit: Most inexperienced pinball players will naturally perform a double flapper hit. This can be dangerous because if the ball is near the tip of either flapper, it can come into contact with both and be sent down the middle. Learning to hit just the intended flapper is a part of learning to aim.
- Backhand: A less accurate way to make a movement towards a specific goal. If you are unable to hit the ball with an intended flipper, then players will use the opposite flipper to attempt to make the move. This is less accurate and less powerful, but it can sometimes save the game in a pinch.
- Hold Trap: A basic form of trapping the ball to get it out of the movement for a period to time. You hold the ball in an upraised flipper until you are ready for it to enter the game again.
- Slap Save: This is a basic skill used to save a ball when it is nearing the center drain. It requires you to first hit the flipper that the ball will reach first and then the other flipper. This quick movement may roll the ball just enough to set it up for a shot with the second flipper.
- Up Push: Considered the most basic form of nudging. It allows you to recover from a slingshot. Basically, you push up on the front of the machine with both hands. It is recommended that you use the heel of your hands when doing this. This will change the ball direction just enough to recover from the slingshot.
- Bounce Pass: This involves the use of both flippers for one ball. If your ball is headed towards the unintended flipper and you want a better chance, you can bounce the ball off of the first flipper to the second. This gives you a better shot.
- Shaking or Nudging: Both of these movements are an effort for the player to gain more control over the ball. Basically, it involves the player physically nudging or shaking the machine in order to redirect the ball.
- Redirection: This dangerous technique is used by experienced players when a target is missed. In order to prevent the ball from a drain, the player will hit the ball straight away with no control technique. There is still some aim involved in this but you must react fast.
Multi-Ball skills will include many of the same skills as above but they will also include:
- Detaining: This sends one or more balls into long, time-consuming ramps. This allows you a little extra time to focus on other actions with the rest of the balls in play.
- Escaping a Multi trap: Only occurs when you have two or more balls trapped. Use the flapper they are trapped on very quickly. This fast motion will cause one ball to slingshot out of the trap.
- Trap and Play: When you want to make a Jackpot shot, you sometimes want an unobstructed field of play. Do this by trapping one ball with a flapper and sending the other ball for the next Jackpot.
- Billard Block: This can be used if you are already using the trap and play. If you see that your first ball is coming down the middle, you can use the trapped ball to knock it out of the way. This prevents either ball from going into the middle.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the skills top pinball players have. These are simply the most commonly used in gameplay. There are numerous skills that would take far too long to explain, and some of them, you just have to see to believe.
Here is a video of some other amazing techniques you can use to save the dreaded ball down the middle and ball down the side as well as many others tips and tricks.
All pinball competitions run relatively similarly, but some movements or “skills” are actually banned from tournaments. These rules are obviously discussed beforehand, and players usually play by the rules to avoid being disqualified.