Review of D&D Pinball - Tucson, AZ

By Ramtuathal

August 01, 2015


5 years ago

My wife and I took a mini-vacation from the sweltering bustle of Phoenix metro and headed down to Tombstone, AZ in early June, 2015. On the way, we stopped in Tucson, AZ and we visited D&D Pinball.

I had called ahead several weeks prior just to get the scoop on D&D in case I ever ended up in Tucson. When I was informed that D&D used the pay-for-play model that we are all used to from the old days, I was disappointed. I'll admit that I've been spoiled by places like Replay Amusement Museum in FL, The Game Preserve in TX, and StarFighters in AZ  (my home arcade) because they use a cover charge / all games on free play model. So when D&D's representative told me I had to plunk a bunch of quarters into the machines to play, I was hesitant to check the place out (okay, okay... I feigned hesitancy briefly, but there was no question about whether or not I would go if I had the chance).

D&D is located in a well-trafficked area of Tucson near the University of Arizona. While the main strip seemed like a bit of a touristy / college town party area, D&D is far enough away from the late night shenanigans to feel cozy. When we arrived, the large garage door that serves as the main door for customers was wide open, and the chimes, bells, and call-outs served as a beacon to pinheads - beckoning to anyone with silverball fever (and cash in the wallet).

There is a change machine on location, and most games were anywhere from $0.50 - $0.75 per play (3 balls for most), but bring cash or the ATM that is outside will ding you for a few bucks (unless you're a customer of whatever bank operates that ATM).

The machines were well-maintained and the space was clean and inviting. I liked the wide open doors and the come-and-go as you please atmosphere that D&D has. You could just be walking by, swing in, drop a few quarters in a machine, play, and walk out without any stress - if you can play just a few games. I played 90% of the games and stayed for two and half hours.

I tried out Freddy: A Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time (but it didn't leave a strong enough impression on me to rate it yet) and some old favorites like X-Men (pro), Haunted House, and TZ (while it was up). Even though I cringed when I stuck $0.75 in a game that I'd never played before, I enjoyed the laid back experience I had on the machines at D&D. There is a mini-lounge area in the front, which my wife tried out extensively while I darted around collecting pinball experiences, and the staff were informative when approached and non-intrusive.

If I had any complaints about D&D, it would be the pay-for-play model. I saw many potential pinball enthusiasts come in, drop $3.00 or so in the machines, and walk out. I could tell that many of the customers were new to pinball (by age alone, by how long each ball lasted, by how they walked away after getting a match replay, by how they started 2-player games but didn't alternate, by how they had no idea how to control a ball, by how they flinched when my knocker went off... okay, that last one is just me bragging), and these new players were not being encouraged to try new games, read the apron cards, figure out the rules, or to really enjoy playing pinball. Now, if I had a pinball location - not an FEC or an old smelly dive bar - but a location dedicated to pinball like D&D is, I'd have staff out roaming the floor, educating customers and encouraging them to try new machines. That's why I'm a fan of the cover charge / free play model in the first place.

Pinball seems to be trending upwards in popularity as I write this, but I think it will just be part of the main cyclical "retro" fads that come and go if locations and operators don't take a more active approach to educating their customers. Sure, there were elements of the pay-for-play that I liked - mostly the freedom to come and go whenever, whereas the cover charge models keep the customers tied to the location (somewhat). But, even if the pay-for-play model is more profitable for operators in the short run, I think the cover charge / free play model will be the one that gives pinball joints and old school arcades a legitimate foothold in the entertainment market. Ultimately, the pay-for-play model seems to be regurgitating a model that we have seen fail - so whatever benefits that model gives to the customers, it seems that it is still not a sustainable model for operators.

To sum up, D&D is a fine location, with well-maintained machines and a nice staff. I've added my two cents here on how I think they could improve and strengthen the longevity of the business. I'm sure there are disadvantages for operators in the cover charge / free play model that I'm not seeing - but of the places I've been that use that model, they continue to grow and thrive just as well as pay-for-play business (in my anecdotal, off the cuff analysis). It's worth it for anyone in the area, or for anyone visiting Tucson, to check out D&D - and when you go, ask them when they will be switching to a cover charge model.

Story photos

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Comments

4 years ago
Enjoyed this report. Go Cats!
4 years ago
D&D is a great spot for pinball in Arizona. It's in a really nice location in downtown Tucson. I met the owners who were super friendly and had a blast playing in their arcade. Had so much fun, I had to buy a T-shirt!
4 years ago
I enjoy the detail, but disagree about the umbrage you take with the 'pay for play' model. I think a cover charge dissuades the passers-by. Then, they have to 'make an afternoon' of it, by playing for awhile to get their monies' worth. As it is, they can play two games for a buck, and leave.
That said, I love D&D and it's owners, Robert and Constance.

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