Belated Review of Zapcon 3.0 (2015) - Mesa, AZ

By Ramtuathal

July 11, 2015

5 years ago

Zapcon is a two-day pinball and arcade event held in the Phoenix metro area. I only attended Zapcon 3.0 (2015) for one of the two days (on 04/18/15), but I thought I'd give a quick review of the event as I experienced it so other pinheads in the area not in the know can be in the know for 2016. I'll preface this story by saying that I am not a representative of the event - I'm just a guy who likes pinball and wants to give Zapcon some good press in the Pinside Community.

Sure, the event was three months ago now, but I remember it like one remembers first seeing the Grand Canyon. For $25, I gained access to a huge selection of pins and a moderate selection of coin-op arcade games for an entire day (it was $40 for both days). All the games were set to Free Play, and most of the machines were well maintained (the magna flip on TZ even worked... a few times) and in good working order.

The previous Zapcon event - Zapcon 2014 (2.0) - was held in a hotel in downtown Phoenix. The placement of the machines there was split between two floors and several different conference / banquet rooms. And, I'm not joking, the players were sharing space with a high school prom that was taking place in the same hotel the night I was there. Not ideal.

Zapcon 3.0 made up for its awkward earlier version by being held in the easy-to-get-to, free-to-park-at Mesa Convention Center. The machines had gobs of square footage all to themselves, and the players could move about freely and play actively.

When I first walked in, I saw the cabinet art of some version of X-Men staring right at me. I go back and forth about whether I actually like to play the X-Men pinball machine, but I'm a fan of comics, especially the X-Men, so I'm always willing to overlook a vaguely communicated ruleset and weird callouts for a beloved theme. I jumped in and started playing right away.

As I worked my way down the line, I hit up Dr. Who, an Indiana Jones, Black Knight 2000 and finally I landed on AC/DC and stayed for a while. It was my first time playing AC/DC, and I was determined to get to the lower (sub?) playfield, but it never happened. I've played AC/DC since and it seems like I land in that lower playfield just by a skill shot or something, so maybe the machine at Zapcon 3.0 wasn't 100% - no idea. Still, it was a lot of fun. I also played Judge Dredd for the first time and I was instantly sure that it was a personal top 5 game.

I played and played and played until my carpal tunnel started to act up, then I played some more (play through the pain!). While I was partially motivated to pop the start buttons more than 50 times (assuming the games would have costed $0.50 per play) so I could say I got my money's worth, I was mostly motivated to continue playing for nine and a half hours because there were so many titles there that I don't regularly have a chance to play. Here's a shaky video I shot of some of the pins there (warning: you might need a Dramamine - I'm not a videographer).

I didn't count the machines, but if I had to guess I'd say there were more than 60 but less than 100. I know, that's a wide margin, but I wasn't there to write a review, I was there to play. I'd also estimate that roughly 15% of the pins or less were EM machines, so set your expectations for Zapcon 4.0 (2016) appropriately if you care about the era of the machines you play. There were several duplicates of some pins, like Tron, BK2K, and a few others - but most were singletons.

The organizers held a pinball tournament as well, but I don't think it was IFPA sanctioned - again - if you care about that sort of thing (and I might be wrong about that too). I didn't enter the tournament, mostly because I already know that I play pinball like a constantly lucky plumber; I always end up with a quick drain. The twelve-year-olds playing in the tourney could probably beat me with their toes, so I just skipped around, playing whatever piqued my interest.

I do have one critical remark for the event: There was no (real) food available. They did set up a lounge with beverages (adult beverages, even), but I ended up leaving for 30 - 40 minutes in the middle of the day to get fast food a few blocks away (as far as I know, there's nothing within quick walking distance of the convention center). Maybe everyone else wasn't as determined to stay and play as I was, but I really didn't want to leave for food. In fact, if I had the time, I would have bought the two-day pass and been there from open to close both days. So, unless you hear otherwise about food, pack a lunch and some energy bars if you want to go full hog like I did.

Overall, Zapcon 3.0 was a great experience. I would highly recommend all local and semi-local pinball players attend next year for at least one day. Right now, the dates for Zapcon 4.0 (2016) are tentatively (?) set for April 17 & 18. I'm hoping that the move to the Mesa Convention Center sticks, and I'm also hoping that positive reviews like this one will bring out more game owners and volunteers.

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