It happened to me about 4 years ago at a little place called "Crabtowne USA, in Glen Bernie Maryland". My company office had moved, and it moved about 400 yards down the road from this place. When I drove by it, it had a sign up that said, "retro arcade". I love seafood, and after driving by it a couple of times I decided I had to check it out. I came back with the wife and (at the time) toddler that weekend. Survey says that was a mistake! Inside it had about 30 pinball machines and 50 retro arcade games. Games from the 70s to present. I was brought back to a childhood I spent largely at my parents amusement park, "Tropical Island Golf and Games Funpark". They not only had some great games I had played as a kid like Addams and ST:TNG, but a few newer pinball machines. I didn't know they still made them! I put a few quarters in ST:TNG and was hooked. I snuck into work a bit early for the next few months so I could leave a little early once a week or so and get my "fix" at Crabtowne (cough cough... still do) without affecting the family.
A year or so later I found out my company boss is a huge pinhead, and has a small collection of pins in his basement. People do that? And it's socially acceptable? Apparently it is where I work. The boss liked pins so much that when the company moved locations, he put a pin in his office, "The Avengers"! The one with a Hulk that broke all the time. It was on freeplay, and they had a company wide "pinball" contest that year on the machine. Only like 4 people really tried, but know that I had competition it was serious. I put a couple of hours a week on that pin for the year and realized that with time to explore a modern machine... things really opened up. I know some people rag on that machine, but it pushed me over the edge into the hobby.
The next year, the company went from an Avengers in the office to a Star Wars LE. Whoa what a change! I quickly discovered that a game can have the perfect theme but not scratch the itch (it was on early code that was never updated… didn’t know any better). I love the Star Wars game now, but at early launch it was wanting. About this time my wife and I were looking into getting the basement finished. I made a unilateral “agreement” that if we got the basement finished out we could put a pinball machine down there. I picked up my first pin, a World Cup Soccer 94 the day the painters left.
Holy crap, your own pin in the basement? This is awesome! I built up confidence on minor repairs, I did LEDs, fixed the motor, fixed the diverter, fixed the playfield lights that were out, and gained confidence as a tech. I discovered pinside and learned such basics as “how to raise the playfield!”. I played that and played that and played that until I got to beat Germany in the World Cup twice in one game. Then realized it was time to move on… This took… about 8 weeks. My wife wasn’t thrilled to see one go so fast because it was like throwing money away, but once I proved I could easily sell it and get my money back, the floodgates opened. I have slowly added more pins to my collection over the past 2 years… Well… actually pretty rapidly. My boss found out I was into pinball and gifted me an AFMr SE as a bonus… which was awesome! I traded, bought, sold, and added to the collection. I’ve rotated 25 pins through my basement in the past 2 years, and currently sit at 5 and a MAME.
I put more into it and could open it up to anything I wanted, it went from 1 to 5 machines as I slowly ate up space. I found that switching from asking just for cash, to asking for trades +/- cash with really good ads yielded up many more offers much quicker than just asking for cash and started to run a variety of machines through. I found that a variety of manufacturers, eras, and designers really change things up… shooting for different “styles” of games can be a lot of fun too. I found that 5 is a good number because it’s how much space I have, and I can generally keep the pins all working. I enjoy fixing them up and the pins that come through my basement always go out looking better than they came in.
I currently have 5 machines: A ST:TNG for a classic 90s “mode” based game, a TSPP for a game I’ll never beat that is super deep, an AFM for an objective based game, a TNA for a modern super fast game, and a Black knight for a classic 1980s game. You will notice that there is a game from the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s in there. I am always good with my collection until something good comes up for trade. I have not done the NIB thing buy will some day
Pinball opens up more and more the longer you are into it. I was only interested in the DMD games at first, but Deadpool really turned me onto the modern games, and the Hobbit blew me away with presentation. I started looking further back and had tons of fun with some system 11s. Whirlwind, High Speed, and Taxi all rotated through my basement and are solid recommendations. I recently jumped into the early Solid State with a 1980 Black Knight, but that’s as far back as I have gone.