Written by robin, published July 19th, 2008. 13 comment(s).
In this first story of a series of three on "gambling and pinball", we take a look at roulette themed pinball machines. From the early electro-mechanics to the recent Sterns, the game of roulette has always been a hot theme in pinball. We'll study 5 machines from different times to look for their "roulette wheel coolness". In our following series we will look at the influence poker games have had on the genre. Some forms of the game like Texas hold em have been so popular there are pinball machines dedicated to it.
Pinball and roulette are loosely related. This is not totally coincidental: although some of you may now flinch as I suggest this, I think there are loads of similarities between the two games, if you think about it: Both games revolve around a little ball, around luck, around skill, both have been banned at places around the world, both cost you money (well okay, roulette probably is the priciest of the two) and both games are highly addictive.
Roulette goes back more than three centuries (quoted from wikipedia):"The earliest description of the roulette game in its current form is found in a French novel 'La Roulette, ou le Jour' by Jaques Lablee, which describes a roulette wheel in the Palais Royal in Paris in 1796."
Pinball, and this will probably surprise you, has been around even longer than roulette, in the form of the game of Bagatelle (quoted from wikipedia):"The existence of table-based games dates back to the 15th century. While some games took the wickets and balls of Croquet and turned them into the pockets of modern billiards, some tables became smaller and had the holes placed in strategic areas in the middle of the table."
A roulette wheel assemly has a pretty cool nickname in pinball: The Captive Ball Spinner, invented by Norm Clark. The IPDB describes it pretty well:"A scoring device consisting of a large metal wheel and a small steel ball enclosed in an area not accessible by the ball in play. The wheel has small
Righty, enough for todays history lesson. Let's have alook at some pinball machines featuring roulette in one way or another:
We first find the Captive Ball Spinner on Williams 1966 electro-mechanic game "A-Go-Go". This game's theme has nothing to do with roulette but it is recognised as the first to feature a roulette wheel nonetheless.
A friend of mine has this game in his basement in great playing condition and the roulette feature is absolutely awesome. You keep wanting to get the ball-in-play in a saucer which activates the wheel. This can earn you anywhere from 50 to 500 points, the bonus or even an extra ball. Basically the whole game leans on the feature and strangely enough it doesn't get boring very quickly at all.
With a theme that's not really about gambling and a roulette wheel that really isn't a roulette wheel, but some credit for inventing the assembly of a "Captive Ball Spinner", we give this machine a "Roulette in Pinball" score of 7 out of 10 points.
On a side note: Gottliebs 1967 game "Super Score" must have been either an absolute rip-off of A-Go-go or an eerie coincident; It has the same assembly (obviously not properly patented by Williams) in the same location with just a slighly different layout. Hmm.
A game that does have a gambling theme (in fact its even located in one of Europe's finest casino sites) is Gottliebs 1987 "Monte Carlo". This four player game featured the great "10,000,000 Point Shot", a three ball multiball and ... a real roulette wheel! The wheel, numbered 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 00, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 is a bit smaller than the real deal (and should mathematically speaking) have had only one green area but it spins and it rattles and it's cool! The backglass also breathes roulette in every way, with some prominent very rich snobs and a red and green feel to it.
The roulette wheel is the real deal here and the snobs on the backglass are a great touch. We give this machine a "Roulette in Pinball" score of 9 out of 10 points!
It took Williams 5 years to realise the coolness of Gottliebs Monte Carlo. But when they did, they did well! "Millionaire" is a machine that I first played when it just came out (I was around 9 years old then) and still have some fond memories of. I vividly remember the Broadway lettering of the (sorry if the designer reads this) absolutely horrendous backglass. A limo, a guy with a cocktail, some snobby woman in a purple gown. A villa, a jet, a cliche everywhere you look.
The playfield, however is amazing! Everywhere you look are dollar bills and coins and in the centre.... A roulete wheel! This wheel does not have the cool numbering like the one on Monte Carlo, but the diamonds surrounding it partly make up for that. The text on the flyer is an hilarious example of some of Williams' best over-the-top marketing talk on a flyer and for that alone we must be gracious in our"Roulette in Pinball" score. The backglass does the rest for us: we give it 8 out of 10 points! You can "bank on that!"
Ah, only 3 years later and another roulette wheel meets the pinball machine: A full blown casino themed pin is "Riverboat Gambler", which is all about gambling and high stakes! This time though we see another wheel placement: up in the backbox. A wheel with 16 faces, 5 inches across, with alternating black and red (and two green) slices (but without numbers on them). Like in real roulette, the wheel in this game is totally, completely, shamelessly random. Yep: even the worst players could pontentially beat the best ones with this great 'feature': Unbalanced gameplay at its finest! There two great speech cues:"play roulette!" (female) and "play roulette for jackpot!" (male) that are just too cool not to mention here. All in all we give this machine a "Roulette in Pinball" score of 8 out of 10 points.
Sterns first roulette wheel in a pinball machine was on "High Roller Casino", a fun machine that is fully casino-themed. This game is cool for various reasons, but let's start with the ball plunging skillshot: it goes straight into the roulette wheel. Yeah you heard it! Prominently hovering over the upper right part of the playfield, like a UFO over -ahem- something, this is one fine contraption. Anyway, the game looks striking both on the out- and inside, the latter being absolute filled with casino gadgetery. You've got to see it to believe it, artist John Youssi must have made a small study about casino's to have come up with so many fitting elements. We'll be honest with you, if you love the gambling theme then you'll love this machine! The amount of time the plunged ball can stay in the roulette wheel is amazing. But also a bit too long sometimes. We give this machine a "Roulette in Pinball" score of 8.5 out of 10 points.
Okay, there you have it! 5 pinball machines featuring a roulette wheel - or to name it by its cooler name, a "Captive Ball Spinner".
The game with the most convincing wheel and therefore our winner is .... drum roll... "Monte Carlo"!
Did we miss a wheel? Are you in total dissagreement with our findings? Leave a comment below!
Next time we'll look at another gambling theme that is often found in pinball machines: Poker!