Written by robin, published July 25th, 2008. 13 comment(s).
In this second story in our series about gambling and pinball (here is the first one), Pinside.com will tell you why you won't need to learn poker strategy to play a poker themed pinball machine. We'll have a look at poker in general, the poker community and the popularity of the poker theme in Pinball.
In the last four decades, starting in the mid-seventies, the game of poker went through a series of developments which lead to poker becoming far more popular than it previously was. Mind you, the game of poker has been around since the 15th century, but it took 400 years to become the worlds most favourite card gambling game.
Another reason for poker being such a popular and social game must have been the 'invention' of the poker variants with open cards such as Seven-Card Stud. In these poker types players are able to see parts of their opponents’ holdings and don’t have to guess, by just examining physical tells, what they are up against.
Shortly after World War II, community card poker was invented in which one or more of the cards are dealt face up and shared by all players. The most popular poker variant today, "Texas Hold'Em Poker", has no less than 5 of these community cards.
If we look at poker in pinball we have to go back in time, way back, to the first pinball machines. The early thirtees. A pure mechanical Bagatelle game with the name "Poker Ball" was released. You had to plunge balls into one of the 56 holes and make the best poker hand. Exciting? It must have been back then.
Want flippers? The next game we take a look at, was built 20 years later. "Poker Face" had a rather wacky theme: Native Americans playing Poker. Now how do you come up with THAT? The playing fields shows the happy bunch puffin' away while one of them makes card symbol shaped smoke signals. The lovely lady here on the left was the backglass' main attraction but she seems to be havin' a good hand as well. Or is that her poker face?
The first solid state pinball featuring the poker theme, "Poker Plus", was built in 1978. The game had an incredible single popbumper and overall a rather dull layout. The coolest thing about it is probably the card symbols laid out over the playfield and the two women in space suits (who seem complete lost) flanking the slingshots. Not particularly the most enticing pin ever built, but I had to mention it since it was the first solid state poker pin and to show the huge difference with two other poker games that came out that year, from Gottlieb and Williams.
Joker Poker first came out as an EM game but was then also produced as a SS version. More than 9000 games were produced and the game was full with features.
For starters, it did something new, which we would see in many more poker pins to follow: card symbols on drop targets. And this game has loads of them! There's one bank of 5 drop targets (four aces and a joker, making a "Joker Poker"), a bank with four kings, a bank with three queens, a bank with two clubs and one single drop target representing a 10 of hearts. 15 drop targets all in all. But did Gottlieb built the best poker themed pin that year?
The last manufacturer that year to build a poker pinball was Williams. Their "Pokerino" looks a lot more mature in it's artwork, which was done by Constantino Michell, and has the most advanced game layout. The game is a wide-body game with two pairs of in-line flippers (double action flippers) which always make for hilarious gameplay. The Steve Kordek design had only 1500 units built but remains a much sought after game, partly due to the poker theme and the girls that hide behind the various card symbols on the playfield. Beautiful!
Another Williams pin, "Alien poker", is a very different piece of work compared to the colored cheerful nature of Pokerino. The playfield is darker and features some less attractive figures in its center. Ugly bigheaded aliens. Yuk! Some of the unsexiest females in pinball artwork live in this machine and that is not a compliment. Never played this one, too scared to do so (just kidding).
A totally different (and more fitting to poker) is the wild wild west based "Pistol Poker". This was the last game from manufacturer Alvin G. that made it to production and a mere 200 units were ever built. This is the first poker themed pinball machine with a Dot Matrix screen but I don't know how this was put to use. The game featured some great cartoonish artwork on the playfield, with lots of details everywhere you look. I personally love the crazy donkey, the wanted posters and the card playing bunch of cowboys who can be seen depicted near the jet bumpers. And what about that backbox? Alvin G. was the only manufacturer to ever figure out that not all pinball machines have their backbox placed flat against a wall and decided to do artwork on that side of the cabinet as well.
What can I say about "World Poker Tour"? Stern already did a gambling theme in their 2001 pin "High Roller Casino" which made it into part one of "Gambling and Pinball". And now, thanks to this 2006 machine, we'll finish the story with them again. This game has the most in depth implementation of the poker rules of any of the games featured in this article. Not too strange considering the possibilities of our modern time and Sterns brand new S.A.M. system, introduced with this machine.
WPT features two poker games: the immensily popular Texas Hold'Em and the slighly old-fashioned 5 card stud. Feature-wise the game is not overloaded, but definately the most complex of the bunch. We have a mini playfield with mini flippers, a secondary dot matrix in the center of the playfield and a whopping 16 drop targets with which you can make card combinations. Gary Stern says, "I remember card themed pinball machines of decades ago. It was always fun to make hands by knocking down drop targets. We modernized that concept by adding today's popular Texas Hold 'Em".
So there you have it. A whole history of poker inside a history of pinball. Personally, my money would be on the Stern machine because I think that a game such as poker deserves a deep rulesheet. Sterns WPT delivers in this aspect. But like I said when we started: you won't need to learn any poker strategy to play these games!
Yeah, I know I could have written about Data East's 1994 "Maverick", but decided that enough has been written about this game already. I could also have mentioned "Play poker with Ryker" video mode from "Star Trek The Next Generation" or maybe the Poker Night video mode from "Champion Pub" but I didn't have more time nor did I have any more space on this already way to long page. Sorry.
The last story in our series "Gambling and pinball" is about... Slot machines!