2 Years in the hobby, 10 more lessons learned.
Year 2 update:
Whelp, I’ve been in the hobby 2 years now this July and have completely fallen off of the deep end into pinball. I have some more lessons learned to add to the year one list, but just wanted to say pinball is more fun than ever and pinside is awesome! Thanks mods for running the site and thanks internet strangers for helping me fix machines.
Summer 2019 to Summer 2020 lessons learned:
1.Decorating your arcade is a blast! My arcade wall is decorated with pinball backglasses, playfields, movie posters, and some paintings my dad did back in the day. As more and more people get repro backglasses and playfields to put in their games, there are plenty of nice, but flawed backglasses that can be gotten relatively cheap as wall hangers. Same thing with playfields. I’ve even done 2 for 1 trades to get original backglasses back into pins (traded my blackout glass for a seawitch and flight 2000). I really don’t care for the play of old E.M.s and early S.S., but really dig a lot of the art work. Look through the “let’s see pictures of game rooms” if you want some great ideas.
2. Good lighting is amazing… in the arcade. When I first had my basement finished, I put in recessed lighting spotlights. When one of these is on over your machine, it’s like staring into the sun. However, playing with the lights off is almost unworkable with some older machines. I installed some LED tapelights around the top edge of my walls in my arcade and hooked them up to some smart plugs. There is now nice even lighting coming from all directions into my pins. If they are bothering me, I can turn them on or off with my voice while playing a game. For less than the price of a set of pinstadiums I have nice even lighting throughout my arcade. There are several threads on pinside with much more advanced lighting setups. I’d highly recommend flipping through those if you are building an arcade room from the ground up.
3. Get a MAME/Multicade/60 in 1. Seriously, they are less than the cost of the vast majority of pins and nearly as fun. People get nit-picky on emulation, but you can get a really nice 60 in 1 machine in a Galaga, Pacman, Donkey Kong, or similar cabinet brand new for around $1000. I had a converted Arcade 1-up with 20,000 games on it I bought (and sold) on facebook for around $600. I currently have a full on MAME cabinet set up with every game made for every system before 2005. Every arcade, Nintendo, Playstation… you name it, I’ve got it. It’s so much fun to dig through that and re-discover old games. I put a different game on there for my kids to find and explore almost every day. 1 day it’s Galaga, the next Super Mario brothers 3, the next it’s missile command. I could play 5 games a day for the rest of my life and not even see ½ of what’s on there. You will find that many guests will be just as happy playin Dig-Dug or Street Fighter 2. They make great decorations and I cannot recommend them enough. With all the options, I keep coming back to classic 80s games so to me a 60 in 1 in a cool cabinet is almost 90% as good as the most high end MAME setup.
4. A 30 year old game can be just as reliable as a brand new one. The most reliable game I have ever owned was Medieval Madness (CGC) AFM (CGC), Whirlwind, followed by Taxi, followed by Fish Tales, followed by Stern Star Trek. The least reliable game I have ever owned is Star Trek: TNG, followed by The Hobbit, followed by Stern Jurassic Park Pro. All games will require some maintenance, but don’t be afraid of buying an older game. It is my experience that it really doesn’t matter how old a game is, it’s the number of mechanical do-dads that dictate how reliable a machine is going to be… With that said, I’ve replaced all the coil stops in my semi new JP Pro and am dealing with pooling issues around some posts. There are a few games that can be gotten for a lower price simply because of how difficult they are to keep running. I’m looking at you ST:TNG. Seriously, cut your teeth on something easy before getting one. I feel like mine is reliable but every time I think I have everything fixed something else breaks.
5. Who cares what everyone else thinks about a specific pinball machine. I love the Avengers Pinball Machine. It’s what got me back into pinball. I love the South Park machine. I enjoy (but don’t love) the Munsters. If it’s fun to you, and other’s hate it, that just gives you a chance to get the game a bit cheaper. The machines I got the most enjoyment from in the past few years are DE Jurassic Park and Last Action Hero. Those are really loaded. They are not classic Bally Williams and the Art Package is ugly, but they are so much fun and totally loaded. With that said, you can usually tell if a game is good or bad based off of pinside ratings before playing, but if your experience does not match the overall rating, as long as you are buying to keep a while it doesn’t really matter.
6. Pinside ratings are skewed towards games geared toward better players. Pinside is awesome, and full of pinball fanatics. Pinball fanatics tend to be pretty good at pinball. Pretty good pinball players can blow through the Munsters in 1 ball. I can’t. Pinball fanatics can enjoy how deep TSPP is and play 45 minute games. I still can’t get past Alien Invasion. Pinside fanatics can enjoy all the dinosaurs and wizard modes on Jurassic Park, I can’t. I have come to realize that how deep the code is doesn’t really matter if you are not great, so just go with a game that is fun. I’ve beat Deadpool, World Cup Soccer, Medieval Madness, and a few more, but there are some games like JP, TSPP, Hobbit, and most newer games on standard settings. I have learned to enjoy games with more depth early in the game.
7. If you can’t enjoy the game because you only see the first half… change the settings! Put your JP Pro and TSPP on 5 ball so you can see more of the game! If your games are too short, close up the outlanes! We’re not all pinball wizards, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have fun. If it’s your game, play it the way you want to. After you get a bit better, close things up, turn off the extra balls, and change it back to 3 ball. It’s your game, have fun with it. I’ve gotten better over time but am still no where close to the high scores at the local arcade.
8. Pinball designers have their own style. 2 flipper games play different than 3+ flipper games. Different era’s of pins play differently. An EM is completely different than a SS. A DMD game plays completely differently than an Alpha Numeric. Modern games with LCD screens have tremendous depth. Wide bodies play different than narrow bodies. Different brands just play differently. You won’t know what you like best until you play it. Steve Ritchie, Pat Lawlor, Scott Danesi, Brian Eddy, and Keith Johnson are my favorite. If my collection were static, I’d have one from each designer and one from each decade. If your favorite game is Stern Monopoly by Pat Lawlor, you will probably like his other games and should try out Whirlwind and Twilight Zone. If you find one game you particularly like, try the other games by that same designer and you will probably like it. Same holds true to a lesser extent for manufacturer and game era. Over time I have come to the realization that I like games with sideramp shots and extra flippers. Find what you like, but keep variety if you have the space and budget.
9. Rebuild your flippers, replace your rubbers, and clean/wax your playfield. Most games that I’ve looked at and played in local arcades, and many of those rotating through my basement needed some basic maintenance. My ST:TNG, and Whirlwind both had anemic 3rd flippers that rarely made it up the ramp when I first got them. Do you know how much more fun those games are with the 3rd flipper shots working? Flipper rebuild kits run around $40. The first time you do it may take a few hours, but once you have it figured out a rebuild will take 45 minutes. Strong flippers are awesome. Fast playing games are awesome. Clean playfields are beautiful and play so much better. Watch some youtube tutorials. If you are thinking about trading out some of your lineup, get your game working super good first. Not only will you be able to re-fall in love with your game, if you do end up letting it go you can get more for it when you sell it. Selling a dirty pin is like selling a dirty car, a little work up front will go a long way. As an aside, make a good ad, throw up some good videos, you’ll get more offers. Look at my past ads for examples.
10. Go to a pinball show! Listen to a pinball podcast! Watch a pinball Youtube Video! Go to a different arcade! There is so much more to pinball than just playing. Listening to a pinball podcast every once in a while is fun to hear the hype train about what pins are coming out. Watching a good player on youtube can teach you things about your game, and watching Todd Tuckey walk through games for sale can teach you a lot of things in general about pins. There are so many different personalities on different platforms that there is bound to be someone interesting to you. I also can’t recommend the PAPA pin tutorials enough. I am lucky enough that I have several arcades within an hour or so of me and can try out different games at different locations. It is amazing to me that even the same game at a different location can play completely different. I thought Twilight Zone was terrible until I played a good one. But above all, if you can, go to a pinball show (when they open again). I have my fingers crossed for York. If you go to a show the odds are you will see something new to you. I never would have even taken a second look at a Baywatch Pinball machine if I hadn’t seen one at a show (they’re awesome!). So many parts, new and used, so many wall hangers to pick up. If you are into competition they usually have options, and it’s a great place to meet other pinball people. Allentown and York are the only one’s I’ve been to and I can’t recommend them enough. The good deals tend to go fast at these shows, but they are a great place to “trade pins” in the parking lots. Bring a pin to free-play if you can. I’m going to bring an A-list game to the next pinball show I make it to.
Here is to another fun year of pinball!
It has been 1 year since I got my first pinball machine, a World Cup Soccer. In the past year I have bought/sold 11 other games, and have learned a lot in the process. I currently have a Star Trek:TNG, White Water, and Fish Tales. In the past year, I have learned a lot which I would like to pass on below.
Games I’ve Owned- World Cup Soccer 94, Attack From Mars Remake (SE), Stern Star Trek Pro, DE Jurassic Park, The Hobbit, Last Action Hero, Pinbot (x2), Big Guns, Star Trek: TNG, White Water, and Fish Tales
1. Not everything machine needs to be a fully restored masterpiece to be fun. My first machine was a World Cup Soccer 94. I LED’d it out, fixed some ramps, replaced the beat up legs, polished it up and it looked fantastic. These all added to the value of the game, made it play better, and were worthwhile investments. I also spent around $100 changing out the coin mechs and sinage on the front from Deutschmark to Quarters… I’m never going to route it. Educational and fun, but a complete waste of time and money in hindsight.
2. If you are going to LED a machine, replace the rubbers at the same time. LEDing a machine and replacing rubbers is relatively easy. If you can use a screwdriver and remember how you took it apart, you can change rubbers and put it back together. That World Cup Soccer has 2 giant ramps that are a pain to get in and out. I disassembled them to do the LED job, and then 1 month later I disassembled them to do the rubbers. It might have taken me an extra 5 minutes to do them at the same time, but I ended up adding 3 hours to the task for not planning properly.
3. Rebuild your flippers! If you buy a machine and the ball isn’t making it up the ramps consistently, rebuild your flippers. You don’t need a new coil, and the parts to do it aren’t bad ~$50 a machine. Along with new rubbers and playfield wax, this is an amazing way to rejuvenate the machine and speed up gameplay.
4. Pinside Rank isn’t everything. Out of everything I’ve owned, I would rank them in the following order from best to worst. White Water, Attack From Mars, Fish Tales, Jurassic Park, Star Trek: TNG World Cup Soccer 94, Last Action Hero, Stern Star Trek, Pinbot, Hobbit, Big Guns. Don’t get me wrong, all of these are fun games, but I’ve been surprised. I can honestly say that I’d rather own a Pinbot than a Hobbit, and would rather own a Fish Tales or Last Action Hero than a Stern Star Trek. Now don’t get me wrong, the top 100 is the top 100 for a reason, but your tastes are unique to you. As I have played more I have realized I like games with simpler rules that play fast than more complicated rulesets. Fish Tales, White Water, World Cup Soccer, and Attack From Mars can all be fun and quick players. It used to take me 45 minutes to play a game of the Hobbit and I’m not that good. I have found that my favorite games are the early 90s DMD games with simpler rules. At the moment, World Cup Soccer, Fish Tales, and White Water are probably my favorite.
5. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty with light board work. I have been able to get all of my machines 100% up and working with the exception of buying a non-working pinbot that had the wrong replacement MPU board in it. Replacing rubbers, retrofitting LEDs, and rebuilding flippers isn’t that bad as discussed above. However, more complicated problems are rarely that bad. Most issues I’ve had have been related to the old incandescent bulbs drawing a ton of power and burning out the GI connectors or something similar on the boards. When you switch out to LEDs, this problem mostly goes away. However, I have been able to diagnose most board problems between the manual and visual inspection. This switch isn’t registering? Where do the wires go and why does that look burnt? Soldering isn’t that hard and the basics can be learned within 20 minutes on youtube. It has been my experience that it’s always a bad connector, broken wire at a pinch point, or if it is something broken on a board, can be visually identified and fixed. I still haven’t actually had to use my multi-meter to fix anything.
6. You really can buy and sell pinball machines fairly easily. Moving them is a pain, but you can get a machine, play it non-stop for a few months, then sell it for about what you paid for it plus what you have in it. I currently have 3, but have bought and sold 9 others in the past year. Not counting travel time and labor I have in them I am up $435 between all of those transactions. I’m not ripping anyone off either.
7. You will have a bad time selling your game if you don’t put in the effort to make a good ad. Seriously people, post 40 pictures, give an honest accounting of everything that works and doesn’t work on your machine, and put up a few youtube videos. You’ll get more attention, inquiries, and people will be willing to drive from farther away because they already know the condition of your machine. Here is one of my ads. https://pinside.com/pinball/market/classifieds/archive/82280 I have sold every machine I have listed within a week. If it’s not selling, drop the price a bit every day or two until it sells.
8. Don’t buy a game in person without full inspection. The one time I feel like I got screwed was when I bought a Hobbit. I drove 3 hours to pick it up, and when I got there the seller had “conveniently” wrapped it up for me. I made him unwrap it and set it down for a quick test (no legs) It was borderline unplayable without the incline but looked okay. I got it home and low and behold the Dragon doesn’t fully work. A new one can be purchase for just… $600. I’ve never bought a machine and had it shipped, but I’d insist on a video at a minimum.
9. Don’t be afraid of commercial establishments. Yes, buying NIB is expensive and not a good idea if you trade out your machines every few months. Yes, buying a refurbished machine is also not a good idea going by that same logic unless you are after a long term keeper. However, there are many deals hidden between other machines at commercial establishments. I got my White Water this weekend from TNT amusements bargain basement. It was cheaper than any other White Water for sale on pinside or Facebook at the time of purchase. They also did the battery off-set, reflowed the solder in the backbox, and put in new capacitors in and the like.
10. Find pinball friends and do temporary trades. I’m lucky. There are over 150 pinball machines in the DC/Baltimore area at commercial establishments. There are 3 different pinball leagues. I am doing my first temporary trade this month trading my Star Trek TNG for my friends Metallica LE. After a few months, assuming all is good we will likely do another temporary trade of his LOTR or JJP Pirates for my White Water. We both go through machines quickly so hopefully this will allow us to both have new (to us games) without doing as many trades and drives.
Overall, I’ve had a ton of fun playing pinball over the past year, and being able to do it at home while the kids are asleep without taking away family time has been amazing. I’ll be doing the Pinball leagues when the kids are a little older. I think I’ve had just as much fixing up machines, buying, selling, and trading as I have had playing pinball.