Quoted from MIpinhead:
Just a hypothetical question: if you had a shoestring budget of $1500, and could only own one machine, what would you look to buy? Ideally a machine that you can use to train for playing on more modern, fast paced games.
Apologies if this is a duplicate topic. It's late at night, I'm new to the community, and I'm feeling excited about pinball.
Welcome to the hobby. I suggest that you play a variety of games from each era. Perhaps there's a pinball expo, bowling alley or an arcade near you, with some machines?
There are many factors which fuel the choice of a machine. Do you like to tinker? If so, include electromechanical games among your choices. Don't let anyone try to convince you that EM games are slow and/or boring. I assure you that a dialed-in EM game is every bit as fun (or more fun) than a solid state game. My collection includes games from the 1930s to a 2013 Jersey Jack Wizard of Oz Emerald City Limited Edition. Also, unlike the Bally/Williams A-list games of the 1990s and most solid state games, EMs have resisted price-inflation to some extent, so there's far more value in most EMs, in my opinion. Feel free to view my collection and commentary at: and send me a private message with any questions.
The 1950s Gottlieb woodrails arguably represent the epitome of pinball inasmuch as the games were designed for the player, with multiple avenues to a replay. Also, the Roy Parker art of the Gottlieb woodrails is pure Americana. At $1,500, you could purchase one of the better woodrail titles in decent condition.
The 1960s games were more operator-oriented, with fewer ways to win replays. However, the 1960s was a very good decade for pinball as well. For example, most single-player Gottlieb wedgeheads in the $1,500 range will be some of the best of that genre, e.g. restored King of Diamonds, Kings & Queens, Bank-A-Ball, North Star.
Most of the middle to late 1970s games featured 3 inch flippers. Your $1,500 price point will buy a good condition Gottlieb Atlantis, one of the best drop-target games of that decade. However, this title is in high demand so you'll have to wait to find one.
Williams and Bally made some excellent games in the 1960s and 1970s as well. Chicago Coin and Data East also made some good games, contrary to naysayers of those manufacturers.
One of the very best early solid state games (actually made as an electromechanical in much smaller numbers, as well) is Gottlieb's 1978 Joker Poker. It's drop target nirvana, with an addictive ruleset. They come up for sale fairly regularly because 9,280 were made. For $1,500, you could likely find one in above average cosmetic condition, with a new, replacement circuit board. Also, you won't have any trouble selling it, if you choose to do so, because it's a very popular 4-player title, and for good reason. However, there are no ramps, like modern games.
The solid state games of the 1980s offer many good choices. Medusa (1981 Bally), Centaur (1981 Bally) and Black Hole (1980 Gottlieb) come to mind, although excellent examples can fetch more than your budget. Gottlieb's 1979 Count-Down is a great value in the solid state category. They made almost 10,000 of them so they are available for sale. You could likely buy a fully restored one, with an improved circuit board, for $800 to $1,200. Pin-Bot (1986 Williams) and Taxi (1988 Williams) are also good choices. Taxi has a couple of good ramps.
I will leave the 1990s and thereafter to other Pinsiders. I am primarily an EM guy. However, Judge Dredd (Bally 1993) is among the better values of that decade, albeit above your price point. Johnny Mnemonic (1995 Williams) is in your price range. You might want to investigate that title.
Naturally, the game's theme may factor into your decision. There are a number of "top game" lists on the internet. Frankly, I suggest taking those lists with a proverbial grain of salt. Your best guide will be to play as many games of different eras and manufacturers as possible. I recommend that you take your time. There are many games from which to choose. You can find a great game for $1,500, if you're patient. Good luck.