Swampfire, it was my first two also! Funny !
Great thread Swampfire.
I am a paint guy, no electronics education, just pretty good with general mechanical skills and don't mind taking something apart to see how its made. I loved pinball and grew up with an EM in my house. At age 26 ,shortly after buying my home, I bought my first pinball, 1987 Space Station. When I played it during purchase I thought it worked great, but once home it had a few issues. The pinball community helped me through my issues and i felt really great after I fixed it. If you lurk here, you see the wonderful folks that are wiling to help you simply because they love pinball and want to keep it alive, and love helping people. I often wonder if pinball will die when my age folks ( 50-60) are gone . its important to me to know guys in their 20's and 30's will keep this hobby alive.
About your first game, I suggest a mid to low priced solid state game, $1200-$1600, others will have a different opinion- no flaming please . Get inside it and see how they are made, tinker with it, take stuff apart and do a light shop job on it. Get it 100% working if not already, who cares if you have to spend $200 on a new board ( or repair fee) because you cant solder well enough yet to handle board repair. Hell, I cant do tight solder work on a board, hasn't hindered me , I've been in the hobby since 1993.
Buy a game in the $1200-$1500 range and figure out what era of games you like, what type of game you like, and educate yourself on repair. I can honestly say I have never lost money on a game ( only sold 3 though over the years), but I keep them for a long time, best investment I've ever made. I could brag about what I paid for a FH or WH20, but I poke around in the scrap pile for something needing some TLC, well .. a bit more than just TLC
I'm going to disagree with starting off with an EM, in my opinion from a guy who can barely read a schematic like me with no electronics education, solid state is much easier to repair and keep going. I have read many beginner books on electronics and soldering years ago, just for basic knowledge. Once I get my games working 100%, in home use they seem to last forever. I actually get excited when someone says" ___ is not working right, or has a bulb out"
Also, I'm not rich, and was scraping by the first few years in my new home when I bought my first game. I saved all of my $1 bills, put them in a jar. Once I had $800 I would start looking for something to buy. The more I bought, the better the deals I would find,due to becoming more educated. It took me 10 years to have a collection of 6 games, including the EM my Dad left me when he retired and moved to FL. There is no race here! Some folks have every new pin, some scrape for a years to buy a low to mid tier game to fix up.
Just find you one local, get it home, read what not to do in regards to cleaning, and begin enjoying pinball. Very satisfying hobby, and you will meet wonderful people that are willing to type for hours on their computer just to help you through a simple switch fix.
If I can leave you with two more words of encouragement: 1) start planning where you are going to put a large collection, they will multiply quickly. 2) if your married, get your spouse involved in picking them out, much easier to get funding if they enjoy playing them and understand its an " investment", and not high priced man toys I got lucky yesterday when my wife saw a 2013 Star Trek and said , "that's a pretty game".