Dale Yu: Review of Pinball Showdown


Pinball Showdown

  • Designer: Diane Sauer
  • Publisher: Shoot Again Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 13+
  • Time: ~30 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Shoot Again Games

Pinball Showdown uses a theme that I haven’t seen in previous games – from the rules: “You are a pinball inside a pinball machine.  Multiball has just begun and it’s up to you to score more points than the other pinballs by bouncing off better combinations of playfield devices than your opponents.”

To start the game, each player chooses a shape (triangle, square, hex, circle) and takes the doublesided control / speed markers of their shape.  Five of them are placed speed (green) side up while the other fifteen are left on the control (red) side up.  Each player is dealt ten Playfield Device cards. The deck of twelve combination cards is shuffled, and one per player is placed face up on the table for this game.  A player is given the Start Player marker.

The four player shapes

To start the game, the first Start Player flips the top card of the Playfield Device deck face up on the table.  Each player in the game then selects a card from their hand and places it facedown on the table.  All the facedown cards are collected, shuffled and then also placed face up on the table.  Then, starting the with Start Player, players can choose to use their tokens to take one or more of these possible actions: Bid, Increase Speed, Buy a Discarded Card.

BID – place some of your control tokens on one of the face-up Playfield cards.  If the Playfield Device card already has another player’s tokens on it, you must play more tokens than the previous player. That player has his tokens returned to him, and as they are returned, that player can flip any number of them over to the Speed side.  The tokens are then placed into the corresponding Speed or Control piles.

INCREASE SPEED – Players can flip over one or more control tokens to the Speed (Green) side.  However, for each of these tokens that is flipped over, the player must also permanently discard a Control token from the game.

BUY A DISCARDED CARD – Starting in the second round, a player can permanently discard two control tokens in order to add a card from the discard pile to their hands.

Once all players have had a chance use their control tokens, then the players claim the Playfield cards.  Any cards with player tokens are claimed by the player with tokens on it.  The played tokens are discarded from the game.   Players then check to see if they meet the speed requirement of the card; if they do, they add the card to their scoring pile.  If the speed is not sufficient, the card is discarded and the player also loses speed equal to the number of circles on the card (speed tokens are flipped over to the control side, nothing is discarded).  Then, all players who did not have control markers on a card take turns choosing an unclaimed Playfield card (in clockwise order from the Start Player).  They also check to see if they meet the speed requirement to decide if the card goes in their scoring pile or the discard pile.

Then, all of the players who collected a card this turn resolve the effects of the card – this is based on the colored circles on that card.  If the circles are green, you increase you speed by that number; you take that number of tokens from your control pile and flip them over into your speed pile.  Nothing is discarded when this happens.  If the circles are red, you decrease speed by that number.  You take current speed tokens, flip them over, and place them in the control pile.  Finally, if the circles are blue, you change your speed to match the number seen on the card.  Flip speed or control tokens as needed until your speed matches that shown on the card.  The card is then placed in the player’s scoring pile.  (If the game is in Wizard Mode, put it in your 2X scoring pile).

One each of the three different speed modifications (See left of card)

If a player’s speed is at zero after applying the effects of the Playfield card, check and see which game round you’re in.  If you are in rounds 1-5, your ball is Autosaved, and you convert 5 Control tokens to the speed side.  If it is round 6 or later, the game ends immediately.

Then before the round ends, starting with the Start Player and moving clockwise, each player sees if they have collected the appropriate cards shown on one of the Combination cards. If so, collect the Combination card and place it in your regular scoring pile (it is never doubled).  All players get a chance to collect a Combination card.  Then, if a Combination card was collected, make sure that the Wizard Mode card is on the “ON” side for the next round.  In that next round, any collected Device cards will be placed in the 2X pile.  At the end of that round, check all player’s speeds.  If at least one player has a speed of 12 or greater, Wizard Mode remains on.

Some of the combo cards

Then, the round ends, and the Start Player marker is passed to the player on the left.  The game ends at either the end of the tenth round or the end of a round 6 or later when a player’s speed is zero.  Each player scores single points for all cards in their regular pile and then double points for all cards in their 2X pile.  Any remaining tokens (regardless of whether they are on Speed or Control side) are worth 100 points each.  The player with the most points wins.  Ties are broken by the player with the most tokens left over.

My thoughts on the game

Pinball Showdown is a unique game – I’ve never been a pinball in any previous game.  There is a clever balance for the players to manage their speed as well as preserving some of their control tokens for use throughout the entire game.   Bidding for certain cards can be necessary in order to win them, but knowing that you permanently lose some of your 20 tokens makes the bidding a difficult decision.  For me, there are many rounds where I’m happy to just choose from the cards which are left behind in order to save my tokens for when I really need them.

Choosing the cards to make available for the draft as well as choosing which cards to try to buy in the draft is a difficult skill to master.  At the start of the game, all of the players have equal access to the Combination cards, and those cards which fulfill part of a combo card are certainly in demand.  There are plenty of cards, though, that are just worth a lot of points (and usually not used in combos) which might catch your eye instead.  Don’t forget that many cards also can increase or decrease your speed, and this can also be a valuable effect.  For instance, if you’re the only one with a high speed rating, you might be able to get a high scoring card for cheap (maybe nothing).

A combo!

I suppose that there is some opportunity to play defensively to win a card that you know that you can’t use – but this doesn’t see to make much sense in a 4p game unless all the cards left to you are worthless, and then at that point, you might as well prevent an opponent from getting something.

Like many set collection games, the relative value of different cards will change later in the game as people have different previous cards, but this just makes the earlier auctions more important if you want to have that advantage later on.  The downside of this is that the final rounds might be anticlimactic for some players if useful cards do not come up for you (though I guess this is when you might choose to play the spoiler role to stop someone else from getting a very valuable card).

The “art” in the game is really neat.  As I discussed the game’s origin with the designer at Origins, I found out that Diane works with pinball machines for her job.  All of the cards (and box art) are photos of actual pinball machines – all taken by Ms. Sauer herself. There were a few classic pinball tables which I was able to identify from the close up pictures, and the photos are a nice change to see.

I like the suspense in the latter portion of the game.  Like a real pinball game, you really can’t predict when the game will end. In fact, in one game, I was taken completely off guard when an opponent managed to get one early combination and a single high scoring card… he then forced his speed to zero at the end of round 6.  We were still working on getting our scoring in order and the rug was completely pulled out from under us.

More often than not, the game makes it to the final round.  When this happens, the game comes in around 30-40 minutes, and that sometimes maybe feels a round or two too long for my tastes, but the game can also end as early as Round 6, so it all evens out after multiple plays.

The start player marker on the right

As I mentioned earlier, the theme is novel for me, and it’s a nice change from medieval farming, pirates, Egyptians and Romans.  Like the real pinball game, success here is due to a combination of skill, timing and a nice helping of luck.  

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers


Craig V: Pinball Showdown has a unique theme and really attractive artwork. However, there is no connection between the primary auction mechanism and the pinball theme. The resulting game plays okay and is even somewhat interesting, but it just doesn’t feel like pinball in any way to me. I was hoping that the theme would come through more.


Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral. John P, Craig V
  • Not for me…


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Pinball Showdown

  1. ianthecool says:

    Huh, yeah, eat theme. Seems hard to connect something like that to mechanics though.

  2. Diane Sauer says:


    First off thank you for the review and I’m happy you liked the game. I do though feel that I have to point out that the game was totally designed around the theme and that the steering (bidding) mechanic is tied directly into that theme. To start, the tokens are two sided and you can only use them for bidding(steering) when they are control side up. This means you have to manage your speed vs. your control. In other words, they are not just a resource like money you’d normally find in a bidding mechanic. Additionally anytime you use control you are giving up some ability to control your pinball in the future as well as lowering your maximum speed. Balancing control vs. speed is critical to success as speed (green side) is required to score cards since you have to have enough of it to complete the ones you have steered towards (bid on). The two sided tokens can be explained like this: the faster you go (green side), the less control your pinball has (red side).

    Again, thank you for the review and if you want a full overview of the several year design process of Pinball Showdown, I did a Developer’s Blog on BGG which can be found here: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/65896/designer-diary-pinball-showdown-or-quarter


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