- Designers: Geoff Englestein
- Publishers: WizKids
- Players: 1-4
- Time: 20-40 minutes
- Times Played: 5 (with a promo copy published online by WizKids)
I’ve played a decent amount of pinball in my day. (Seriously, I’m 55 years old… I can remember the first time I saw a Pong game and those heady early days when arcades were mostly pinball machines with a couple of Pong machines and the consoles with Breakout and Night Driver were the hot new thing.) I was never terribly good at it – but I enjoyed it immensely.
I’ve also played a decent amount of board games.
OK, I give. I’ve played a ridiculous number of board games. (According to the Geek, I’ve rated almost 3200 different games – which is likely to have missed a few over the years.) But I never thought those two interests would coincide.
Until now… and Geoff Englestein’s latest interesting take on game design, Super-Skill Pinball 4-Cade.
For those of you game aficionados who’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, “roll’n’write” games are all the rage. Using a common roll (or a common dice pool to draft from), players mark up an individual special sheet/playmat to score points. Some of my favorites are Quixx, Corinth, and Cartographers (which is technically a “flip & write” as it uses a deck of cards rather than dice.)
There is some debate about what actually qualifies as a roll’n’write… the definition I used above knocks out some games I really like – Roll Through the Ages (both Bronze & Iron) and Knizia’s Decathalon. For more on this, check out Larry Levy’s well-written comment on our 10 Great Roll’Writes article.
How It Works
In Super-Skill Pinball, one player rolls a pair of six-sided dice (2d6 for those you who wasted years of your youth playing D&D)… and then all of the player choose one of the dice to mark off various elements on their pinball table.
Ah, but it’s not quite that straightforward – as each player is actually using a token as the pinball in their machine. Gravity causes the ball to drop into the next section of the table, changing the choices that you have. (Players may choose to let the ball drop more than one section – or they may have to let it drop because they don’t have a legal target to mark.)
When the ball/token reaches the lowest level, players have to use the flippers (also by marking off target boxes) to keep the ball in play and shoot it back up the table. If you can’t keep the ball from falling off the bottom of the table (no targets to hit), you lose it to the machine. Three balls is a full game… and, somewhat obviously, the highest score wins.
It Just Feels Right
Some of the best board games about sports pull off a fascinating trick – they manage to capture the feel of the sport without getting bogged down in the details of simulation. For example, En Garde is a math-y little bluffing game, but the back & forth of the game feels like fencing. Streetsoccer is pretty abstract, but soccer-like tactics and strategy quickly emerge. And Baseball Highlights 2045 is definitely not a baseball sim – but it does exactly what it sets out to do: capture the highlights of a great World Series… albeit with robot batters and cyborg pitchers.
I bring up those examples in order add Super-Skill Pinball to the list of games that just feel right – that get the essence of their thematic subject mixed perfectly with the mechanics of the game. In a simple roll’n’write, Geoff succeeded in adding multi-ball, the erratic behavior of bumpers, flipper management, nudging the table, and – sadly – tilting the machine.
And much like pinball, the game works both as a solo exercise (four of my five plays were solitaire) and as a multi-player game. In either case, you’re trying to beat the high score – yours and/or the other players’ scores.
More Good News
There will be four different tables in the actual production copy:
- Dance Fever
- Dragon Slayer
Better still… the tables will be dry erase and there will be four copies of each in the box!
It’s due to be released in Fall 2020.
Try It For Yourself!
Thanks to the kind folks at WizKids, you have the opportunity to experience the first “machine” in Geoff’s crazy roll’n’write arcade… which, coincidentally, is how I racked up enough plays to feel comfortable writing this “first impressions” article for you. They’ve provided a free PDF download of Carniball… and Geoff himself does a nice job of explaining how to play in a video that’s also been posted. (Note: the PDF is a specially prepared version which combines a few components into a single sheet, and drops out some of the color to make it less printer-obnoxious.)
My first solitaire play took 35 minutes, but once I had a couple of games under my belt, games are running 20-25 minutes (depending on my luck). Our head-to-head game took about 35 minutes… which felt just right for the weight of the game.
Let me say it again – this is a classy move by WizKids and Geoff to provide gamers around the world with something new during this difficult time… and, at the same time, it’s a savvy marketing move, as they’ve sold at least one copy – to me – as soon as the actual game is released.
Thoughts From Other Opinionated Gamers
Erik Arneson: When I first heard the concept of a pinball-based roll-and-write game, I was intrigued but didn’t hold out much hope that it would work. I’m thrilled to report that it works very well. I’ve enjoyed the print-and-play version and look forward to buying the full version when it’s available later this year.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! Mark Jackson, Erik Arneson
I like it.
Not for me…
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Watched the play-through. It does look interesting, but man – more complex than I expected for a roll and write game. However, it’s on my list to print out and try now because I respect the designer quite a bit. :)
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