Super-Skill Pinball: 4-cade
- Designer: Geoff Engelstein
- Publisher: Wizkids
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 12+
- Time: 30-40 minutes
- Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Wizkids
I have always been fascinated with pinball machines. One of my prized childhood possessions (well, I guess really my parents owned it) was a old Williams Comet table that we had in our basement. I played that thing for countless hours when I was a kid – and nothing made me happier than working through the progressions of the game to create the opportunity and then convert the “Million Point Shot”. Pinball is a game that takes a lot of skill, a decent bit of luck and a little bit of physical pushing and shoving to succeed. Super-Skill Pinball tries to bring that same excitement to your gaming table.
Included in this box are four different “tables”, each with a different theme and style of play. To start the game, players agree upon which table they will play, and then each gets a table sheet, the matching scoring sheet, two ball tokens and a dry-erase marker. One ball marker is placed on the Start arrow found on the playing surface. The game will be played over three rounds; each one represents one of the balls you would get in a real pinball game. Unlike real pinball, you don’t have to stand on the sidelines and wait (and silently wish) for your opponent to make a mistake and lose their ball. In this game, everyone plays at the same time.
The game starts with everyone at the same “place” – that is on the start arrow at the top of their board. For the duration of the game, each round will involve someone rolling the dice (2d6), and then each player will choose one of those dice and make an appropriate play on their board. Obviously, play will likely diverge from the first roll. As the game continues, players will eventually lose their ball. They will just start their next ball and keep playing. Players may end their games at different times (i.e. when the third ball is lost), and the remaining players simply continue until they have also completed their third and final ball.
For each round, any player rolls both dice. All players choose either of the two values seen and then move their ball token to an appropriate spot which matches the chosen number. Like a real pinball table, the ball generally moves downward. The table is split into four distinct areas, and unless there is a table feature that says otherwise, you generally have to choose a feature which is located in a zone below the ball’s current location. One big exception to this rule is if the ball is on a flipper (at the very bottom), and as you would expect, the ball is shot back up the board from the flipper. Whenever your ball moves into its next zone, you must fill in a box there that corresponds to your chosen number. All of the features have a solid line, double line or dashed line around them. The type of line around the feature tells you when, if ever, it is erased. There is a chart in the rules, but man, I would have loved for this to have been represented somehow on the scoring card.
Your round ends when you are unable to fill in a box in a legal zone OR if you choose to go out one of the side outlanes in the lowest zone. If this happens, you start the next round and place your marker back up at the top. Someone rolls the dice again, and the process is repeated.
There may be times when the rolls just don’t work for your plan, and like in regular pinball, you can give the table a little nudge to get the ball to go where you want. You can mentally change one of the numbers rolled to what you want. Write down the amount you had to change the die into the big Nudge box. For instance, if you needed a 6, and a 4 was rolled, you would write a 2 in the Nudge box. You can do this three times each game – you have to mark off one of the double lined boxes on your scoresheet. On the next roll, see if you have TILTED. Calculate the difference between the two dice on the next roll, if the difference of the dice is greater or equal to the number you wrote in the nudge box, you’re good. Note, that this means that you will automatically tilt if doubles are rolled. If you tilt, you lose your current ball and start your next ball with the next roll.
As I mentioned earlier, there are four different tables in the game, and each has its own particular set of rules and features. I will stick to explaining some of the features of Carniball – the table which is recommended for beginners, and the game which is available as a PnP from Wizkids.
In fact, I have chosen to use the graphics from the PnP for my example here as the simplified stylized graphics make it easier to see the different features. The actual boards are much more colorful and filled with artistic details.
At the top of the board, you see the three Ferris wheel cars. If you are able to fill in all three of these cars, you generate a skill shot, seen in the upper left corner. You erase all the marks in the ferris wheel boxes, and then you can circle any unchosen number in the skill shot area. Then at any point later in the game, you can use your chosen number instead of either number on the die. When you use the number, erase the circle.
In the next area down, there are the three circular bumpers. There is a special rule that you ball does not have to drop down into the next lower zone if it can legally move to another bumper. Usually you must move to the next clockwise bumper, as seen by the purple arrows… If you have the bumper bonus activated (from the red targets below – more on this shortly), you can move either clockwise or anti-clockwise. If you fill all 12 squares in this area, they are all erased and you can fill them again. Also note that you score 1 star point for each square marked off in this area. Anytime you see a yellow star next to a box, you score those points for marking off that box.
This area also has the Feat of Strength column. These zones can only be reached from the flippers, and they must be crossed off in increasing numerical order. As you move up the row, you can score up to 20 points with a single roll!
In the next area down, you see the targets, a set of 3 yellow targets on the left and 4 red targets on the right. If you are able to knock down a full set, you get to choose one of the bonuses associated with that color. For yellow, you might be able to enable the flipper pass – which gives you more flexibility at the bottom. For the red targets, you could activate the Bumper Bonus which allows you to move around the bumpers in either direction. Both colors also possibly trigger a Multiball situation. If you choose this bonus, you place your second ball marker at the top of the board. On each successive turn, you must assign a die number to each of your ball markers. They can be resolved in whatever order you like. As an added bonus, all scoring is doubled when you are in Multiball.
Finally, in the lowest area, you have the flippers and the outlanes. The flippers are the main way that you propel the ball back up the board. Each flipper has three different boxes directly associated with it as well as one inner lane which funnels the ball to a flipper. In general, when you use a flipper, the next die used from this position must go to a box of matching color or white color. Thus, the yellow flipper only moves the ball to yellow boxes or white boxes. If you have the Flipper Pass bonus activated, then your flippers can send your ball to any colored box. You might eventually choose to use the outside outlanes – which will end your current ball – but you do score a bonus of 2 star points per used box with the associated flipper; so there are times when you would choose to go out in order to take that bonus.
So Carniball is Carnival themed, and it is rated as the easiest board. As this is the one recommended for beginners, this is the one offered as a Print and Play
Cyberhack has you in the role of a computer hacker, and it has an interesting R-U-N minigame where you can push your luck to max your scoring.
In Dragonslayer, you are a wizard and as you play the game, you add spells to your spellbook which give you different special abilities to use to score more points.
Dance Fever is a night club themed board where you bust a move in the Disco Pinferno (a fun minigame)
Each of the tables plays a little differently, and it will take some experience with them to decide upon a strategy that works best for you with each board. I have played this in person with my group, and we have also played the PnP version over Zoom. This game works particularly well for remote gaming as only one person needs to roll the dice, and he/she can simply state the numbers rolled and everyone can take their turn. I’m tempted to send a set of boards to each of my remote gamers so that we can play this more easily – the real erasable boards are much easier to use/erase than pencil on the printed PnP board.
The game moves along pretty quick, with each individual turn not taking too long. In Carniball I have found that the biggest delay happens when someone finishes a set of targets and then has to figure out which of the bonuses they’d like to activate. Other than that, the game is roll, think, move, mark stuff off, etc. There is one sort of timing strategy that I seem to be getting better at – there are times when I actually try to lose my first or second ball when have nearly finished the targets, but not yet completed a set. Many of the bonuses are only good until the current ball is lost, and you can really use them to great effect if your flippers are nearly clean when you start with a multiball bonus (where everything is doubled).
Overall my games seem to be clocking in around 20-30 minutes, and that’s just about the right amount of time that I want for a game like this. As it is essentially simultaneous solitaire, you actually could play this with an unlimited number of people so long as you had enough sets of the game to give everyone a board. Scores are therefore comparable across game sessions, and the rulebook even gives you a high score page where you can record your best efforts on each board. For some, the lack of interaction will be a negative, but I really don’t mind having my own little sandbox to mess around in.
But, don’t take my word for it, print the game out and try it yourself. I think that if you like Carniball, you’ll probably like the other boards – you’ll definitely get a good feel for how it works. The production quality of the finished game is nice, and as I said earlier, the game is much more enjoyable on an erasable board as opposed to one you have to keep using your pencil eraser on.
Now, I’m going to get back to playing the game, and trying not to keep singing the words to Pinball Wizard as I play!
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
James Nathan (1 play): I found it a bit slow. It was odd to experience what is typically the tension filled real-time dexterity game of pinball as a slo-mo game where it didn’t feel as if I had too many choices. (I don’t know that in practice the way I play pinball has too many choices -it’s more about mashing those flippers!) It seemed as if each sort of mini game had one spot for each die value, and once you used it, well, you just fall down; I didn’t feel engaged in any of them (other than bouncing around the bumpers at the top -that part was fun and felt a bit more like pinball). Maybe it was the paucity of the sounds and lights of the real thing.
Mark Jackson (10+ plays – note: I assisted in editing the rules for Super-Skill Pinball): Having played all four tables, I’d say my reaction to the game is not dissimilar to my reaction to most real-life pinball arcades – there are a couple of tables I love and would hang around watching someone else play while I patiently wait my turn, there’s one I like when it’s available, and one I don’t particularly love. (For the record, Dragonslayer & Cyberhack are my faves, Carniball is good fun – and a good introduction to the system… and I didn’t love Dance Fever as much.)
It took a couple of games to start being more strategic about when to let a ball drop through a section of the table in order to set up a better play – and when (as Dale mentioned) to time completion of target sets to maximize special powers. The table that best utilizes these kind of strategies is Dragonslayer – ramping up your powers at the right time can result in amazing scores.
I primarily play solo – though we’ve had good experiences playing 2 player games as well. It is a very good game for online video chat (as Dale notes in his review).
Erik Arneson (2 plays, both solo): I tried the print-and-play version released earlier this year and enjoyed it quite a bit. As James points out, the roll-and-write version of pinball is (unsurprisingly) slower paced than actual pinball, but Super-Skill Pinball kept me interested and engaged. I’m a fan of roll-and-writes in general, and with more plays on the published version, I could see my rating increasing from “I like it” to “I love it!”
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Mark Jackson
- I like it. Dale Y., Erik Arneson
- Neutral. John P
- Not for me… James Nathan