Nobody trusts anyone, or why did they put tilt on a pinball machine?Steve McQueen
Almost two years ago, I regaled you (our faithful readers) with tales of old-fashioned arcades and my relative lack of expertise at pinball… and I said some rather kind things about the sneak peak WizKids gave us of Geoff Englestein’s pinball-themed roll’n’write, Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade.
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 to 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.
Note: I still think “4-Cade” is a less than spectacular name choice… but I’m not sure what I’d replace it with.
Roughly six months later, the Opinionated Gamers published our review of the full game and I added both some background information about my role in the game as well as my thoughts on the finished product.
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.)
I give you all that background because I’m about to review the newest addition to the Super-Skill family – the much better named “Ramp It Up” – and much of what I’ve said previously is still true:
- Geoff did manage to make a game that feels like pinball
- The game’s simple structure (roll two dice, pick one in order to mark off various targets) is easy to teach.
- The “gravity” of your ball inexorably moving down the table unless you use your flippers makes the game move forward while enhancing the pinball feel.
In addition, the Ramp It Up! box (which is what we call a stand-alone expansion, meaning you can play it without having the first game but it builds on the original ideas) does a number of things even better than 4-Cade:
- Since all of the tables are represented with a backglass board and a pinball table board, it was a great idea to use the real estate on the backglass board to expand the size of the table.
- There are a variety of creative new targets – ways to unlock big scores that require hitting targets in order or through a multi-step process that encourages the wise use of skill rolls and proper risk assessment.
- The rules manual does an excellent job of clearing up questions about how a target works by the use of graphics and helpful detailed examples.
Once again, the box contains 4 pinball “machines”…
- Gofer Gold – the introductory game in the Ramp It Up! Box… but with more variety than Carniball (the intro game from 4-Cade)
- High Roller Heist – a two-ball game with lots of interesting trade-offs for backglass scoring opportunities
- Pin Pals – a wrestling themed table with a new twist – players can play as a “tag team” – meaning that successes at one table can translate into bonuses at your partners table (Note: these tables can also be played individually)
- Top Speed – a tricky new decision about varying your “speed” (aka die rolls) to work towards a top score.
This time around, I think three of the four tables are my cup of tea – and, like before, it’s the “expert” table that was the least enjoyable for me (Top Speed). Now, your mileage may vary – but I’m convinced that losing Top Speed wouldn’t stop me from buying the game just for the first three tables!
We’ve found we like Super-Skill Pinball best solo or as a two-player game… but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it works great for Zoom gaming and the box contains enough boards, markers, and silver-y pinball bits for four players.
If I was forced to choose between the two boxes, I like Ramp It Up! the better of the two – the expanded size of the tables and the really well-done rulebook combine to make it the more impressive package. Now I’m hoping for more Englestein-inspired pinball action to come!
A review copy of the game was provided by WizKids.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Matt C: I loved the original and think the new options in the sequel are great. I played the Gofer Gold with each of my sons. In both cases they lept out in stars early in the second ball but then I got lucky (super lucky in the second case) and clocked up massive points in a multiball in the third round. So definitively so that both times they simply walked away from the table leaving me to finish my game to see what I scored. (There are little “achievements” that you can track in the rulebook, I think I pulled off all of them in that single second game…) On the one hand, I was having some nice luck, but on the other, I was trying to set myself up for a big multiball – and pulled it off. So I suspect there is some strategy in there – not just lightning striking twice and all that… In any case, I had a good time but it will be harder to drag them back into the game. Looking forward to giving the “cooperative” one a try.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! Mark Jackson, Matt Carlson
I like it. Steph
Not for me…