Advice for teaching new players?

The first few Tuesdays in January we’re doing “Pinball GED” at Logan Arcade, to teach basic and intermediate pinball skills and to demystify the whole idea of playing competitive pinball - oftentimes I’ll talk to people who play frequently and have a great time doing so but are intimidated by what they perceive to be a hardcore competitive scene (which is 100% Not What We’re About).

The basic plan:

Week 1 is basics. I have an edited-down version of the Pinball 101 DVD - just the actual technique stuff. We’re planning on doing a “glass off” demo where we have people practice basic shots and passes. Also, I want to go over basic pinball terminology and concepts (credits, starting a game, lighting lanes, multiball, the “match” - these seem basic but I see people struggle with them if they don’t have the background).

Week 2 is intermediate stuff - explaining the rules on a few tables (I was thinking White Water and Addams Family due to their popularity, accessibility, and easily comprehended rules, Game of Thrones or Star Trek as an example of current Stern mode-based rules, and possibly Taxi and Galaxy as examples of simpler styles), maybe showing some strategy videos, and ending with a quick round of pingolf.

Week 3 will be a low-pressure evening playing our usual league format - players will be split into foursomes to play a variety of tables; in this case each group will be 3 newer players and 1 volunteer drawn from the ranks of our regulars, to continue the instruction. We’ll probably concentrate on tables we’ve talked about in the previous weeks.

If you come to 2/3 of these sessions you will also receive a Pinball GED certificate, suitable for framing.

Thoughts? Suggestions? It’s easy to forget that this is a weird, complicated, and in some cases forbidding hobby. We want to get more people playing more often. There’s so many things that I find myself just assuming in terms of knowledge, so please feel free to suggest anything you think it would be good for new players to know, even if it seems basic - after all at least once a week I see people put in 2 credits, only hit the start button once, then get confused about why there’s only one score!


Would you mind if I used this format in Louisville to teach new players?

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Not at all! I’ll make sure to document the whole thing, then. Definitely thinking about making a pocket-sized “textbook” to go along with this, too.

Belles and Chimes PDX did a skill building night last month focused on specific skills (post pass, backhand, dead flip, etc.) and made a booklet to go with it. @twazu might have a PDF version she could share. For us, because we meet bimonthly, table rulesets are discussed throughout our meetings, so this was just a chance to practice skills without worrying about score.


I can assure you that nothing is basic to a person who has never played pinball before. They can recognize a pinball machine when they see one, and they know you have to hit the ball with the flipper to not lose, and that’s about it. The thing is that pinball operates on a different set of rules than any other game out there, and it can get quite confusing and overwhelming to a beginner.

For instance, pinball is the only sort of arcade game still being made where multiplayer is started by pushing the start button multiple times. As arcade video games all have separate buttons for the number of players, which is more familiar among the general public, they’ll see no 1-player or 2-player buttons and assume there isn’t any multiplayer.

Regarding Week 2, I would recommend starting with an EM if possible, due to their simpler rules and the fact that they’re all written on the machine somewhere. EMs also have a lot of key terminology that will make explaining later machines easier, such as what “lit” means, what “special” means, and that a knocker going off is a free game and not the machine breaking. After that, I’d say to do something from the 80’s with very simple, EM-like rules, like Xenon or Space Shuttle, then move onto an alphanumeric game with more complex rules like FunHouse or Dr. Dude, and finally onto DMD games like The Addams Family or any of the modern Sterns. This is, of course, assuming you have games from all of these periods. But going in chronological order will allow them to understand these machines gradually and in order of increasing complexity. Each period builds off the last. Otherwise, it’ll be like trying to teach someone trigonometry before teaching them arithmetic.

In any case, the biggest thing, other than how to start games and how the credits system work, is that most people don’t know pinball has rules. When they understand that, a lot of other things will start making sense to them. They’ll know those blinking lights actually mean something and aren’t just decorative. They’ll understand that moving parts move according to those rules and aren’t just doing so randomly. And they’ll understand that the audio is sometimes trying to guide them rather than it being background noise.


This is terrific advice, and really puts into words a lot of things I’ve been thinking about. Thank you!

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Created a Facebook event, check it out - haven’t had time to work on the project as much as I’d like because my computer’s in the shop, but I’m feeling good about it

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It took me almost 40 years to figure out that green inserts are usually lock/multiball related, and that red inserts are specials/extra balls. Something I wish I’d figured out sooner, it especially helps when playing games you’re unfamiliar with.

I always thought it’d be a cool idea to draw lines on the glass with a dry erase marker to show the different trajectories the ball takes off different parts of the flipper.


Yeah, stuff like that is really helpful - that red/green thing is just an assumption for lots of people who play; I wouldn’t have thought to even mention it.

And the dry erase idea is cool too! Might have to give that a try this weekend…

There are enough exceptions, though, that I always try to look for them first. It’s a pattern, but it’s not a hard rule.