Catastrophic malfunctions during league play - FSPA rules interpretation

hey, we’re giving the FSPA rules a whirl for the league down here. I like how the rules are written that seem to deal well with locations where you do not necessarily have a tech around to dislodge stuck balls.

The first three weeks were malfunction free except yesterday there was a machine reset on ball 3 for player 2 in a 4-player game on The Addams Family. Because I have a superseding rule set, for just this league season, that has all matches play the same set of machines and compare scores and players were playing to Tour the Mansion, it seemed fair to have the affected players replay their games. As it turned out, at the end of ball 2, players were basically on par with their scores when the reset happened, so no controversy here.

If I chose to interpret the FSPA malfunction rules as written, it seems that the player who had the game reset on them would be in an unfair scenario.
If I’m interpreting this correctly, player 2, who had the reset occur, the reset would be considered a major malfunction as it was a premature loss of turn, and since that was the first to happen to that player, they would not have a choice to play a 1-ball game with the score at reset added on nor play the entire game over.
For both players 3 and 4, the reset would be considered a catastrophic malfunction and each player would get a chance to play a 1-ball game and have their score when the reset occurred added on, or play the game over discarding their score from when the reset happened.

Am I interpreting this right? Player 2 should dispute this as being unfair and I’d agree with that. Is there a reason that a player has to accept their score at the time of the catastrophic malfunction during ball 3?

My understanding was that they could in fact choose to play their game over, at least that is the ruling I was given when I played at NWPAS last year which ran under FSPA rules. However you are correct that they do not get an add-on ball. This is the main reason I will no longer play in tournaments with FSPA rules. I’m sure @dbs or @joe will chime in here, but I find this an absolutely un-acceptable situation to put someone in who has lost one or several balls due to game malfunction. There is an argument to be made that it is also unfair to bring them back to a ball 1 state because, for instance, they may be able to re-play multiballs or valuable modes. However, it also resets any state you have built up along the way. If I have LITZ ready to go, you can bet I am not looking forward to having my game reset back to ball one.

Hi Bdols! Thanks for trying out the FSPA rules, I hope you and your players like them… they’ve served the FSPA well for 20 years now, and a lot of leagues are using them, either straight up or with customizations. (Also, if you’re interested in adopting the FSPA league management software, give me a shout!)

That’s correct, we assume that leagues are commonly played at public locations where there’s no access to the insides of the machine.

I can’t argue that player 2 is kind of getting screwed here, but in the end, SOMEONE is getting screwed in this situation. If you allow player 2 to add on another ball, they’re effectively getting a 4 ball game while everyone else has a 3 ball game, so that’s kind of unfair to all three of their opponents. We tried to synchronize the catastrophic malfunction rules to the major malfunction rules as much as possible… our interpretation is that if a player is in the middle of their last ball and the game resets, that’s not much different than if there was a trough switch glitch and the game suddenly went to Fun With Bonus, a situation which would be treated as a major malfunction.

And of course, in the situation you describe, it’s hard to say if players 3 and 4 are getting screwed or helped by the game reset… were they one shot away from Tour and now that’s taken away from them, or were their first two balls junk and they’re happy to get a restart?

Bottom line, major malfunctions and especially catastrophic malfunctions just suck. The FSPA rules try to be as fair as possible while also trying to move things along – it’s easy to logjam the entire league with malfunctions and replays. Fortunately, our “suggested” regular season has 40 games, so a mishap like that is unfortunate but not debilitating. And of course, if you find that a particular machine is resetting or malfunctioning frequently, DQ the game until it’s repaired!

Hope this explains the thinking behind the rule.


I should note that I’m not really saying the FSPA rules “suck” or anything, its just a part of things I don’t personally agree with. I’ll also add that for a location league, I actually think the FSPA rules are really great and have a lot of advantages. For a single-event tournament, I’m a lot less of a fan, and that is more where my reaction came from.

By FSPA rules, yes, loss of a single ball due to malfunction on a machine is unfortunately a “that’s pinball, play on” situation. We treat this the same regardless of whether the malfunction was “kickback didn’t work” or “trough switch error” or “machine caught fire” (we’ve had that happen!).

If one player loses multiple balls due to malfunction, or if all players experience a lost ball due to malfunction on the same machine, more options open up.

No argument there. FSPA rules are designed for leagues that play a lot of games in a season, and that play at public locations where you don’t have access to just open up the machines and fix problems on the spot.

And of course, rule 1.2 “Discretion of League Officials” is at the very top of the document for a reason: “These rules are a guide.” We think the FSPA rules are an awesome baseline, but feel free to adapt them to work best for your league’s (or tournament’s) situation. We just strongly encourage consistency and clear communication to players: if you want a different malfunction (or whatever) rule, preferably document it before the season even starts. If you absolutely must make a “game time” decision on something - and we really discourage these, for many reasons - immediately document THAT and then stick to that decision for the rest of the season.

BTW, I’ve started work on a “Philosophy of the FSPA Rules” document, a companion to the rules document that just describes our thinking behind the rules. There is a LOT of hard-fought experience lurking in our rules, and it’s not all obvious on the surface, but often once people hear how we wound up with a particular rule, they say “OK, yeah, that makes sense now.”


yes, I think we’re interested and some of the players want to run a league at a location of their choice or in collector’s homes. Having management software would help convince them that running one won’t take up a bunch of their time. I need to follow up with some folks.

That helps. A player losing out on the TAF bonus is a malfunction that I would want to avoid. The only other case I see where a TAF bonus may be lost to due to malfunction is the case where a player is forced to tilt the ball in an attempt to dislodge a stuck ball. And, I would normally not pick machines where I knew the ball gets stuck frequently but it’s difficult to predict the worst case of which machines will suddenly reset when they haven’t before.

The other thing that happened was the exact case listed in the rules for STTNG where locking the ball off of the plunge ended their ball on ball 1 to the same TAF group. I interpreted the rules such that I could move them to a different machine because it was a major malfunction on ball 1.

I disagree that it’s effectively a 4-ball game. To me, a ball is only complete when drained or tilted.

Hypothetical: I play a 3-ball game with the glass off. Ten times during my game, someone grabs the ball and places it in the shooter lane. I only drain 3 times. Is that a 3-ball game, or a 13-ball game? I realize that for some games (particularly EMs) plunging the ball 10 more times can be a huge advantage, but since the FSPA rules are designed for modern location play, this is rarely an advantage.

In the actual scenario, adding a ball to player 2 means he will still drain 3 balls total and collect bonus 3 times. He is losing game state in exchange for a 4th skill shot, which for most current location games is a net loss.

I somewhat agree with this. If ball 2 never officially drained how can it be counted as complete? I would think the same thing. 3 plunges and 3 drains equal a full game.

I certainly appreciate this and I try to keep things moving. Before I designate more league officers, I’d want to know that they are comfortable making rulings. To that end, I’m thinking about writing an operational flowchart and/or checklist, if they don’t exist already, to help make decisions on malfunctions, selecting and setting up games, and selecting groups. Just something that fits on a page to keep in one’s back pocket, I hope.

@yancy, @GApinball : It can definitely be argued either way. There are other ways that pinball machines can unexpectedly terminate a player’s ball that, in most event rulesets, don’t offer player compensation: e.g. a kickback that fails to work, a spontaneous tilt (perhaps due to a shorted switch), a saucer kickout that goes SDTM. These are all “unfair things pinball machines do sometimes”. We have chosen to group “game reset after start of ball” in the same category. Again, that’s only if a single ball is lost due to reset (i.e. it was that player’s last ball) … if multiple balls were lost, that’s a different story.

BTW, making the FSPA ruleset as strong and as fair as possible is an ongoing mission for us: after (almost) every season, all of our league officers meet and discuss any unusual situations that occurred at any of our leagues, review the existing rule text, and decide if changes are warranted. (Of course, we discuss these things via e-mail immediately when they occur, but the meeting is where the knock-down-drag-out arguing takes place. :wink: ) We have all the best intentions with what’s written, but sometimes when you go to apply a rule in a real-life situation, you realize that it’s not good… live and learn, make things better. Our catastrophic malfunction rule has already been tweaked a couple times. We record all changes to our rules in a Revision Log at the bottom of our rulebook: FSPA League Rules.

I think one of our league officers did a “league official’s quick reference” just like this… I’ll ask around, and if I can get a copy, I’ll pass it on to you.


Apparently what I was thinking of was done for a tournament situation, not for FSPA league night… seems like a good idea to do, though. Guess I’ve got something else to add to my infinite to-do list. :slight_smile:

What if the situation was instead that the player lodges a ball somewhere, and the game resets when they try to jiggle it loose? The ball never hit the outhole… is it still lost?

Game resets would be handled consistently regardless of what caused the game reset (which is often not really known at the time).

As an FSPA league officer, I strongly disagree with the current rules regarding malfunctions, but will address post season in conjunction with the guide Joe is putting together as there may be history or justification for the rules I’m not aware of.

However, I suggest keeping it simple and consistent, and for malfunctions use IFPA/PAPA rules, for league specific items and rules affected by inability to open a game on location use FSPA rules.

As soon as next week or week after there will be a quick reference guide for IFPA/PAPA rules on the PAPA directors guide for download to assist tournament and league directors.


Unfortunately, that’s actually more complicated: that would mean there’d be TWO sets of malfunction rules: one for “we have the keys” and one for “we don’t have the keys”. Yuck.

even if we have the keys, I or anyone I delegate may accidentally slam tilt the game when we’re closing the coin door, because it’s not like we’re actuating the slam tilt switch every week to see if the operator has done something onerous with the slam tilt switch.

still, having officers well versed in operating pins on location (familiar with game settings and switch errors) is something that could be established on initial league setup, but if players start seeing an officer changing bulbs and leveling the games with the glass off, they may wonder why an officer can’t just place the ball on a flipper if something weird happens under the IFPA/PAPA unified rules, which is to say, I would probably prefer to use the “no keys” rules because it seems the safer approach, but, at some point, training officers in how to resolve rulings with the keys in a safe manner is also something that I think would be needed.

My point is simply to use the now universal and consolidated rules for malfunctions. Using special rules for malfunctions simply creates confusion and inconsistency among those who continue to become more well versed in the standard rules. And malfunctions really aren’t affected by public locations other than stuck balls. But I’ll make my case later and do look forward to understanding the reasons behind why the current rules exist as they do.

Other than that, the overall format of FSPA leagues is the one of the best out there for novice and experienced players playing together in the same league. If anyone wants to start a league in their neck of the woods, contact Joe and he’ll help you get started. If not for FSPA I would have never discovered the pinball community, do I’ll always be thankful and member of the league.

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The reason the rules are written like that is that FSPA rules are completely, hands down insane.

Don’t get me started on the group format where in a 4 player game 1st place and second place TIE when 1st beat second. /rant

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Sorry that you think that. Many people in many leagues seem to disagree. Have you actually tried using the rules in a league format?

True, that can happen sometimes because we award a bonus point based on strength of victory (or strength of loss). What you describe would happen if the second place person trounced the combined scores of the 3rd and 4th place players, but the first place person did not have a similarly dominating victory. Basically, the system acknowledges that final scores of 100M-90M-80M-70M aren’t quite the same as 100M-50M-30M-5M. It’s actually a really fun scheme that keeps all players more involved in each game: if you lose, you don’t just take your bottom point and shuffle off, but you keep hoping that your score was at least enough to steal the bonus point. Similar concept for the winner’s side: sure you get good points for winning, but if you really kick ass, you get a little extra reward. It’s easy enough to understand, and keeps things a little more interesting, which is nice when you’re playing week after week after week. I’d actually love to see the concept used in more match-play events.