EM number of balls for tournaments

When running tournaments with EM machines is there a definitive setting for nunber of balls? I’m pretty sure I have played tournaments where EM’s were set to 5 ball and I also have played them set to 3 ball. However I just saw in a recent thread where someone mentioned that EM’s should be set to 5 ball. Still new to TD’ing, so just trying to get a firm grasp on this. Thanks!

PAPA runs like this: Digital in any capacity-3 balls. All EMs set to 5. That helps eliminate confusion when stepping up to a game.

Personally I believe all EMs should be set to 5, as average ball time can be <30 seconds depending on how much control is involved. In my monthly, occasionally an EM will be the last game of the round, but a 4p game rarely takes longer than 15 minutes, most of mine average 9-11 minutes.

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I agree. EM 5 balls. However, we recently changed Aztec to 3 balls at our new local spot. 4 player games were taking too long.


Thanks for the feedback. 5-ball it is, especially on my Conquest 200 with a clear coated playfield and a Power Ball! The ball zips around the play field!


Yes, 5 balls for EMs unless there are extenuating circumstances, e.g. the EM you have is an add-a-ball version and you can’t turn off EBs - - then it’s ok to use 3 balls if people are earning too many extras. I’d still pre-test it at 5 balls first even with add-a-ball and see how long the games run before switching to 3. I’ve been playing tournaments on EMs since 1975 and that’s the way to go. [I also assume as much for the EMcyclopedia.]

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Except for Dragon for some reason…

Dragon Interflip or Dragon Gottlieb?

Some games have unbalanced scoring when changed to either 3 or 5 ball. Rules sometimes (often?) change when changing the number of balls per game. Whatever you choose, test it a few games first. See what is lit for 5000 and what isn’t. Among other things, you don’t want EM’s rolling once or more during a typical game. Otherwise players will constantly be yelling ABOUT TO ROLL IT!

I want to say the family of El Dorado games have this issue, but it’s been a long time and I don’t remember whether 3 or 5 ball wasn’t good. As always, EM’s that end the game with a tilt should have looser tilts then SS games. They’re more fun that way too.

There are some SS that are arguably better on 5 balls. Joker Poker. Pinball Pool. Probably others.

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$6MDM comes to mind as another.


Interflip Dragon is actually not an EM (even though it looks like one)


It does have digital sound, you’re right! It’s all still relays and steppers for scoring and bonus, though.

Evel Knievel says hello.


I like 5 balls for EMs to reduce some of the variance when you inevitably get house-balled. Getting housed on 2 out of 3 balls feels far worse than say, 2 out of 5.


It always seems to be 5 but I don’t see why. There are some very long playing games like argosy or Grand Prix where 3 is suitable.

At NYCPC my argosy is going to be 3 balls, like it has been in my apartment for 15 years. Double bonus will be lit at the start of every ball as well.

Maybe we’ll leave EB on who knows.

The 5 ball thing for EM seems fairly arbitrary, especially considering there are so many early digital which are basically EMs, which are also set on 3 arbitrarily. There’s literally zero difference in gameplay between the em and digital Hot Tips for instance, so why is one arbitrarily
5 and and other 3.

I do think it’s a good general guideline but there should be some leeway and, All EM one players should be 5 ball as that’s how they were designed to play regarding rulesets.


My Argosy is on 3 ball as well. Seems fine that way. Why do give away the double bonus automatically though?

A lot of fun and challenge to be had earning that via the “drop targets of death” and trying to get the ball to stay in the saucer. :slight_smile:

How do the rules change on 6M$M when set to 5-ball play?

Bonus multipliers don’t hold over? That’s my guess.

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I don’t recall bonus multipliers holding over in either 3-ball or 5-ball; I think the rules are the same. The main reason I’d go 5-ball on it, given the choice, is to give a higher percentage of players a decent chance to finish the 50K targets and get at least one ball’s worth of saucer love. This game is notorious for house balls or few-flip balls, and a couple of those petty much shuts you out of a real chance to win, especially if another player managed to get some saucer love and max out their multiplier at least once. The saucer love-or-not and house-balls-or-not make this too random for 3 balls; 5 provides a truer test of skill, yet still rarely produces long game times. I see a lot of players with that “I’m screwed / coin flip” vibe when they get assigned to the game in a three-strikes or match play event.


I think it really depends on the machine. On some of them, house balls are so common that, if you run it on three balls, the contest becomes more a matter of luck than skill. On a machine like that (e.g., Cabaret), I’d be inclined to use five balls. The game will play plenty short enough even with five balls.