Foosball as compared to Pinball

The only other table game I ever spent much time on was Foosball. Never really dug in though. Didn’t have any friends who were into it enough to get good enough to compete with me. When I tried my skills against the truly skilled players at local tournaments, I would just get destroyed so brutally, it was hard to figure out how I was going to get good enough to compete with them.

Getting into pinball was totally different. The community is very warm and inviting, and it was easy for me to find resources to help me learn the game. Most of the really good players I know really seem to enjoy helping new players improve. So here I am…

Anyways, I’ve been watching some high level Foosball matches like the one linked above, and thought some here might take interest for one reason or another. Playing a controlled game is very important in pinball, but in Foosball it’s absolutely essential at every moment of the game.

I also couldn’t help but notice how different the commentary is, as compared to what I’m used to with pinball. Maybe it’s just because it’s such a different kind of game, but I thought it was interesting, and that someone else here might as well.

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I didn’t know that Jorian played foosball!

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I used Foosball as an example when trying to explain to someone how there is more skill involved in pinball than just flipping the flippers whenever the ball was near them. I don’t think they bought it… :frowning:

One huge difference between the two is foosball has Defense. Pinball is more like golf or bowling in that you’re trying to achieve a good score on a hole / lane / machine where the conditions, layout, and nuances vary slightly one to another in the overall competition, but the players are all matched against the course, not directly against each other.

Personal note: back when I was good at it, my college partner and I played against the world foosball champs when they were doing a cross-country tour in the mid-70’s. We actually lost only 9-3, which we considered a moral victory [most local teams got shut out]. We were fast; they were … insane!

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The other huge difference is the playfields. One has fixed dimensions while the other is all over the place. Put some spinning disks and diverters on a foosball table and see how they like that!

Only in American do you put 13 players on a soccer pitch… I never understood why all foosball tables I see in the US have 13 players on each team. It makes no sense.

Here’s a European table with the correct amount of players :slight_smile:

The 13-player tables are called Tornado, which are considered to allow the most control and precision. It is one of 5 styles, each of which has it’s own world championship series. The Bonzini pictured is one of them.

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Several thoughts on watching this video.

First, I’ve never actually seen competitive Foosball before. For some reason when people said it was “fast” I just assumed it had to do with the ball traveling all over the playfield like air hockey or something. Instead it was “just” very VERY controlled play with ultra-fast movements for passing and shooting. I’m sure me watching this was like noobs watching pinball coverage and seeing people do live catches all over the place (though I guess I can feel like I can appreciate the skill involved more).

Second I guess I don’t really feel like the commentary was really commentary, or at least it wasn’t particularly color, it was just play-by-play. I don’t really know what I expected, but there was absolutely no attempt to explain what a John Wayne or some other stuff I heard 2 hours ago when I originally watched this before posting. Obviously being a noob I guess I wish I heard more explanation of moves, techniques, etc.

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For “niche” competitive hobbies, another good documentary is “Way of the Puck”.

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The catching technique in foos is usually very similar to drop-catching when done right. There is a shot clock to make you actually do something eventually, but as long as you have the ball under control on a particular rail there’s no time pressure. Hence you see the very crisp movements interspersed with long set-up times.

The PBP was definitely designed for ‘insiders’, rather than ‘outsiders’, to watch. I’d guess that most of the people watching foos on the internet are pretty committed players. The slang has shifted since I last played foosball seriously about 10 years back, so I had to infer from context myself…

The basic strategy when shooting is fairly rock-paper-scissors: you can shoot either corner or the middle of the net, and the defender can block two of them if he plays it right. The snake that the guy on the left uses has the advantage of being able to go either left or right, but shoots a bit slower than many shots because of the need to get 350° of rotation.

Bringing it back to pinball: a lot of pinball commentary doesn’t have enough PBP, in my opinion. PBP is hard: there’s a reason that on pro-sports the colour guy is often an ex-athelete, while the PBP guy is a professional media guy.

@haugstrup: The 13-player design means that there’s no dead space in the corners, which on italian-style tables usually has an angled section to return the ball to play. I don’t like the feel of tornado tables personally, but that’s the idea behind them. It also means you can make plays between the back bar and the 2-bar, which I’ve always found really weird because I’m not used to them. The through-rod design does make maintenance much easier, though.

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I think the fact that in pinball you’re not actively defending against someone else who is playing might help it be a more friendly environment for beginners. Sure it sucks playing against a great player heads up at first, but at least you can practice by yourself and decide if it’s something worth pursuing or not without the agony of a direct ass kicking.

BTW this is cool. I’ve seen decent foosball players but not anyone who is this good. It’s also an esoteric physical game like pinball so it also interests me in those regards.

Here’s a link to their rankings.

A tad more diversity than where we are currently at in pinball.

That was pretty neat. Thanks for the link. I had never seen foosball videos.

My observation is that foosball allows for the PBP commentary style since it is basic what each player is trying to do-score a goal and block the other person from doing so. The speed of play only dictates when the comments come and describing which group of men made or blocked the shot and what is the game score and set score. It’s always the same basic theme.

The commentator did a very professional job IMO, but there were some terms I wish were explained as a first timer, but I expect the lingo would become more clear over time.

In pinball, on a simplistic level, we know player A is only trying to outscore player B, but the paths to doing that are extremely varied. Commentators have a very difficult task, especially on modern games. They have to try and figure out what the player is going for and the speed at which things happen can be fast. Knowledge of the rules of the game is huge and there could be times where the commentators might be not sure why a player is doing something.

Nobody knows every rule nuance of every game and there is no one correct way to score. It also might not be obvious what the fastest path to a score is, unlike say chess, where there is only one “best move”. In pinball, the best path for a particular player might be the safest shot sequence for him, or what he is focused on, whereas the commentator might say, “I am not sure why he is doing that, I would just shoot for x”.

I also feel pinball commentary has a lot of filler talk that seems to be inside chat for “members only” rather than the general audience. But that is understandable, because it is very hard to talk nonstop about what is on the screen. People are more comfortable telling stories or chatting casually.

Anyway, I like seeing the pinball commentary develop. I would love to see pinball reach a level of national coverage. I appreciate the folks at PAPA tv and the tourney players who commentate for us viewers.

Things are constantly looking up for pinball.


I wasn’t comparing the two games directly. Just the fact that pinball had a high level of skill moves, control, passing etc just like Foosball. The problem is that no one knows anything about Foosball either lol.

Pinball: Mash the buttons whenever the ball is near a flipper until you lose the ball.

Foosball: Move the handle and spin it as hard as you can /crossfingers

DNO can whoop some ass not only on a pinball table but also on a foosball table.

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That’s how I prefer pinball commentary to be. If you don’t know what a live catch or a post pass is, join a league or play in some tournaments and learn.

PBP is far easier than color commentary (analysis) in pinball IMO. Games like MM or AFM are usually easy enough to figure out the player’s strategy, but deeper games can be a lot harder. More than once I’ve heard players interviewed after being on camera and they’ve said they were going in a completely different direction than what the commentators had thought (everybody laughs). Play by play is much easier.

I would pay money to hear NES do color commentary for pinball. He may not have Al Michael’s pipes, but no one knows more strategies than Neil.

In foosball, it seems like there’s zero long term strategy. Color commentary has got to be even tougher when you have no idea what the player will do next.

After watching the video [thanks for sharing!] and also this past weekend’s golf and bowling, it occurred to me that one key item in making watching any game / sport interesting is the possible range of outcomes. In that regard, foosball rates lowest, especially singles, since it’s a rather narrow range of moves and results [goal, no goal, who controls the rebound], and the same pattern is repeated the entire game. [Even though basketball is similar in that regard, there’s a much wider range of shots to take.] Bowling, much as I like it, probably rates next lowest. Golf and pinball share the advantage of … having a greater number of ways things can go wrong! Great shots are fun to watch for both, but seeing how players try to recover from their mistakes is frankly more interesting. Having Trent and Steven struggle with the right ramp on Kiss holds my interest more than watching Zach or whomever start lock multiball on AFM for the third time in a game. As both a viewer and an announcer, being less certain of the outcome makes things more watchable / fun to announce. While the foosball video was nice to watch, it’s not someting I’m likely to do again, nor would I really want to do PBP for it; there’s not enough variety.

One thing lacking from the bowling this week which helps to have, and is good for pinball on those rare occasions when it can be done, is drawing out things on-screen, i.e. what happened on that shot or where should the player put the next shot. Those lines / pointers help when the viewer is less familiar with the game, or when a viewer is using a small screen. Golf and football have done well with this at times, and I think it would help us even more since those games are more familiar to their average viewer. When we talk about stacking, it would be nice to always be able to sketch how to set it up for the audience.

I enjoyed seeing the amount of control that those players demonstrated. Probably a similar reaction from non-pinballers who see good controlled play. But this video also pointed out to me how most non-pinballers would become bored quickly with a finals match of high quality pinball, just as I did with this foosball video. To each his own!

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I used to play professional foosball. Played in the 94 world championships in Dallas. Imagine 150 foosball tables in one big room.

The control level is extreme. Possession and the 5 bar is critical. Single player matches are insane, doubles is incredibly coordinated with passing between defense to offense.

The biggest difference between pinball is the chance to practice. Shooting against a goal without another player is technical, like hitting a ramp in pinball repeatedly, but without a defense moving the goal rods back and forth, you miss out on the mental game, decision making and timing the shots.

The other huge difference is the learning curve. The only way to learn well is to play, which requires 1-3 other players. In pinball you can learn a lot by playing by yourself, watching tutorials, etc.

But the biggest difference is the skill level between rookie, intermediate, expert and pro levels. As a rookie I could destroy any great college / frat player. And I’d get destroyed by intermediate/expert players. In a major tourney I saw the best players in my area get destroyed by the pros. In pinball, anyone can win a game, but in foosball that’s really not the case. It can discourage new players and eventually did me in too.

The other difficulty is keeping tables on location. Anyone may play pinball machines in a bar or public location. Individuals are not going to drop coins in a foosball table and the frequency of pick up games is very low unless you have a good player base, but is far more rare than pinball. I used to operate 3 locations and 2 weekly tournaments. Eventually those went away when player numbers dropped.

Eventually I found pinball and have never been happier with a competitive game and awesome player base.

We need some tornado foosball tables at replay fx next year and I’ll challenge anyone too some good games. Would love to show off some moves, maybe get some good games in with some other former foosball players.


Organize a tournament :slight_smile:

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I’ll make it happen. Running foosball tournaments is where I learned everything about brackets, seeding, etc. Big reason Pinholics Anonymous is a great house tourney. 55 players last tourney!