Pinball Game Theory

Thought it’d be fun to have a topic to pick apart the various design decisions / school of thoughts regarding game rules, scoring, code, etc. I’ll start us off…

Multiball Scoring
Since its invention, multiball has had a few evolutions in terms of rules and scoring implications.

-No additional rules, just extra balls to help you prolong the ball safer
-No jackpots or rules, except now all scoring is multiplied
-One or two jackpot shots worth a significant amount of points
-All shots lit for very small jackpots that may lead to a super jackpot once completed
-Switch frenzy where enough switches trigger jackpots or are worth points per switch

Which do you like best, and why? Curious the different opinions.


Now some games like heist have an few Temp multiballs. That after shots can end the multiball with out an drain.
Also have timed multiball modes in some games.

1 Like

Depends on the game. And the specific multiball, since many games have several different multiball features. Of course, for the past 35 years or so, many game features – including multiballs – work to advance a narrative of what’s happening in the game. Assuming that’s the case, the rules of the multiball should harmonize with the narrative of that multiball. If in multiball 1, I’m just summoning a helper, it might be appropriate if the associated rule just boosts scoring, or does some sort of frenzy thing. But perhaps multiball 2 has the player attacking the evil invaders, in which case it might make more sense to have several shots lit representing taking out the various minions, and once the player has taken them all out, they can take on The Big Boss (Super Jackpot).

Of course, there are many other factors. Personally, I hate it when certain shots in a game are basically ignored. (Has anyone EVER shot the Car Crash in Demo Man on purpose? Such a waste!) A multiball might offer a great opportunity to focus on shots that are otherwise not getting much love. (I would probably argue that if you’re in that situation, it’s a much more fundamental design problem, but that’s a whole different discussion.)

There’s also the question of accessibility of features – the “close to the start button” factor. It’s often in the interest of games to make at least one multiball easily accessible, because of course, multiballs are cool for everyone, especially casual players (who far outnumber us fanatics). The easily-accessible multiball should probably also offer strong positive feedback to the player via lots of booms and blasts and exciting moments, but that has to be balanced against making those points too accessible to the skilled player, lest they do nothing else but milk that feature all day.

You’ve posed a great question, but I think a master’s thesis could be written to answer it.


More for Multiball, would be one of my favourites, which is the players ability to stack it with other modes.

Come to mind examples: Starting Q and then intentionally stacking Borg MB in STTNG… or maybe advancing the switch frenzy in Tales from the Crypt, and activating this within one of the multiballs for big scoring.

Multiball may also be beneficial to complete modes quickly, although typically at less points from the mode than targeted advancement.

I like the multiball super jackpot rules that incorporate the # of balls remaining in play to determine the multiplier value of the SJP. It’s cool to value the increased degree of difficulty of pulling off the SJP with more balls on the PF. It harkens back to @raydaypinball 's second phase of MB evolution, where the PFx was based on # of balls in play in early SS multiballs. A number of Data East SJP phase of multiballs did this, and Elwin’s now incorporated that into Stern’s JP (Raptor MB) and AIQ (some Victory Laps phases).

Multimorphic did a variation on this scoring design with Lexy’s Agent MB jacks that are multiplied by the # of balls which you began the MB (because there’s risk/reward to how many balls you want to lock before you start that MB). Aerosmith did something slightly similar, but only if you get all 6 balls for Toy Box (I don’t think it incremented JP values between 3-5 ball MB). I’m sure there are other examples.

Then you’ve got the really trippy reward-on-the-fly multiball rules where the jackpot/super value decreases as you hold up any flipper, to penalize a player for playing in control. (WWF Royal Rumble SJP, for instance)


I’m all for scores being multiplied based on no’ of balls in play, or maybe even no’ of JP shots available based on no’ of balls in play?
Nothing more boring than seeing someone basically trap 2 balls and then ignore all others - what’s the point of having a 4 ball MB if you’re not going to make use of them.

Also think that the add a ball awarding an additional ball save period makes it too overpowered, it basically becomes add 2 balls in most instances.

MBs with specific rules and objectives also makes it more of a feature, Horde has got to be the best example I can think of.


In modern games I can think of several different types of multiballs:

  • “Utility multiballs” - These are used to contribute to lighting other objectives rather than focusing on the scoring itself, though the scoring can still be significant if the player focuses on jackpots (see: Thor MB from AIQ, Godzilla MB from Godzilla). Typically these are easy to access for newcomers while more advanced players might want to focus on other objectives during these. Both multiballs in Deadpool I could also consider as utilities more than ones played explicitly for scoring.

  • “Dedicated multiballs” - These are
    Multiball modes you want to activate if you can, as they can be very high scoring and prevent you from activating other features while they are running. These are more common in older machines where multiballs would block out other modes from activating but are still present today; good examples include Mechsuit MB from Deadpool and Saucer Attack MB from Godzilla.

  • “Tactical multiballs” - These are few and far between but can be seen in games like LOTR (Gollum MB) and Stern Star Trek (2-ball Multiball from warp 9.9). These act as adding a new ball into play while maintaining single-ball rules and introduce many strategic implications for the player.

  • There are also some multiballs that are a mix between the “utility” and “dedicated” types - the big ones that come to mind are the three different multiballs you get from shooting the center shot on both Mandalorian and Rush. Accessible for newcomers but they have intricate jackpot sequences to draw in the advanced player, as well as strategy in determining what modes to bring into them that the dedicated multiballs lack.


Its very game dependent, I am sure that I like some MB depending on the game/style, so this is general for me.

Indifferent with this style, slows the game down and rewards control. Not a big fan of just holding one ball and limiting my shots.

Same as above but rewards more trapping and saving the ball.

Little bit better, changes how you’re playing the game and what to shoot for. I like combo jackpots, Hit L ramp R ramp then scoop for Super or anything similar.

Prefer this really. I enjoy the style of making a certain combination of shots in a select order to get the most points. Playing pinball to me is making the correct shots accurately to get the most reward.

Not a fan. Rip a spinner or find the pops. Sort of similar to the first two.

I like these. I know this mode has too many shots, so I need to bring a multiball in before I start it. Rewards game awareness and theory.

I would like even a MB that “upgrades” your game for getting a Super. So lets say you get a Super Jackpot after X amount of shots, now your mode scoring is increased for the rest of the game.

Also all jackpots should be renamed to “Zakpots”. Thats just me though.


It’s fun when a game had a mix of them. Often it seems like games use more of one or two types (maybe the wizard/sub-wizards are different) but it could also tie into the theme of the game. It’d be nice to have one that rewards play on the fly too and maybe like increased scoring when not trapping or something. (Though I love to stage flip jackpots on Funhouse and Whirlwind too).

I like this as more of an on-the-fly player and wish there were more things like this.

I also like some of the MBs that start as 2-ball and you can keep adding balls up to “x” by doing “y” - maybe with each add a ball, your trapping ability is shortened. So like in 2-ball you can trap (so if you have one ball trapped, you can still shoot whatever with the other ball and stay ‘safe’ with the trapped ball. When you add in ball #3 then you get a short timer like in the impossible modes where your flipper hold is limited to some amount of time. If you add in ball #4 it gets even shorter or non-existant? maybe some adjusted scoring too?

1 Like

Question, your thoughts on Headlong Flight MB from Rush? I think this is a very good balance between controlled play, requiring you to shoot the upper flipper shots for jackpots… with the on-the-fly play of jackpots counting down starting at 12 mil down to 1 mil. Corvette has a similar Multiball but lacks the on-the-fly nature demonstrated in Headlong Flight. Probably my favorite Multiball in that game personally.

I like the challenge of keeping as many balls in play as possible as long as possible without cradling. Pinball is “managed chaos,” and cradling takes away too much of the chaos element. Jugglers don’t keep 4 bowling pins in their hands and toss just one at a time around to keep 5 pins “in play,” they toss all 5 constantly. That’s why it’s difficult and worth watching. So I like games that reward having more balls going longer, e.g. PF multiplier keyed to balls in play and that declining value for “time cradled”. I also like the reward of a post-MB PF X like on Party Zone.

Two of my favorite MBs are the wizard modes on TOTAN and RFM where you have to defeat the Genie or the Martians. On TOTAN, keeping more balls in play AND making shots while doing so is essential. That multiball can be incredibly intense, more so than most other MBs. On RFM, the ability to strategically re-add balls before your multiball dies is a neat feature; it rewards cradling more than TOTAN, though. In both cases, I like that your wizard mode multiball value goes up the longer you keep it running.

Monster Bash also has a nice wizard multiball where you get extra jackpot value for Bash jackpots based on how many individual jackpots you’ve scored; same with AFM’s TA center jackpot collects.

CFTBL’s creature letter multiplier is sweet in that it both adds value and gets a ball “safely out of the way” in the process, kind of the predecessor to the recent “double scoring while a ball is locked” during multiball on Sterns like MET and Aero. If you’re going to have one or more balls “somewhere safe” during multiball rather than whizzing around, I’d rather you had to make a shot to do it as in those cases rather than simply cradled up.

Flipper cradling is for people who can’t handle the madness? I overstate, but you get the idea. Cradling is a skill, but a less fun one.


I’m a fan of this too. TMNT with the mushroom topping holds the ball in lair longer. So some variation of make a shot with multi ball to hold it somewhere is neat to me.

I’ve personally had enough of this type of multiball scoring where everything is lit and a long ballsave rewards erratic “spray and pray”. Especially when slopppy/unplanned playfield X comes into the equation for big flailing points.

I’d love to see some modern games go this way for a more CFTBL approach to multiball with no/short ballsave. Rewarding good control keeping balls in play with a clear and specific route to a high scoring jackpot/super.


The jackpot values increment each time on Aerosmith and there is a big jump from 4 to 5… I’m not sure of the details but playing 5 is worth a lot more than playing 3 or 4.

Love this question

They are super rare, but I really dig MBs where if you “beat” them you get to continue in single ball play with all your balls…Kobayashi Maru and Quill’s Quest 2 ball are the only two that come to mind. Feels like I’ve entered a cheat code when I get to take a MB into single ball play.


Gappa angry - yes it’s a wizard mode but it’s also a great multiball! With great shots needed.


This was a very good question to reflect on and discuss. Thanks!

I appreciate the evolution of multiball rules and where we are with them now. These days, there is way better risk/reward appropriateness and score balancing between multiball and non-multiball play, and there are more and more creative types of multiballs and ways to qualify and stack them. A handful come to mind for Godzilla alone! Also, lock stealing is less prevalent in more modern games. I have the most fun playing when I’m playing multiballs, and I really appreciate the variety of them all.

Some features I appreciate most are lots of add-a-balls available, like on Tron LE’s End of Line multiball. I also like modes that can have multiball play but also still persist with single ball play, with opportunities to keep adding balls; I see this mostly in some more modern Stern wizard modes like the AIQ battle, TWD Horde, Stranger Things Final Battle, LZ Top of the Charts, and AC/DC Encore. And Stern Trek has a couple of multiballs I like that occur with single-ball play rules: warp 9.9, and finishing Kobiyashi Maru with more than one ball in play, as mentioned by @abagwell85 above.

I appreciate all you rule designers out there and how hard you work to come up with (and then tweak if they need it) all your multiballs!

Logged in players can Teolis button steal non-logged in player’s lock :slight_smile:


@sk8ball that actually exists as a setting on Stranger Things Premium…

I’ve always struggled with the question of:
How valuable should the multiball be? Like, you’re already getting ball save and extra balls to do all the other stuff with, so you’re already off the bat biased toward hunting down the nearest multiball when pressing start. Should it really reward you with huge jackpot opportunities too?

I think it depends on the game of course and varies from case to case but it’s an interesting question.


YMMV depending on your TD :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: