Rules Overload

I recently read this within the UKPinfest review on Pinball News. I tend to agree with its sentiment.

> Interestingly, after having played the newest games we heard the same comments over and over; that the rules have become too complicated and unintuitive, that they are written by top players for other top players, and average players are simply giving up on ever hoping to learn them.

I’m not a fan of games where to get good at them you need to not just practice on them but memorize a set of rules the size of a 50-page users manual. Yes, having more features available as the years progressed has been a good thing. Lane change beats no lane change. Modes where some shots become more important than others are good. Bonus and shot multipliers are good, but IMO only up to a point. Lately, it seems to have turned into a “mine is more complicated than yours” festival. Just because you can make games more complex doesn’t mean you should. Witness the gap in scores between “good” games and “great” games by machine vintage. It used to be from 2:1 to perhaps 5:1. Now, it’s often 10:1 or more. Joe and Jane “pretty good” are getting left in the dust and feeling inadequate. The hobby is becoming a bit too inbred. It may be too late to change it, but it’d be nice if we had some new games with rules that weren’t designed like they were primarily intended to impress IFPA World Championship attendees. New game play features, sure, add them if they’re fun. But let’s not make people feel like they need to go to night school to have a shot at getting their initials on the game.

Where is the “sweet spot”? From the reactions of people I’ve helped, I estimate something like Monster Bash plus a very few and clearly-defined shot and playfield multipliers. Definitely not anything from the last few years; even GoT was too much for most people with all those confusing Houses. It’s probably too far when someone asks you how to play a game and you spend the next 5 minutes asking them about their skill level and existing knowledge of the game to guess which strategy to suggest rather than just answering the question.

In fairness, not all 2000’s games have this problem. Tron, NASCAR, PotC and CSI are pretty accessible. But the trend is going the wrong way for the casual-to-good player. Bottom line is, we’re becoming elitist - - “let’s make the rules such that we can show off how much better we experts are than everybody else” - - and I don’t think that’s a good thing.


Agree 100%!

In order to really learn the rulesets of the newest games, you must buy it, play the crap out of it for a few months, and then sell it to buy the next new game. Rinse and repeat.


One other thing I’d like to see again is a game where a “jackpot” is actually a meaningful amount of points. It’s hard to truly get excited about a “super jackpot” that’s still about maybe 1/10th of the replay score. If I realized I needed to actually have the “double double super jackpot” to score big, I’d have to do a double take to ensure I’m not at an In-n-Out first.

As a top-200 player, I do relish the challenges of the newer games’ rules, but I do look fondly back at games like AFM and FT with simpler rules, but enough challenge and fun in the gameplay to make me want to come back to them. TNA was the last truly successful attempt at this IMO. Munsters was not.


I mostly agree with this post. But I can confidently say I am conflicted in general. Rules are one of my stronger suits but I think it’s more of how I personally store the information in my head.

Can you or anyone give me an example of a recent game that caused this confusion?

Most strategies I know and rule sets are “most amount of points in least amount of shots” but I couldn’t tell you exactly the amount of points. I could ballpark it sure.

My other question/argument would be are the rules too in-depth? Or is there a better way to learn and store this information?

Edit: I should clarify a bit. I could hit a limit of how much I would need to know but I do agree that not always more rules is a better game.

The progression of “ways to display information to the player” has also been a progression of more complication in rules sets- rules could only be so complicated when the only way to give information to the player was the state of lights+mechanisms on the playfield and static text. They got more complicated once you could have an alphanumeric display… and again with a DMD… and now even more so with a big LCD. Each step was a jump in how much information the game could communicate to the player about what to do to earn points. I would guess each jump in that progression had its share of detractors, but you don’t hear a lot of people now saying we should go back to EMs, so I personally have a hard time believing this will be a long-lived complaint and not just an adjustment to a new normal.

It’s also kind of weird because you have 90% of people who ever put a dollar into a game, who don’t care that the rules are complicated because they just see a cool machine in a bar, and then you have 8% (I’m just making up a number) of the remaining 10% who love learning the deep rules- but the point is not that it’s 8% and more just that it’s a minority of a minority who are in between those two states. I have a lot of empathy for people who feel that rules are getting more complicated, because just given that math it’s unlikely that anyone is going to do anything about it. :confused:


At what point do we need to take an hard look at people who make the games playing in events??

Not saying that it’s bad but we may need hard rules to cover cases.
Maybe Forced Q & A time and if someone try’s to say that due to an NDA they can’t talk then it’s an DQ for them.

Forced (FREE) (TD MAY EVEN NEED TO COVER COIN DROP) Warm Up time for last minute code updates? (maybe just if game people are in the game)

NO ONLINE GAMES (stern thing is to new to be used in an EXPO like event with the game dev’s in play)

It’s just another skill to have in your bag of tricks. Rules nuts like me who put the time in can actually gain a bit of an advantage due to that extra effort to learn the nuances.

It’s just like people griping about EMs saying they’re luck boxes. Just practice them, put the time in, and you’ll get it.


Never? Whether it’s physical or virtual, we can all get the same amount of time on a game as the creators.

As far as last minute code updates before an event, one it’s extremely rare unless it’s a new game that patches serious bugs before a launch or other event, or the TD just waits to add it until they know it’s legit and free of game breaking bugs. If not, don’t use it.


But with DLC and paid online accounts there is things that do need hard written rules.

Let’s say there is an high cost whale tear at stern and the stern staff get’s it for free? then are you really at the same game as the creators?

Just don’t want this pay to play gameing crap to mess up pinball.

This isn’t live yet. Pointless to involve in this discussion until we actually know what it is and what’s in it.


Game/rule knowledge is part of the pinball skillset same as anything else. Even today most new games’ rulesets are pretty simple in my opinion, especially if all you need to know is the tournament strategy, and I wish they played even more to rule knowledge than they do. If rule knowledge is your weak point, then pick older games when you have the choice of game, and play good enough to get the game choice, same as any other strength/weakness. A good tournament should have a variety of games anyway, and that includes games with both simple and complex rulesets just as much as it does classics vs moderns

As a pinball buyer, complicated rulesets are one of the main things I look for. If I can learn everything I need to know in 100 plays, I’m not interested, and most games today still fall in that bucket. Stuff like shot multipliers and playfield multipliers is 15 years old at this point and I welcome new ways to mix up the rules.


I also like the deeper rulesets. I don’t want to get bored with a game in 20 plays. Yes, I do feel like the rules have gotten exponentially deeper in the past few years, but that’s one of the great things in pinball in my opinion. You’ve got to really WANT to learn the game and put the time in to become great at it.

If all games consisted of was: How do I start the MB?, How do I increase my bonus X?, How do I start the modes?, then I think it would be pretty boring.

We all have games we’re good at and games we’re not so good at. There are a few games I can’t really get my head around, like the minor villains in BM66 or the Gems in AIQ. But if I play them in competition, I know enough to put up a decent score and possibly win the match. Other games that puzzle some players, like GOT, JJPOTC and Star Wars, I have a pretty deep understanding of.

I do get Bob’s point. But like Erik also suggested, we still have EM’s. We still have solid states. All competitions don’t need to be a Sternament.


Shit, people that come to my house can’t figure out selecting doctors in DW.

Newer games’ depth is why I buy them, the causal player gets to bat a ball around for a bit and moves on.


I don’t know why that was in bold. Sorry

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Technically much older than 15 if you count the playfield multipliers in games like Black Knight or Flash Gordon.

Mostly agree. I’ve been saying for years that it’s a great time to be a player. I still feel that way, but I think it is going overboard. Ironically, manufacturers are publishing rules early, as if to say: ‘Here’s all the rules. Read them and you’re good to go!’. That’s not working. We’re talking less about strategy than we ever have.

I thought Star Wars and GOT were pushing the edge, but I liked both rulesets and mostly grasped them. Now, I start reading and realize I don’t want to invest an hour or more reading and strategizing about a single game. I’d rather play. Even more than using game knowledge to gain an advantage competitively, I very much enjoy sharing game knowledge with others when appropriate. If we stay on this path, I’m not going to have as much to share in the future.


I prefer games that have a lot of options. I don’t need to know the details of maximizing song jackpots in AC/DC to be “good” at it. But if I want to delve into the depth of the rules that should be available.

I am Joe pretty good. Don’t care a hoot that I haven’t put a GC on a machine in years because there are literally dozens of other leaderboards on a modern game. If getting my initials up is my goal I have multiple ways to do that today that don’t involve getting one of the highest five scores in the last 2000 games.

People willing to spend the time and effort to learn a deep ruleset about their favorite game are the same people willing to spend the money to play. We should cater to those people with some games. Munsters and Primus are available modern games with simple rules, and there are hundreds of existing simple games. Jane and Joe Shalourulzluvr have many options.


Disagree. Wholeheartedly.

Effective modern pin rules design is a “both/and” in terms of depth+breadth AND accessible portions of rules and features for a variety of skill levels.

And modern pins are doing an excellent job of fulfilling that “both/and,” meeting the needs of both new players — whether new to pinball or just new to that pin — and players who want a pin that provides a myriad of strategic and tactical paths to explore over the long term.

It’s unrealistic to expect players who don’t know a game as well (and interaction factors between features and risk/reward analysis of features/shots) to perform as well as someone who has spent the time to learn them.

We’re playing pinball. Not checkers.


The biggest problem with rulesets like those on a number of recent games is there is simply no way for the game to show you what to do when there are 14 things to do instead of one or two. IMO, and I’m sure loads will disagree, Maiden is the shining example of how to do complex rules (but not too complex) correctly as it has an intuitive game design that clearly guides the player through the modes and shots needed. Nothing else is close and everything else obfuscates progress behind different colored inserts and maybe some instructions on the screen that I just looked up at and… crap, drained again. And don’t even get me started on games that make me stare at a screen to select my path of play/active features before I plunge.

So yeah… I’ll play Stars for two hours please, thanks. :grin:


I am definitely a rules guy and love learning obscure nuances of obscure games. But I agree that the rules are muddled in some cases. The problem isn’t so much complexity, but discoverability. It’s possible to make things both deep, yet approachable. Some modern games have rules that are completely unclear without reading a wiki.

Games are great at putting a fun feature “close to the flippers”, i.e. bash toy multi-ball. But what’s sometimes lacking is the middle ground for molding intermediate players. If the game rules aren’t consistent and discoverable, new players can’t easily learn. If new players can’t easily learn, the community doesn’t grow. This has a compounding effect due to streaming: unclear rules are difficult for commentators to explain, difficult for viewers to follow, which means less potential for new people to get into pinball.

For example, I love Batman 66, but it’s awful in this respect. It’s such a cool “kitchen sink” game that tosses in a boatload of possibilities, and let the players go to town with strategy. But it’s so full of hidden knowledge that can only really be gleaned via a wiki. Everything feels like it could all be so much clearer. If I have trouble explaining something to a seasoned pinball player, it’s that much worse for even a relatively intermediate player.

Another simpler example, the latest Game of Thrones code added house powers to the action button that are not explained by the game. On-screen house descriptions on ball 1 are the same as release and do not reflect these additions (outside of newly added Targaryen), so this makes it seem like the changes are aimed at hyper-competitive players who read code changelogs. But the abilities aren’t that complex, if they are given a bit of explanation.

(This isn’t meant to pick on any game/person/company specifically, as I enjoy all of the above. Just examples that come to mind from trying to explain games to others.)

I don’t think everything needs to be obvious or easy, and discovering nuance and strategy is deeply enjoyable. But it’s probably not great if a major feature can’t be known without reading online, being told, or playing a large # of games.

Often these games have had significant scoring bugs, which I think is partly to blame due to unclear rules – it’s hard to know if something is a bug if the game rules are not easily knowable. (GoT HOTK hurry-up, GOTG bonus not resetting, B66 had a few things like this).

Iron Maiden and TWD are the “sweet spot” of both complexity and approachability for me. I appreciate that there’s a wide gamut of complexity, too. The popularity of TNA, both casually and competitively, shows that there’s certainly a market for “simple” games.