Tournament Game Setup

I’ll preface this by saying that I rarely play in tournaments aside from the ones I run. The games are in a bar, so nothing much is changed from the way they come “out of the box”. We do disable extra balls for the tournaments. With that said, I recently played at Pinburgh and was surprised at how different the difficulty was on those machines. Kudos to the people that set them up. I found them hard, but very fair.

I’m interested in what they went through to set them up, most notably the tilt and the pitch. They all had reduced / non-existent ball saves along with shortened multi-ball ball saves. I also noticed missing rubbers on outlane posts and center posts. I saw that the slings were pretty darn sensitive, but not too crazy.

Anyway, now that I’ve rambled enough, I want to set up some of my games at home in a similar manner. What I’m really interested in is how the pitch and tilts were set up. It looked to me like the pitch on every game involved lowering the front levelers all the way and then jacking up the back as high as possible. Is that pretty much the way it works or is there a standardized pitch for games in tournaments?

Also, was something done to the tilts? They were very fair, but as soon as you did anything crazy you were punished. I’ve always had an issue setting mine so they weren’t just way too tight, if that makes any sense at all.

Turning off ball saves and removing rubbers is easy, but it’s really the tilt and pitch that were different.

Sorry for the rambling…

You pretty much got it. Tilts can be finicky so make sure it is working properly. I always keep like 10 full tilt assemblies on me to swap into a game should it need it. Then play with it’s sensitivity. You want tough but fair.

Everything else you’ve mentioned is exactly how I’ve seen it work. No magic formula, just do the things you noticed at pinburgh and you’ll have games set ready for tournaments.

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Great questions to consider, and kudos to you for challenging yourself by increasing the difficulty on your home pins.

It’s a balance. Keep in mind that some games can be “too steep,” actually making them easier to play for any player that is adept at flipper skills for getting to a cradle. While steeper equals faster play and more difficult to hit shots that require full flipper strength, it also means less side-to-side action, which is often more deadly than steep/fast play.

This is probably the most overlooked way to increase your pins’ difficulty, because it’s not easily “seen” by looking at a static game, and it’s not a software setting. When I got a Pinburgh bank on Earthshaker, I was wondering if it was going to play too long… nope! The slings were on the crazy end of the sensitivity spectrum, combined with a clean/fast playfield, it was a very short-playing Earthshaker for the three groups that played the bank that round.

And as mentioned in the past by Pinburgh organizers – I believe it was Doug Polka – increased sling sensitivity gets less complaints from players than an overly-tight tilt, in terms of them feeling like they got a fair chance.


one thing to check as you adjust pitch is the centering of your tilt bob. the steeper a game, the closer the bob to the front of the ring. the ring should also be re-adjusted to horizontal.


The rings on Stern machines don’t have much adjustment. I’m assuming you just need to get in there with some pliers and start bending stuff?

As for pitch, I wasn’t sure if they increased the pitch of the game and then adjusted the flippers so they are more shallow to compensate for a greater pitch being easier in some cases.

On a side note, I ripped all the outlane rubbers off my Metallica, set the tilt pretty tight, increased the Sparky difficulty to 14 hits, removed the ball saver and dropped the mutiball ball saver to 5 seconds. Oh, and I installed Lightning Flippers. :smiley:

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Definitely don’t mess with the flippers unless you want to make them lightning flippers. Always set them factory and aligned with the alignment holes.

The two screws allow you to slide the ring forward and back, but outside of that you can easily adjust the ring with your fingers.

Your Metallica sounds like zero fun. Haha

Actually, a few of the guys (myself included) from leagues, love it. I made CIU 8 shots if I remember correctly, so you really need to go for something other than Sparky all day.

Gotcha. Didn’t realize you also made CIU easier.

The latest code makes Gravemarker MB much more viable. Just one few shot to start it, but somehow feels significant. Probably because you don’t have to survive a magnet throw.

All I need to do to make my Metallica brutal is keep it clean and make sure the flippers are strong.

Definitely. The CIU adjustment is more important to making the game more fun than the increased difficulty changes.


I’ve been getting very curious how PAPA sets up their games in non-visible ways. Many of their games just play so amazingly fast. In some cases I own the same games and can’t get mine to play as fast as theirs by any way I know.
Shortly before Pinburgh I picked up a taxi that played, I thought, incredibly fast (on par almost with some Robocops in terms of how fast the rebounds are, etc). I rebuilt the flippers, removed posts on the outlanes, made the slings as tight as possible, jacked it up, and figured it was excellent practice. At Pinburgh I played their taxi twice during B finals, and it destroyed me. Seemed way more brutal than mine, somehow.

I plan to bring an inclinometer next year and start measuring games…

There’s two ways to make flippers shallower. I’m pretty sure, for instance, that PAPA’s alien poker has different plungers or coil stops to make the flippers shallower while still leaving them aligned to the holes. My alien poker is fully rebuilt with what, as far as I know, are factory parts, and the flippers went up much further I feel. I plan to put shallow coil stops on my Laser Cue soon too, as I feel the game plays too easy despite my best attempts at brutalifying it.

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You should know all the practice testing that goes into Pinburgh and how detailed they are when they track the results. Practice testing not only finds games with the wrong code and extra balls and flaws, it also finds the long playing games and those can be played around with to reduce average game time. It’s easily 7 months of preparation that goes into what can be seen at Pinburgh.


I wish this topic was discussed more here. Tournament setup can vary greatly from event to event and sometimes in the same event. Papa has done a good job with the notes they have, but it seems like it doesn’t get updated much lately.

I’m hardly an expert, but I’ve helped setup lots of tournaments and have kept my eyes and ears open while doing so. Setting up games for tournament play is a lot like a magic act. You want the game to look and play mostly like the games your players play back at home, but not average much more than 3 minutes per game. If you don’t do enough, games will become the bottleneck. If you go too far, players get frustrated and games get shoved. It’s a fine line.

You never want to scare the player before a ball is even launched. Notes all over the backglass or apron don’t help. Lightning bats also don’t help and are rarely needed. For the most part, changing difficulty settings doesn’t help. Hard settings generally doesn’t make a game play faster, it just makes the game harder. Stick to small changes whenever possible. Remove outlane post rubbers, increase pitch, tighten sling switches, tighten the tilt. Whatever you do to a game, test it before the event starts. Shoot for an average game of about 3 minutes.You want the player to feel like they were one of two shots away from blowing the game up, so they come back for more.

Probably slathered with slippery wax. A good wax job can make a meh game into an OMG game. Mark has talked about using wax strategically in the past.

Seems like it would have worn off mostly by that point? Maybe they waxed it Saturday morning, but I played some random other non finals games Saturday night that were similar. I’ve tried a lot of waxes and never found one that has such an effect, at least for more than one or two games

Hard settings can make a game play quicker. If you make a multiball harder, players will get to multiball less and then the game time should be shorter.


Before Pinburgh 2019 we played over 5,000 practice games total to get settings and bank timings dialed in properly.


I don’t think our Alien Poker has the wrong flipper mechs, but I’ll double check.

For the most part I don’t change with how the player expects the flipper to behave / is aligned.




For a lot of games steeper pitch = harder. However, if you want to increase deadly side to side action, less of a pitch on the game can make it harder to control.


That’s why I added the word generally in that comment. Would you agree that making a game too hard using settings can lead to frustrated players? Roughly what percent of games do you guys have to do a hard install on? I’m going to guess less than 10%.