Your opinion needed: unlimited vs. limited Herb

I’m running a tournament one month from today. Here’s the format that’s been announced:

  • Bank of 7 tournament games for qualifying.
  • IFPA scoring (100, 90, 85…).
  • A player’s best 5 game results count in the standings.
  • Entries are purchased in blocks of 5 games.
  • Qualifying runs from 10 am to 4 pm Saturday; tournament volunteers will be able to make one qualifying 5-game entry starting at 4 pm as needed
  • Each player is limited to 5 entry block purchases.

A friend of mine from out of town has expressed concern that this last item (limiting the number of entry blocks a player can buy) strongly favors local players and will therefore deter non-locals from attending. I definitely see his point, but so far, I’m not inclined to make any changes. However, I’m here to have my mind changed. Possibly.

Here are the pros and cons as I see them for this limited approach:


  • Nobody needs to feel like they are competing with a bank roll (i.e., limits the perception that players can buy their way into the playoffs).
  • Because the prize pot is limited, it’s less of a cash grab for both the house (aka, me/my ability to pay the bills for my clubhouse) and the eventual winners.
  • Limiting the plays on the games will help ensure that they operate as consistently as possible over the 6-hour qualifying period. We have a couple people who will be able to work on the games as needed, but I am hoping to avoid any catastrophic failures that would require that a game be removed from the tournament bank.
  • Exposes our local players to a new tournament format while removing one of the worst parts: Feeling compelled to spend a lot of cash with a strong chance of no payout.


  • Limited opportunity for players to adjust during qualifying.
    Especially true for people without any previous experience on these particular machines.
  • Limited prize pool will probably minimize interest for out of town and high-level players.

What do you think about this format in general? Should I consider increasing the number of entries per player? Should I make it unlimited like a standard Herb? No doubt my general dislike for the pump-and-dump has influenced how I wanted to run this tournament.


How many players are you expecting? If it’s 20+, the question of limited vs.unlimited may be moot. With a bank of 7 games, it may be hard for people to play more than 25 qualifying games in a 6 hour period.

I recently ran a limited best game format on a bank of 5 games, with a flat entry fee buying you 3 attempts on the bank. We had 25 players qualifying from Noon-5pm, and only about 2/3 of them were able to squeeze in all 15 games. Those were the ones who started playing right at Noon and waited in line without taking breaks. In hindsight, we should have planned for another hour or two of qualifying, but we stuck to the published cutoff time.

It will really come down to how hard the games are set up and how quickly the games are turning over. If games are brutal, people may get through 5 attempts, but you also have to consider how many people are showing up at 10 sharp vs. rolling in at 12 or 1.

Limited is better if qualifying will only be 6 hours. In fact, depending on expected attendance you may wish to limit entry block purchases further to ensure everyone can get their games in before qualifying ends.

Good point about the limited time. The games will be set up relatively tough. I was planning on each machine being able to be played 6 games/hour on average. Some will be slower and some should be quicker, of course. With 7 machines that’s 252 plays in 6 hours.

I don’t know how many players to expect at this point, but it should be between 15 and 40. Let’s say we have 25, which seems like a reasonable number. 25 players playing the maximum 25 games means 625 games. However, I think that a large portion of the people will not attempt to play 5 entries. If the average is 3 entries per person, that’s 375 plays.

Good point, jdelz, that players won’t necessarily show up on time/early, so we’ll have lot of people trying to play all at once.

Looking at this math, I’m thinking it might be better go with:

  • 10 games, with the top 5 results counting for each player
  • Adding another hour or two for qualifying

Additional thoughts?

Unless you have a super long playoffs format, I don’t see any harm in extending qualifying for a couple more hours. I think most players who make playoffs and do well expect it to be wrapped up between 9-11pm. How many will qualify for playoffs, and what is the format?

Another thing to consider during qualifying is whether or not you will let players move on to their next ticket if they choose not to complete their current one. During our tournament, the logjam was at Stern Star Trek. If a player was happy with their ST score from ticket #1, we let them take a 0 on ST on ticket #2 so they didn’t have to wait 5 deep on ST when all they really wanted was to start ticket #3 to improve on their F14 score. That was something we didn’t consider ahead of time, so we made the call on the fly and I think it was the right move.

The math based on what is written is not making sense to me.

Let’s assume that there will be 7 total games with 6 games played per hour, for 6 hours = 252 games that will be played in qualifying.

Since there can only be about 250 games total played then that means only approximately 50, 5-game blocks can be utilized. So in a 25 player tourney, all things being equal, each player would be able to use (2) 5-game blocks

Therefore the average game time needs to be much, much less than 10 minutes per game for people to even have multiple tries, or the qualifying time must be much longer.

Just my thoughts

I like the limited entries format as a personal preference. I know that in Europe, they sometimes give each player a time slot in which they can try to qualify. Each time slot could have either a limited or unlimited amount of tries I suppose.

Regarding the advantage for home players, you could allow an hour of open practice before tournament start to level the playing field. During that time, you’ll also find out if any machines have any malfunctions that you didn’t notice during your set up.

As others have pointed out, you usually end up getting a limited number of tries due to time constraints even if it is “unlimited”.

I hope the booklets of 5 don’t have to be 5 different games that you choose beforehand. I think it’s way better to buy tickets that are always good for any machine. Otherwise you get in the crappy situation of buying a ‘book’ when you really only care about getting a good score on one of the games, or the situation someone else mentioned where you have to wait in a long line at a game you already have a good score on.

Thanks for all the help, all. I’m definitely taking all this into consideration as I put things together. The purchased blocks of 5 games will not have to be used on 5 different machines.

I don’t think that limiting 5 entries is going to be a big deal seeing that qualifying is only one day.

Are you going to offer a limited practice time before the event? This would definitely help motivate me to travel to the event. I understand home field advantage, but there are many out of towners that have not been on any of these machines. I also get that at PAPA there is no practice on the bank games. The difference is that no one gets any time on the PAPA games, where coop members have been playing on these for months. The advantage is huge. It may take until the last of the 5 tickets to even get a good feel for the games.

I strongly oppose the idea that the volunteers will get the last opportunity to qualify during the event. I understand rewarding their efforts, but you could let them put in a free card at the beginning couldn’t you? I just think it is slightly unfair to get knocked out in the last hour and not even be allowed to play at the time. Someone traveling a good distance would just have to sit there and watch it happen with no way of trying to put up a better card. I just don’t think that you should have restricted play at the end of qualifying.

By popular demand, I just added one hour of practice starting at 9 am.

The problem with the volunteer thing is that I don’t know how many we’ll need, so I don’t want to give someone a free ticket who didn’t earn one and I don’t want to deny someone who did earn one. If it helps ease your mind, volunteers will be allowed to play one 5-game ticket each at the end of qualifying. As opposed to unlimited ticket entry for that hour.

I also think that you and Adam, and possibly other out of towners, are overthinking the hometown advantage for just about all of our players. [Sorry Vermont players reading the following.] The skill level of our local players is improving, but we’re not close to what you’ll find at the Sanctum, or a L&G tournament, or pretty much any other regional events.

No doubt, I have a big advantage, or I should. But I should be pretty occupied running the event. Best I can do, because I’m definitely going to play.

I also understand that it’s a harder call for newer out of town players to decide to travel for this kind of event because the advantage an otherwise equal local player would have. An hour of practice/access should help, I think. Plus, the thing I said about the skill level here is true. And, a big plus is that all the locals are really nice and will tell you anything they know about how the games play. OK, maybe I’m not that nice, but I’ll definitely give pinball advice to anyone who asks during qualifying.

I played in my first limited HERB tournament this weekend and I thought it was an awesome format for a one day tournament.

To qualify, there were 9 machines in the bank. Each player must play 1 game on each machine. A player has 3 more attempts to improve their score on any combination of the machines.
Top qualifiers move to a double elimination best of 3 bracket.

Really nice format that put some pressure during qualifying but you still had a chance to bounce back if you bombed out of a game. For a field of 32 qualifying took about 5 hours.

Here are the details if you want to see how this could affect scores.

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I’d be very interested to run something like this. How would I go about getting the software?

I sent a PM to @kdeangelo (per advice here: Best Tournament Software?) and he very graciously hooked me up with software, hosting, and some great advice.

After adding some test data that’ll be cleared out before the tournament starts, here’s what it looks like:

Score entering via phone/tablet is straightforward, and results are available for everyone in real time.

Thanks very much!

Thanks Williams.

I’m really glad you enjoyed the format. I had a couple people complain of course but I wanted to try something new and fun for everyone. It was for charity so the need for unlimited to me was not the best route.

I have a lot of people liking the limited herb now. I have a couple players in my area that wont play in herb style now.

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