Hungarian Pinball Open, Budapest, Hungary - 18-20/11/2016

With the past 2 tournaments ending pretty much into swearing (sorry folks, I was so bummed about the last Borås Open that I didn't even want to write about it), I wasn't really sure of what to expect of Hungary. To be honest, I don't even know why I originally signed up, the tournament's home pages looked a bit funky and there was very little information about the tournament's format or even where exactly it was being held. In addition to that, most of the information was made available on the Facebook only and the organisers somehow managed to get my dad on their announcement list.

I had hoped for a slot in Saturday's qualifications, but ended up in Friday's group. From what I pieced together, the qualification would be on sometime afternoon. I knew it would be a long day, but sounded like a doable feat, although the exact format was still a mystery. I had heard of score based qualification and then someone mentioned match play. Whatever it was, I just hoped to do a short qualification stint on Friday, sleep well and then rage on into the qualifications on Saturday.

I left Kouvola for a two hour drive towards Helsinki before 6 in the morning. I was met with other Finns heading for the same event, so I tagged along and we went to find our hotels and some lunch together in Budapest. Finding the actual tournament venue took a while as the signage was pretty much non-existing and I had probably missed most of the Facebook only updates on the venue changes. After some asking around, we finally made it.

The place itself was some sort of a concert hall, turned into a temporary arcade. Majority of the building was for the ongoing Arcadia game expo, which is what we first stumbled into.

The Arcadia expo area
We had been told that there would be a possibility of visiting the Budapest's pinball museum as well, but I found no further information on that anywhere. The museum however had something to do with this tournament as many of the games had the museum's fact sheets as backbox toppers.

Qualification, classics

We wandered around for some time, until we found a pretty discreetly marked "players only" door. Finally we also found someone, who had some time frame for the whole thing. The bad news was that the main qualification set to start at 19:00. The classics would again start at 16:00, so we'd have good time to warm up (or get super frustrated with) the classics tournament.

The classics area

The classics was a "pick 5 out of 20" type of a thing with score based qualification, 3 entries per game. All the entries had to be played at the same time (so it was a 3 player solo game), with all scores being meaningful.

I started with Captain Fantastic, which played real nice, but I got very little done on it, ending up with 37k, 32k and 13k.

Next I picked Space Time. I had high hopes for it, but even when I found the exact timing for the funnel, I completely failed to collect its value, for a highly disappointing 8k, 29k and 4k.

I scouted out for some possible rarer games and found Sexy Girl, which was Bally's Playboy re-themed and it had a window in the mid-playfield for a slide projector. Software-wise it played exactly the same as Playboy, which in theory should have materialised into some points. The center target was really dangerous and I had trouble making the grotto-shots stick. The ending scores were 95k, 34k and 13k.

I had never seen Stern's Iron maiden before (and sadly it had nothing to do with the band!), but it looked just so plain awesome I had to give it a try. It had pretty sweet layout and it was fun to play, save for the right flipper which had the tendency to stick at times. I set up all my 3 games for multiball, but failed to start it on any of them. Bummer! Still, totally sick graphics and awesome layout! 147k, 81k and 64k.

The maiden went straight to my #1 favorite classic Stern.

Seeing this was going nowhere, I gambled my last entry away with Gorgar. I tried setting it up for some glorious spinner action and actually managed to pull it off on one game. The other two were pretty bad at 89k and 86k, but the 660k ball was a welcome change to the pace.

With just one good ball in all 5 games, I knew I wouldn't have to worry about playing in the play-offs. At the same time I started getting even more worried about the actual main tournament in this playing condition.

Qualification, main tournament

We tried getting into the main tournament area when the time drew near, but were pretty unceremoniously told to get the hell out of there. After lots of waiting we were finally let in and it seemed like things were about to get real. Turns out there's some kind of unspecified problem and after half an hour of confusion it was announced that the tournament would restart at 20:00. Having been 14 hours up at that point I knew I was screwed.

The qualification format was two stages of match play, with 9 players from each group getting to the second match play session. The round scoring was 7-5-3-1.

I started out with White Water. I had severe issues with the upper right flipper and totally screwed up the multiball that could have gotten me my first 7 point round. Instead I had to settle for 42M and 3 points.

Round 2 was played on Transformers. I got very little done on it, but was in the lead until the very last ball. The game had constant issues with the ball lock and often gave out two balls. We were also one player short, which led to even further delays. 5 points.

Next round was on Hurricane. I somehow managed to totally mess up balls 1 and 2, being over 4M behind the others. I found the Hurricane ramp on my third ball and grinded 4.5M out of that for 3 points.

4th round was played on Stern's Star Trek. Player one, a local talent, dominated the game from the start and finished Vengeance on his last ball. I had two really crappy balls, until on the last ball I recovered and also finished Vengeance. Player 1 ended with 35.1 and I was at 33M when I drained. After the bonus count I lost the 1st place by just 60k! Damn! Still, 5 points.

At round 5 I already felt I was reaching my limits. I had to down couple of Red bulls earlier even when I had vowed to give up the energy drinks. Now even their effect was wearing out. Transformers was picked for the second time as Scared Stiff was out of order. We played a rather even round, with me leading the whole time. However I kicked it to a higher gear on my last ball, playing the second Megatron multiball and the Optimus prime right after that, pulling over 20M lead to the others for an easy 7 points. I also got to enter my initials for a 33M score and combo champion.

We got White Water again for the 6th round. Now I knew of the bad flipper and utilised the appropriate violence needed to make the shot. I aced the multiball after painfully short Whirlpool challenge, ending my 3rd ball with 150M when the others were at 40-60M. The 3rd player however pulled a one ball wonder for 330M and I had to settle for 5 points here.

We got the Hurricane again for the 7th round. I had wished we would have played all the games in our bank, but somehow we ended up repeating just the couple machines over and over again. The game was a total failure and I got 3 points only because we were a player short.

Speaking of a repeating pattern, round 8 was Transformers again. I was really dead tired and had trouble even trying to keep my eyes on the ball. I played Megatron multiball on my first ball for around 7M and had Optimus ready, but I spent the remaining balls trying the bash the poor Optimus prime without any success. Last player's bad luck was my only saving grace here for 3 points.

I was so glad round 8 was finally done and we'd get the hell outta there. But no, there was still one round to go! There are very few moments in my life where I'd say "no more" to a round of pinball, but this was finally it.

Round 9 was played on Stern's Star Trek. I got a really crappy first ball and ended up slap saving so hard the machine tilted. It went to next player's turn, gave a danger and then the software crashed. Lots of arguing ensued on how to proceed from here. It was judged as game restart with me playing one ball less than the others, with my score of 700k recorded. My second ball was almost as bad, and at that point the best score was 63M, with the others at 7M and 3M. I pulled a magic trick out of my ass and played a successful Vengeance and almost got the Klingon multiball running as well, ending with 22M for 5 points.

It took a while to see the results, but the cutoff line was at 43 points where I was at 39. To be honest, I was surprised to even be 12th in my group with such poor playing.

Qualification, pingolf

Is there such thing as "too much pinball"? For the first time in my life I sure felt that way after Friday's tournament and spent the Saturday just wandering around in Budapest. I wasn't even sure if I'd even bother to show up, but as I appeared to have paid the pingolf too, I joined Joonas there after Antti pestered us long enough if we were coming or not.

Normally pingolf is limited to a 2-3 pins, but here we had the whole golf course with 18 games! A total of 20 machines were made available, with 18 to pick from. Usually the games are set for 5+ balls and failing to reach the objectives with that amount of balls gives you an extra point in addition to the ball count. Here everything was set on 3 balls and the objectives were tiered so for example if the target score was 100k, you'd get 1-3 for reaching that with 1-3 balls. But if you didn't reach it, they'd give you 4 points for 80k at the end of game, 5 points for 70k and so forth.

Pingolf in progress. It was played in both, main and classics rooms.

I was in a bit hurry to do the whole 18 hole course as I only had 6 hours till my flight was to leave, but I managed to speed run it despite all the delays with the machines breaking, stuck balls and just plain old score keeping confusion. Much to my surprise I didn't totally suck. I finished majority of the games within 2-3 balls and only twice got 7 point penalty for not reaching the target score. I also got couple of hole-in-ones in there to balance it out. It was a shame that many of the games suffered from problems that would have been counted as a major malfunction.

I had to hit the road pretty much immediately after finishing my round of 18 games and I didn't get to see what my final score was. Apparently this tournament had no play-offs and I don't know what my final score was. Not sure if the scorekeepers knew either. I was 13th at the moment I left.

The outcome

I failed to qualify in the main tournament and classics.

The final standings:
  • 113th out of 236 players in the main tournament
  • 145th out of 204 players in the classics
  • 27th out of 151 players in the pingolf tournament

Of Hungary and the tournament

Finland and Hungary seem to have this odd thing about each other. Sure, our languages are in the same family, but unlike Estonian, I couldn't understand one word of Hungarian and I assume it was the same thing the other way around. Still, when I was zoned out, I had several instances of the "there's someone speaking Finnish nearby" feeling I get when I travel. For most of the time it turns out to be true. But the thing is, that Hungarian's intonation and some words do indeed sound like Finnish and I was relieved to hear I wasn't the only one who noticed this.

Other funny thing was everyone mistaking us for some other nationality. I don't know which nationality, but it tended to make people pretty cold towards us at first. For example, majority of the restaurants in the city center had doormen, who pretty aggressively tried to contact people and get them in. When I was walking in a near empty street segment, they all seemed to just plain ignore me. Then I went to check out the menu on one restaurant, which forced the doorman to contact me. The very first question was "were are you from?". When I told him I was a Finn, it was like a switch was flicked from "fuck you" to "you're my best buddy". "Oh FINLAND? Welcome, Welcome!" This very same effect was also seen during the tournament, but in a lesser form.

Budapest itself was really beautiful and I really enjoyed just wandering the whole Saturday and checking out places and stuff. The food was good too. I especially liked what was called "Hungarian flat bread", which reminded me of filled pita breads. They were made to order and you could pick what fillings you wanted in yours. Good stuff.

The tournament shared many themes with Poland. The #1 concern was the issues with the games. Majority of them were really apparent from the second I laid my hands on the game and flipped couple of times. I'll applaud the locals for fixing anything totally broken on site, but weak flippers were my nemesis during the whole tournament.

The other thing I'd like to point out is the signage. This tournament was advertised as "international" tournament. Yet we were really struggling to find anything in English. To be honest, majority of the information wasn't even available in Hungarian and we had to resort asking random organisers of when would this and that tournament begin, where would it be and should we check in somewhere etc. This was made even harder by the fact that many of the organisers didn't speak English at all, save "yes" and "no" and pointing at the other organisers.

There were several rules that weren't made clear to you before you broke them. For example, in the classics I had a bottle of juice in with a screw-on cap. I carried that with me when playing and put it under the game I was playing. Then all the sudden I get a lady yelling at me in Hungarian. I didn't understand what was the problem and that made her even angrier. In the end I realised they didn't allow any beverages in the tournament area. Fine, I left my bottle in the chillout area. Then in the next room people were walking with open beer bottles and that was perfectly okay, which brings us to the next point: standardised rules.

There appeared to be several "hard" and absolute rules, but those changed depending on the officials enforcing them. During the pingolf I asked a score keeper each time can I start. After 2nd time I got pretty annoyed reply in the lines of "JUST PLAY, OKAY?". Fine, I played the whole bank without asking to start. I moved onto the next bank, started a game and what do you know, the score keeper comes, grabs my arm and gets angry with me for starting the game on my own. Uh, okay?

The score keeping was really puzzling for me. For years now I've seen the score keepers using smartphones and tablets. Here people wrote the scores on pieces of copier paper and then handed us a copy of what was written down. Every now and then the pieces of paper were delivered to two score keepers typing them into an excel sheet, which again seemed to suffer from several problems (one which delayed the main game over an hour before we could even get started). At times they couldn't read what was written on the pieces of paper and asked to see our copy. I had like a 1cm thick stack of them in the end. And just as I suspected, later on I heard reports of numerous cases of missing scores. They also completely lost my pingolf results, which fortunately was sorted out swiftly once I reported it to IFPA.

We had several IFPA country directors present. I bet each of them would have had some kind of online score keeping system at hand.

And to prevent this from being just a rant, I must say I liked Hungary in general very much, especially the food! It was really easy getting around in the city as well and the airport was just a commuter train ride away from our hotel. The Arcadia expo was a welcome addition and I got to play some games that were totally new to me. Oh, and I finally got to play Heighway's Alien.

It ruled so hard even when it was still a prototype! I also loved the old computer expo and I see I wasn't the only old computer hobbyist around as my tablet's case with Commodore logo on it attracted a lot of attention. The venue itself was within a walking distance from out hotel and was spacious, plus it had toilets and other facilities in order. Bonus points for having a flat bread vendor in the courtyard!

I also met a guy from Israel. He might just be the country's only WPPR ranked player and he was excited beyond description about the whole tournament and pinball exhibition. We played Heighway's Full Throttle together for couple of hours and I demoed him some basic pinball wizardry. 

Playing with Israel's promise to the
pinball scene!

I'll be travelling a lot before this year is finished, but at this point I'm not quite sure of the next tournament I'll be attending to. So, until the next time.

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