European Pinball Championship 2015 - Sint-Niklaas, Belgium - 2-4/10/2015

I've been looking forward to this trip ever since the unforgettable trip to EPC'14 in Rimini, Italy. I'm no stranger to Belgium, but so far I had never taken part in a tournament in there, so it was finally time to go check out what the guys had in store for us. This was also very special trip to me as it's first time ever my folks joined me in a tournament outside our own arcade, not to talk about a different country.

I wish I could say our arrival in Belgium was an uneventful one, but having our plane getting stuck at the gate and the local railway company skipping our connecting train made us arrive extra late and dead tired. I was looking forward to hear the Stern presentation, but no can do. Wandering around in Sint-Niklaas' nightlife I found numerous familiar faces, first of them being Germany's very own Jochen, with whom I searched for the other Finns, whom we found in various stages of being wasted. After getting some pizza I finally retired to our hotel, which turned out to be a lot better than what I had expected for the price.

The night club-turned-pinball heaven awaited us!

I arrived at the venue a bit early next morning just to check out what they had in store for us. In addition to latest Sterns and Williams-Bally DMD-era machines, the highlights included Stern’s latest, The Game of Thrones, Heighway pinball's Full Throttle, Wizard of Oz, Whoa Nellie and Kiss. I wish I had gotten to play Game of Thrones a bit more, but at least I can say I've tried it now, although I still have no firm opinion about it.

Teams tournament

After playing couple of of free play machines I realized I was far from optimal playing shape. I wish I could limit my energy drink consumption, but once again I found myself downing Red Bulls hoping to wake up. Team Finland was back with last year's line-up of yours truly, TEN, TTV and OMO as the team captain. We'd play against 5 other country teams, so that 2 from our and 2 of the opposing teams played one one machine. Winning player would bring 5 points to his/her team, 2nd 3 points, 3rd 1 point and last one no points. Two teams with most points would go into the finals.

TEN starting the Indiana Jones against the Italians

Me and TEN starter against Italy in Stern's Indiana Jones. It was a total crapfest for me since the very first seconds. At ball 3 I was in the last position, hoping to start the Last crusade multiball for which I had already locked two balls. No dice, did a really pitiful left outlane drain from the captive ball.

Gottlieb's Waterworld wasn't exactly too familiar machine for any of us, but we got some last minute coaching for it. We went against the Danish team on it. Little good that coaching did, as I got two house balls and the last was a rather futile attempt to catch others. Another rather frustrating last position. I know I can be a real mister sunshine when I'm doing badly, but I've been trying to work on that and build playlists to help with my mood. Not sure how well that went, tho.

Getting my ass kicked by Kevin Costner

With Fish Tales being the next game against Team 3G&K, I knew this crap streak had to end some time. Apparently it wasn't however on this game, as I locked two balls and had the captive ball up to Rock the boat lit on 3rd ball, but then I got a nasty bounce from an attempted center shot and had to slap to save it. The game tilted! Oh for the fucks sake! It easily had what was needed to totally own this round as our opposing team members completely tanked the video mode.

At this point I was feeling like I had totally failed our team. With the 4th game I however felt the Austrian health drink was finally kicking in and I had a bit more fighting spirit in me for game against team Dzikle Kaczki on Frankenstein. I have no idea where this team was from, I can only assume Romany or Hungary from the name. After couple of so'n'so balls I really kicked it up a notch and took home my first #1 position with mainly playing modes. I had hard time finding the multiball lock hole, but slowly homed into it in the end. I however didn't do much with the multiball at that game.

As the luck would have it, we got to play the same game again against Team Stadion. Finally I was awake and finished several modes, and nailed the main multiball in the end. Damn it felt good to be back in the game again!

Starting my game of Frankenstein

While acing the last two games, the team didn't recover from the really bad games in the beginning and we were out. I can only hope next time we get to play a bit more late into the night. Our team got 44 points, when the last qualifying team had 47. I wish I had been more awake in the early rounds.

Main tournament qualification

The main tournament consistent of qualification on 8 games, with one joker game. Players had a range of games to choose from and points were awarded based on their scores on each game. In the end all the points were summed up and the player were ranked by amount of points.

To be honest, when first registering to this tournament, I had been planning to take a closer look at the game list and build some kind of an attack plan. But things falling as they were, here I was again, having to just wing it.

I knew I would probably choose some of the less mainstream games to make it. Looking at the more offstream machines I quickly added the Gottlieb System 3 machines, Gladiators and Stargate on my list. I was wondering about using Whoa Nellie as a backup since it wasn't exactly a conventional modern pin. Other than that, there was a lone EM game, Super Soccer in there, which seemed awfully familiar.

I started out with Gladiators. I had pretty clear plan of attack for it; get DOUBLE for each ball, grind hard on the modes that actually make points and then finish with the final mode. Well, turns out the one played a lot different than mine. The upper right flipper didn’t want to co-operate with tap passing and I couldn’t make the upper saucer shots to collect DOUBLE letters. I played all the modes, having the semi-final mode, Calm before the storm lit, when I double drained from the main multiball. I wasn’t too happy about the 66.5M score I got, but later on learned it was actually among the top scores. Had I started the Calm before the storm, I would have probably made it the #1.

Me, playing Gladiators

Next up was Walking dead. I had very crappy round, with two house balls and with the last ball I just wanted to start the Well zombie, but got center drain from that. With only 8.2M on the board I chalked this as the game where I’d probably spend my joker game on.

I had been eyeballing the Super soccer for some time. It had virtually the exact same ruleset as Snow queen; spin the spinners enough times to add to bonus. Once the bonus was full, there was a hole in the upper left playfield to collect it. Skillshot lit double bonus. Many players I observed scored something between 10-20k, I put 57k on it, and it was instantly in the top scores. Ahh, the old clunkers <3

After playing Super soccer I noticed my joker game entry had been spent. The guy keeping scores said it’s nothing to be worry about, but I could ask the main guy if I wanted. I did, and appears I really had used the joker for some reason. I was asked to talk to another guy, who was apparently behind the whole scoring system. After asking if I had really played all the scores I had on my score sheet he promised to look into it. As everyone was super busy at that point, I wasted almost half an hour of game time over this, but I guess it’s better to deal with it now, than at the end.

Next it was time to play the Gottlieb System 3 game even our country IFPA president, OMO doesn’t completely hate - Stargate. I was very bummed to learn the upper flipper was completely useless and I could make the ramp shots. Still, I found the skillshot from the early on and played one very nice multiball I got from that. I played all the modes, but couldn’t cash them out as well as I would have liked. I finished the game with the final mode lit and 369M on the display. I was fine with that.

I was a bit unsure about playing’s Stern’s Kiss. On the other hand not everyone had played it before, but then again I only had played it couple of times myself. Then again I knew its very multiball oriented gameplay worked great for me. And it did, I finished with 42M, which was only half of my very first game, but still in the top scores. I just love the STAR standups shot on this game for some reason. Unlike the one I played at Orivesi pinball open, this one didn’t feed straight down the middle from the main lock.

After Kiss, I returned to my “play less known games” plan with Austin powers. I observed TTV playing before me, seeing him rack a 100M+ score on it. I also learned that the center ramp magnet didn’t work. I wasn’t sure of it was a good thing or not, but once I started playing it I realized it only made the game a lot easier. Normally the magnet grabs the ball when the center ramp switch is activated. Without the magnet the ball is deflected down the ramp, and it gives another center ramp hit. The downside is that it’s directed pretty much between the flippers, so a slight slap save was required at times. I finished all henchmen modes except Fat bastard, racking up 154M and another spot among the high scores.

At this point I really, really hoped I had noise cancelling headphones. The sound of 10s of pinball machines played at the same time was just deafening, especially when I tried to fade it away by cranking up the volume. For the next tournament I’m SO going to buy a proper headphones!

Before moving on to the next game, I had to check how I was doing. Much to my amazement not counting the crap luck Walking dead, each of my entry was in the 100 qualifying point range, putting me easily inside the qualifying range. Whoa!

Curiosity got the better of me, and I chose Whoa Nellie as my next game. Well fuck-a-doodle-doo, I got two house balls and one pitiful round of random bumper flailing for my last ball, giving me 264 points. Apparently good scores were among 2000-3000. This was the first game giving me no points as all for the tournament.

For my final entry I played Sopranos. It wasn’t anything special, I expected to play one Stugots multiball per ball, but only got the multiball going on my last ball. I used it to bash the safe and get couple of super jackpots, ending up with 22M. It was better than nothing, but far from what I had hoped.

Me versus The Sopranos

The Sopranos was my 8th game and looking my score sheet I had 5 really good games, one okayish (Sopranos) and two real bad (Whoa Nellie and Walking dead). Whoa Nellie was a bit too random for my taste, so I opted to play Walking dead again. The score keeping guy however wasn’t having any of it, and told to my face that there was 2 guys before me on that game, and I wouldn’t have time to start another game. Well, that was a bummer, as I believe I’d easily make play better game on the second try. With just 16 points from Walking dead and no points from Whoa Nellie I had very little choice over what to play next. With a grimace I took on Nellie’s melons for the second time.

Whoa Nellie is a really odd game. It’s a 2015 remade version of 2011 made retro game with short flippers and score reels. It was originally made out of a real EM game, and then produced as a modern SS game that still has the score reels. The 2015 version however also has a small LCD display that has the familiar 128x32 dot matrix display, and it runs on Stern’s Linux-based Spike platform.

Nellie's miniature display revealed it to be a modern game at heart!

My second game wasn’t that much better, but I finally found the skillshot and made at least some points. Too bad I ended up with a score of only 748, which was still way better than the 265 on my first try.

I finally got some points from Nellie, taking me up to around 36th position. There was still one group to go, but I was pretty sure I was safe from being eliminated at this point. I was also happy to see so many of my countrymen making the cut as well.

Classics qualification

In 2014 I had a real nice run in the classics, being 12th in the whole tournament. Looking at the line-up I found many games I planned to play. The odd thing was, that the whole Classics tournament had very different format than the main tournament. In the main tournament there was just one entry for each players, with 8 machines and one joker. In the classics again you could play as many entries you wanted (or had time to!), which each entry being 3 machines. The space was really cramped, hot and way overcrowded most of the time.

The classics section

Many of the classic SS games suffered breakdowns, making queuing for them really frustrating as after half an hour you're just being told the game is now broken and you're out of the queue.

In the end I had the time to play 4 entries, out of which none were anything to write home about. Williams’ Space mission was my favorite, as it’s very close to being a normal body version of Contact. Other than that my entries mostly consisted of two total crap fests and one so’n’so game.

If there’s anything worth mentioning, it’s TTV’s relentless attempts at qualifying, and then at the very final entry he played 3 good games in a row and made it. That’s the Finnish fighting spirit right there! Another Finn to make it was JAX a bit earlier on. With 16 qualifying, my 161st didn’t do much for me.

Main tournament playoffs

Oh man, oh man. Being the perfect being that I am, I have very little flaws save one major: I wasn’t made to wake up at 8 in the morning. After a very long Saturday, I was literally dying getting up once for the 7th time in a row in ungodly hours. The coffee at hotel’s breakfast did absolutely nothing and I once again had to resort to energy drinks to get me going. One of these days Red bull’s gonna give me wings, for real.

The playoffs’ format was to play best 2 out of 3, until there was only 4 players left. Losing in the main bracket didn’t automatically mean the player was out, as they fell to the loser’s side of the bracket and had to play again on the same round. On the loser’s side it was just one game, played with 4 balls. Lose that and you’re out. Keep on winning, and after 5th round you had a chance to rise back to the winner’s in the final.

Playoffs, round 1

On my first round I was put against Jean Louis Passerieu, who qualified 34th. I was still a bit bummed about the whole thing of not being able to play Sopranos again, so I had to start from the round 1. Oh well.

We started out with Data-East’s Guns’n’Roses. I still remember getting my ass kicked on it at St. Michel Open, when my opponent just chose Super bumpers instead of progressing the multiball. I did just that now, and just kept the ball in the bumpers, watching those 2M bumper hits racking up. My opponent got couple of nice modes in, but I still took this one home.

Our next game was World Cup Soccer. The game was rather harsh for both of us, we both had multiball lit for the last ball, but didn’t get to start it. In the end my opponent won the game by just what he got from the bonus, taking us to the 3rd game, Metallica.

I was a bit nervous about Metallica, as it’s what I call a grinder game; a game that doesn’t have that many difficult but hugely valuable shots. Nailing your opponent is more like a death by thousand cuts. We both had really crappy first two balls, so at ball 3 it was more like sudden death round. I did one VERY careful attempt at making Sparky, got it and got past my opponent. First round over, I was still in the game!

Playoffs, round 2

I went against Michel van den Elzen from 19th position. So, I guess now I was playing against the big boys.

We started out with Whoa Nellie. I was kind of glad we did, as I was afraid I’d just get my ass kicked if we had a grinder machine to start with. I got almost 1000 points with my first ball, where my opponent got under 100. I finished the game with a bit over 1500 points, where my opponent did a valiant attempt, but was left with 1200 points. So, Nellie was favorable to me this time.

Next we got a grinder game, 24, and it was just as bad as I had feared. 24 is not a new game to me, and it wasn’t about not knowing the rules or playing badly, I just got to start with two house balls where my opponent totally blew me away with 3 successful balls. I noticed Michel followed the same plan as I would have done; start a multiball, then other multiball on that and then some more. In the end 24’s stackable multiballs would make Xzibit proud.

We ended the round with Shadow. I played a very strong ball 1, while my opponent just got crap luck right from the start. I continued with strong game, finishing the miniplayfield, playing 2nd Khan multiball, the main multiball and couple of modes. Michel got second bad ball. I spent my last ball trying to start Khan multiball once again, but couldn’t hit the hole. I was leading over 900M at that point and my opponent didn’t catch me on his last ball. As an icing on the cake for winning this round I got two enter my initials for this game.

Playoffs, round 3

With round 3 I had the sinking feeling I’d be soon paired with one of the world stars. When the lads told me I’d be playing against Daniele Acciari, I thought they were just pulling my leg. Then when I saw Daniele there with all smiles, I realized they weren’t kidding.

Having travelled around with Daniele in the recent years, he’s one of the guys who just isn’t some random pinball player to me any more. If I was to get my ass kicked, I guess it was better if it was someone I highly respected to do it.

We started out with Metallica. Until the 3rd ball it was really surprising game. We both played Sparky on our first balls, did nothing on our 2nd balls and all the sudden we were in a situation where Daniele had 10M and I 12M at the beginning of ball 3.

Daniele was all about getting another round of Sparky, but made a shot that ended up the ball screaming down towards the center drain. He did a very strong slide, getting two tilt warnings in a rapid succession, but no tilt. I could see his a bit worried face turning to a glee, when he waited for a second, then banged 110M more to his score. I tried my best, but drained at around 30M.

Our next game was Stern’s Avengers. I’ve been honestly thinking about buying this game some day, just to play it and then dump it. I tried asking around if there was some sane way to approach this game, but now. Everyone I asked were like “It sucks. Repeat the left orbit ad nauseam, play multiball, rinse and repeat”.

That was also Daniele’s approach to this game. He just did it more and longer than I did, winning the game.

Losing 2-0 to Daniele didn’t mean it was game over for me.

Playoffs, loser’s side, round 3

Having lost to Acciari dropped me to loser’s side of the bracket for some sudden death styled play. I was put against another eliminated player, Kevin Roelants on No Fear.

No Fear is a bit hit’n’miss game for me. Either it goes very well or it’s a crapfest beyound description. With Kevin I had the rare opportunity to see just that, but Kevin getting the short end of the stick. This game had some extra rubber bumpers around the start mode hole, which made the jackpot shot really annoying to make. I found the shot after 5 or so tries, but Kevin just struggled and struggled with it - his frustration was just palpable.

After finishing my 4th ball I was just under 2B, while Kevin was around 300M. But then all the sudden Kevin found the shots, and started racking up the points. I was standing there with OMO, sharing the nerve wrecking moments of watching jackpot after another being scored. Kevin finally ended with a bit over 1B, which meant it was round 4 for me.

Playoffs, loser’s side, round 4

Just for the record, this is to date my best personal modern game tournament EVER! All I hoped was that we wouldn’t get Avengers or other crappy shitfest of a game now. I went against Ernö Rotter on …. Avengers. I wish I had a picture of my happy face, as I’d put it right here. Right with 2 middle fingers.

Again all I got for Avengers was “repeat the left orbit”. I did. Once again my opponent just did it more. We were pretty much tied until the 3rd ball, after which my opponent played one monster ball, leaving me over 20M behind him for my 4th ball. I couldn’t catch him, which meant I was out.

Still, what a tournament! I wasn’t even pissed off thinking how far I got!


Teams: Finland was eliminated in qualification.

Classics: I was 161th, 16 best qualified.

Main: I qualified and was eliminated on 4th round of playoffs, being 21st.

Let me begin with a praise to the organizers: this was THE best tournament I’ve been attended to, and not only because I did relatively well. The organizers had done extraordinarily good job, so we played clean and well working machines with very clearly organized environment. The venue was excellent with 2 bars, and the BBQ on Saturday was spot-on, couldn’t have asked for more! I guess the only downside was me visiting the promised land of beer and chocolate, and not liking either of them :)

This was the first ever tournament outside Kouvola where my folks attended as well, and I was so glad for them being able to try out the very latest the pinball scene has to offer. I noticed Wizard of Oz making quite an impression for the old timers pinball players!

It's the folks vs The Wizard of Oz!

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you Belgium and the whole EPC’15 team! You rocked hard!

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