IFPA Euro Circuit finals - Bünde, Germany - Pinball Universe - 11-12/02/2017

Time for this year's first tournament abroad. I was actually a bit surprised I was among the first ones to be offered position in the Euro Circuit final, in the end I was 29th out of 32 qualifying players, but with many players skipping the finals many players from 50th position and below got in.

The venue was bit of a wildcard. It was in a showroom of a largeish importer, but that was pretty much all we knew forehand. On Friday, after half a day of travelling and settling into our hotel, we learned of a shuttle service to the venue. We gladly took it and soon found ourselves in a huge warehouse in the middle of German countryside.

The entrance and Pinball Universe's Stern show room

Nothing however prepared us for what was inside! As I walked in, I noticed a roomful of latest Stern games, the brand new Aerosmith being among them! Also in the same room I found Stern's Batman 66, the first game to have their upgraded Spike 2.0 platform. For the rest of Friday night you couldn't separate us from the Spike 2.0 games with a crowbar.

After me and Marco had grinded the Batman for a while, we were joined
by a third player who showed us how it's done!

Both games made a good use of their large colorful TFT displays. Batman's software still had some rough edges and seemed to miss a lot of graphics as some of the modes seemed to have just placeholder graphics in place. Aerosmith was a bit more finished in that department, although I'm sure they're still in the process of adding stuff to it as well.

So, how do they play? Aerosmith is pretty much an upgraded Kiss in the terms of game play. Pick a song and try to finish the objectives before the time runs out. If you fail the mode, you can restart it and continue from the point where you left off. The game has cartoonish graphics, many with more or less humorous animations.

Aerosmith's 6 main modes. As you might guess, the titular song is being played during the mode.

The main multiball works like in Mustang - you can start the multiball after locking 3 balls, but you can abort the multiball start to lock additional 3 balls. The jackpot values grow as you lock more balls, making this rather interesting strategic point to the game. Oh, and the physical ball lock thing is great! An upkicker throws the ball into the open toy box. It was a bit unclear to me how the game behaves if majority of the balls are already in the toy box if other player with just 3 locks starts the multiball.

Marco getting his first fix of Aerosmith!

Batman 66 again reminds a lot of the Dark Knight. By default pretty much nothing is going on. You can select the mode by completing certain shots, then hitting the batphone to start the it. If the batphone isn't hit in time the mode is lost and you have to start from scratch. One really odd thing was that the main multiball isn't available if you don't have a mode running. The multiball seems to share the running mode's shots. The modes are finished after a certain number of shots are collected, litting a super jackpot in the Penguin scoop. The game featured several other Batman villains besides Joker, Cat woman, Penguin and Riddler, but attempting to play against the other villains just gave one of the main villains instead. I'll assume they'll add the remaining villains later on, as many of them are shown during the attraction mode as well.

I wish I had had time to dive into the service menus to snoop what else is new, but the games attracted a lot of attention and were rarely seen without a line forming behind the current player. Still, I'm welcoming the latest Stern platform with open arms and can't wait what else they have in store for us in the future.

I also got to play Rob Zombie, which is Spooky pinball's latest. I wasn't totally convinced with their first release (America's most haunted) and this was a bit more of the same. The game had all kinds of stuff going on, but to be honest felt like one of those games we made with "build a pinball machine" game kits back when we were kids. Except it said "fuck" a whole lotta more. I talked with the house mechanic for a long while and he had some really curious insights on the Spooky Pinball's games. Majority of the playfield moving mechanisms are driven with a stepper motors, but the game does not monitor them at all. Every time there's a stuck ball, the motor just burns. This is why they can't run the Spooky pinball's games without supervision. The manufacturer responded to a critique about the motors burning by putting a handful of stepper motors in the game's goodie bag. Right.

Speaking of rare games, I also got to play the Spiderman Home Edition. It's virtually a simplified version of a real pinball machine, with no coin mechs or too many moving parts on the playfield. The local mechanic told me it's also Spike based and pretty much everything in it used components from the real pinball machines.

Surprisingly it wasn't that bad a game. The flipper buttons felt a bit odd as they were closer to the lockdown bar than in a real pin, but other than that it played rather well and even had couple of modes. It had a large, low resolution RGB LED display with a lot of colorful animations running during the game. Still, I wouldn't pay $4995 for this when there's a whole lot of Stern's Spider-Mans out there for a lot less than that.

Other curiosities included The Pabst Cancrusher, which was just a re-themed Whoa! Nellie, America's Most Haunted (which I had already played in 2015 in Pittsburgh) and several Limited edition versions of Stern's latest games that I had never seen, including Wrestlemania's LE. It was just as horrible as the pro version I had played in Finland.

ECS finals

We returned to Pinball Universe on Saturday morning. The final was a 32 player double elimination bracket. The loser (or highest ranking player for the 1st game) could decide the game or position. On the winner's side the matches were best 4 out of 7 and best 3 out of 5 on the loser's side. The tournament area was a separate room from the new and reconditioned games areas and consisted mostly of modern Stern and Williams games. My first opponent was Swiss Levente Tregova.

The Battle-Zone waiting for players. See how straight the lines are!

Round 1

Being higher seeded, I got to pick the game and went with Dark Knight. I wanted to take the usual Joker+Scarecrow multiball combo, but couldn't find the Joker shot to save my life. Levente had pretty much similar experience and we both struggled until the second ball, where he finally managed to get both MBs going and got a 80M lead on me. I used my last ball to start Scarecrow and hope I can get enough lucky shots towards Joker to start it as well. Didn't happen, the game ended 16M to 93M to Levente.

Levente showing me how it's done on Batman.

Levente picked AC/DC Lucy and I picked 2nd player spot. Halfway my ball Levente interrupts me and says he's so sorry for screwing up. Took me a second to realize we had done this the wrong way. I was supposed to pick the game. Oh well, I had no complaints about AC/DC so we kept the game but switched pl. 1 and 2 around. I had couple of bad balls, but got at least something going on my 3rd. It wasn't enough and Levente won with his 55M to my 26M.

I decided to take a strategic turns towards less known Sterns and took the CSI. It would have been the right call, save my unbelievable bad luck! I got the Skull multiball running on my last ball, but managed to drain all the balls just after the ball save ended. Levente didn't appear to have a strategy for this game, but managed to flail around for 5.1M and beat my 2.9M. Oh dear.

I kept the same line and picked Roller Coaster Tycoon. Now, this piece of .. uh .. fine game is one the strongest Sterns for me among the other early games from the company. Little did that help when I couldn't do anything with it today, leaving me with my 4th loss and marking the end of my (short) time on the winner's side.

Round 1, losers' side

Getting eliminated right off the bat left me in a limbo for over 4 hours. I can't think of anything quite as damaging for my gaming state of mind than trying to be on stand-by for hours and hours. On the other hand, I got to grind the Aerosmith in peace as everyone else was still in the tournament area. I wasn't sure about the Aerosmith after our first try (I thought it was more of a re-themed Kiss), but playing it for hours convinced me it's an unique, solid game in making.

Finally Cayle George came looking for me and I was back in the game.
Cayle picked Dark Knight. I managed to combo Joker and Scarecrow and got up to 25M on my first ball, while Cayle got couple of unlucky balls in a row. He finally got the multiballs running on his last ball, but didn't catch me, so I didn't need to play my 3rd ball. 9M to 29M to me.

Cayle picked Tron as our next game. I had nothing on him on it and barely got the Lightcycle multiball going. Cayle won 86M to 12M.

It was time to have my revenge with an unexpected game pick, so I went with Roller Coaster Tycoon. We had less than stellar match on it, but I won 6M to Cayle's 5M, which let him to pick the next game.

He picked Creature from the Black Lagoon. Uh-oh. It was a total shitfest for me, with Cayle scoring 2 super jackpots on his first multiball. I eventually got the multiball running, but double drained right after finding the creature. 712M to 57M.

I picked the Sopranos next. I got a centre drain right off the bat from the boat ramp drop target. Cayle again nailed the multiball beautifully and even when I managed to crack the safe and collect several jackpots, my opponent didn't have to play his 3rd ball and won me 24M to 12M. This also meant I was out from the losers' side as well. I was happy I wasn't a total pushover for Cayle, but the whole tournament was a bit underwhelming.

Thanks to a very long wait between the games, I no longer had the time to take part in the high score game that was running parallel with the main tournament.

ECS Sunday tournament

The Sunday tournament was a head-to-head tournament in Swiss format. It was played for 16 rounds and for each round the computer matched the players with similar standing.

With a fresh start after yesterday's poor performance, I was hoping to do better but was way too tired for anything serious. Also, my feet were killing me.

I started off with a 3 loss streak, varying from my opponent totally handing me my ass to a crap luck loss with a minor difference in score. My first come-back was in Stern's Indiana Jones, when I finished the Last Crusade mode and played a pretty good multiball.

The Battle-Zone, now full of players

Some other good games included a round of very bouncy and fast Jackbot, where I scored up to 1.9B with multiballs, but blew 600M in Casino Run when I got 2 bombs in a row. My opponent had really crappy luck since ball one, but played a successful Casino Run and eventually went 75M past me with bonus on his last ball. Still, I was alright with that game.

I also played a game of Tron where neither of us got anything done and as a player 2 I was about to lose 6M to 2M, when I got the Light cycle multiball on my last ball and then flailed around for some random points just to get ahead of my opponent. Wasn't exactly my finest hour, but one of the very few wins that day.

Many games like the Iron Man were next to impossible with me being barely awake. In the end I won 6 games out of 16, which left me pretty much mentally crushed.

The outcome

I got eliminated on the first round of the main Euro circuit game.

I didn't have time to play the high score tournament on Saturday.

I won 6 out of 16 games in the Sunday tournament.

Of Bünde and the Pinball Universe Battle-Zone

Pinball Universe is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) pinball importers in Europe. They also manufacture all kinds of playfield protectors and other plastic modding parts. In addition to selling the latest Stern games, they also recondition older games.

Being at country side, many players had their doubts about the place. This was the first ever time the company had hosted a major tournament and according to the folks running the place, they had been thinking about the tournament for some time now. Before this they had never had a permanent tournament setup, but had now dedicated one part of their warehouse building for just that. They called the area Pinball Universe Battle-Zone.

The Finnish stereotype of German people is that they're very prompt and efficient. I think this stereotype was a spot on as every line of games was ridiculously straight and evenly placed. The games were well maintained and had very few issues during the tournament. Should any issues raise, they were taken care of immediately. The tournament fee of 120€ included drinks and meals. The fridges were methodically refilled and the food service was excellent. I'd say the Battle-Zone was put on the map after this tournament.

Only couple of things could use some attention the next time. The most obvious was the playoff for the main tournament, which lasted throughout the night. I recall I heard Cayle winning the tournament around 8 in the morning! I don't think my feet could have taken that long gaming session. The other thing might not be as obvious to the locals: the game language. I know most of the modern games by heart, so having the games in German didn't bother me too much. But the very latest ones were rather confusing as I had no idea what the on-screen prompts were asking me. I'd kind of understand using German if it was a local tournament for local people, but this was the Euro Circuit's final, which obviously had more foreign people around than locals. While it was nothing I couldn't overcome, this might be something to consider the next time.

In all, Pinball Universe's location is highly recommended for anyone who wants to play games that are in immaculate condition and see the very latest games.

Bünde again was a rather quiet small countryside town, with the basic facilities and not that much else. After we were done with the tournament me and Marco hit Düsseldorf to check out the German way of life.