European Pinball Championship 2018 - Tampere, Finland - 7-9/9/2018

I recall it's been 5-6 years since we first talked about the possibility of arranging the EPC some day. Many thought it was an impossible task: coordinating all the long distance transportation, trying to get all the fractions of the Finnish scene to play along and naturally finding a suitable place. Half a decade later the pieces just kind of fell together, so here it is: EPC 2018: Tampere.

The main tournament qualification format was score based, two entries on six randomly chosen machines. The classics had similar approach, but with four machines. Both games were meaningful. Playoffs again would be with double elimination bracket head to head matches, save the classics final, which was a four player game.

The main tournament area

My main games were: Tommy, Medieval Madness, Monster Bash, Dirty Harry, Iron Man and Congo. No big surprises there, pretty steady line-up of mid-90s games and one modern Stern.

For the classics again I had: Count-Down, Road Kings, Special Force and Prospector. Now this was a lot tougher bunch as I only knew Prospector properly. I've played them all, but for the others I had no viable tournament strategy and couldn't find proper tutorials for them either.

The tournament has begun!

In addition to the main and classics tournaments, they had four games set for one ball games, including Houdini and Deadpool. I went to check out those two first, more of them later on.

Main qualification

I started my grind with Dirty Harry. Nothing too fancy here, the main multiball is really easy to start and if the gun works, it's also easy to get the first super jackpot as well. The game was a tad more bouncy than I had hoped for, but I still played a decent multiball and couple of modes for 431M total score. I had hoped I learned from the danger spots for my second game, but somehow managed to drain the first balls and playing a less satisfying multiball on my last ball for the total of 220M. 

I picked Congo next and boy was that fast. I can normally easily backhand the mystery hole but here I wasted a ball just to get the Diamond hunt multiball running. Afterwards the main multiball was a huge letdown and my first game ended with 290M. As with Dirty Harry, more methodical and careful second game resulted in even worse outcome and I didn't even get the main multiball going, 138M. Blah.

Congo was actually the game I was the highest hopes for. I had already planning ahead for my second normal multiball from GREY and more.

Staying with WPC games I then moved onto Monster Bash. I was building my game on a multiball where I'd have at least three character modes stacked onto it, so I prepared the Creature, Bride and Werewolf, all one shot from starting. Then I bashed the Frankenstein's monster open and aimed for the last Bride shot, only to miss it and to start the multiball accidentally. Argh! I didn play the modes later on, but it was only for a disappointing 39.7M. I did try again and this time started the multiball at the exact same spot, although this time the ball went up there after a slap save. And like earlier, my second game was a lot worse, 27.7M.

Medieval Madness was next to the Monster Bash, so I took it next. Again, nothing too fancy with the strategy here, start the multiballs, use them to bash the castles. This game however had really nice and strong flippers, both ramp shots took in even lazily aimed shots. I accidentally got into the super jackpot with the main multiball and got 34.8M on my first try. Getting to the super jackpot is an interesting thing as it lits all the major shots, so I played it again, but now concentrated on taking the five normal jackpot shots before going back to the castle bashing. That worked out beautifully! I usually keep the balls in orbits or ramps so I have a clear shot at the castle with one ball, now the balls also scored jackpots while staying off my face. 57.4M and #1 score!

I was a bit nervous about Tommy being in my line-up. My first game was a near-disaster, when my first game had two house balls in a row. I managed to save the game a bit when I took the third ball pity multiball and managed to cash it out for 180M. Next time I short plunged all the balls and played couple of pretty decent modes and a tolerable multiball for 563M. Got to enter my initials for that one!

After that all I had left was the Iron Man. And oh boy was it a rough ride. I was building my game to stack War Machine and Iron Monger multiballs. That didn't happen. Also this specific game had a really odd misfeature: if you accidentally made a dead-on center shot at the Iron Monger, the ball stopped between its legs and then unceremoniously came down just as dead center between the flippers. I gave it a couple of hard slaps, it was nowhere near enough to save it. My first game netted me 7.3M and the other even worse, 5.3M.

Save the Iron Man, I was cautiously satisfied with the qualification run. I was 4th in the qualification after that, but with so many big names still to play the next day I knew I wouldn't have to dream about being in the top 32 most likely.

After taking couple of minor repair gigs I moved onto the classics qualification.

Classics qualification

I've often done well in classics, so I had my hopes up, although classics may often end up in a lesson of dealing with extreme frustration. First up, Bally Special Force. I was somewhat happy I got this game as I have played this particular machine before. In addition to that, I also fixed this machine before the tournament began, so I knew it'd be in relatively good shape.

Special Force ended up being two extremely "meh" (extre-meh?) games, both around 450k. I know what had to be done but I couldn't even get the multiball running.

Next up was Count down. I actually got a pretty decent game on it at first, scoring 423k. Naturally the next game took a nose dive into a concrete with 72k. Still, it was first good game I had played in the classics so far.

After that I went onto get my ass handed to me at Prospector. Usually Laurel and Hardy work with me just fine but not today. With 5 balls, the 136k and 238k scores were just a disgrace and this game was the only game that netted me zero qualification points.

After this I had to break out my soldering iron and give couple of tournament games some love, including one very stubborn Fish Tales game (but I love Fish Tales, so I forgive it!) and came back to play my last game on Road Kings.

Road Kings is one of the mystery System 11 games for me. I've played it like only twice in my life, last time in Banning this year. Yet I had the basic strategy planned out: don't drain and shoot for the blinking lights. Well okay, it needs a more fleshed out version: it plays a bit like Mousin' Around - collect ROAD KINGS-standups to light locks, lock the balls, win the tournament. Some steps may be missing along the way.

I got it going pretty nicely on my first try, ending with 1M score that landed me in top-30. I expected more of the next game, but not much came out of that, 480k.

Looking at the qualification standings at that point I was nowhere near the cut line and there were still plenty of players to finish their entries.

TY-FFASI, like Data-East used to say.

Teams qualification

This year Team Finland was yours truly, JAX, SUI and JSZ. We joked in the beginning that our aim is to one-up the 2014 Italian EPC's bronze. I love playing teams, but it also gives me this annoying anxiousness about failing the team should the ball not bounce favorably on my turn. Every member of the team would play single full game against four competing team members, then we'd play one four ball game on another game where each team member would play one ball. My personal game was Party Zone and the team's four ball game again AC/DC.

My Party Zone was as bad as I had feared. You can make 6M on it with just doing three consecutive skill shots and not even touch the flippers, I was left with 1.7M with mere seconds of ball time. I felt I had let down my team.

JAX played 790M on Stern Star Wars, JSZ 260M on Doctor Who and SUI 1.4M on Taxi. Those all fit in top-4 on each game. My piece of crap entry was 13th.

We however got a somewhat decent entry in the AC/DC and much to our surprise we made the cut into the playoffs. Okay, I'll take it.

Teams playoffs

We continued with the same personal games in the playoffs, although this time I had given up with any fancy strategies with the Party Zone. I went with plain and simple "left ramp all day long" strategy and gunned 16M with that. It was almost enough for 2nd place, I lost to Germany's player by just 500k, but at least I scored 1 point for us, more than I did the last time.

I still felt a bit meh about it, until came the AC/DC and four ball game again. The ball finally started to bounce my way and I managed to pull a monster ball when I needed it, 90M, when the team total score was 106M.

Sweden won the round out of our group's two teams to get qualified, Germany was out, Finland tied with Belgium. But here's the kicker: The AC/DC score was the deciding thing should a playoff points tie happen. Belgium got 54M so my monster ball just dragged us out of the swamp and .. INTO THE DAMN FINAL OF THE WHOLE THING. WHAT THE HELL?!

Teams final

O-M-G. We joked about the final in the beginning but here we were, with possibility for any trophy position and naturally with the possibility of being 4th and go home in shame. The final played the exact same way as the previous rounds, we kept our personal games and AC/DC was the all-team effort. This was now a battle between Finland, Denmark, Sweden and USA.

To be honest, Party Zone was getting old fast at this point. I was after nothing else but skill shots and left ramp, although after some lucky flailing I got the 5M shot lit on my first ball and remained lit through the last ball. I just couldn't make the shot. I was left with 9.6M which was enough for 3rd place, that 5M shot would have taken me one position higher.

SUI had rough time with Taxi and was left with no points at all. JAX again dominated Star Wars with 1.4B score, beating the others by almost a billion! JSZ struggled on Doctor Who and was 3rd. Looking at the other teams I wasn't sure where we stood, we had one 1st place and two 3nd places, which meant we'd probably have to do very well on the AC/DC or we'd go home without a souvenir.

I was nervous as hell playing the AC/DC and couldn't get much done. JSZ however got his game face on and in the end Team Finland was #1 in the last game. But was it enough for bronze? We didn't have access to the up to date scores at that point and people were speculating where we would land, some even saying we could win the whole thing. In the end we got 8 points, Sweden got 10 and the Danish team 7, Team USA was out.

History was made once again, now Team Finland only needs to win the gold. Maybe the next time?

Main playoffs

After what had felt like an eternity, my personal games continued with the main tournament playoffs. I had great difficulties getting concentrated on my first game after Team Finland's stellar performance in teams tournaments. I was to go against Benjamin Gräbeldinger in a best 2 out of 3 round.

We started off with the Guardians of the Galaxy that was on the main stage. I felt really conflicted about this game, I kind of like it, but do I want to play it in a serious tournament without knowing proper strategy for it? How about no? I had nothing else for it, except take the arrow mode and hope for the best. 

We started off in relatively even as we both got house balls. Later on my opponent nailed several multiballs, some of them I hadn't even seen before. I gunned for the Groot multiball, played it but couldn't touch his 160M with my 26M. Meh.

Next up was a game that I knew: Creature from the Black Lagoon. It was a total back breaker, couldn't get anything done, it was not a good game for either of us, but my 32M was still half of his score in the end, so I all I could do was to admit defeat, find the nearest cliff and jump off. Well, mentally at least. Anyway, I was out from the first round in the main playoffs.

The outcome

I qualified in the main tournament, got eliminated on the first round of the playoffs and was 72nd out of 285 players.

I didn't qualify in classics.

I was part of Team Finland. 13 countries took part in the teams tournament, Team Finland was 2nd, which is a new record for the team.

I didn't qualify in the ladies tournament. The security guard said if I try again, they'll mace me. I'll wear a dress the next time.

Final thoughts

I had mixed feeling about the EPC being in Finland. Sure, first for Finland, a major step for our pinball scene, but EPC has been my annual European holiday to balance my trip to the USA or other long distance trips. Looks like my next European trip will be the Danish Pinball Open.

It was really curious to see that even after all the "It can't be anywhere else but Helsinki, people can't find there otherwise!" nay-sayers everyone found their way and managed to enjoy the city of Tampere, even when the downtown was in the middle of one of the largest roadworks in its history.

I finally got to play Houdini and Dead pool. Both of them were available for the public, but only as a part of "one ball" tournament. I gave it couple of tries, only to get some ball time. Still, 1€ per game felt a bit rip-offish. Houdini seemed to have all the parts to make a good game, yet it somehow managed to feel a bit too full of stuff. I especially didn't care much for the too narrow shots, even though I found them relatively easy. Dead pool I liked more, but the jury's still out whenever the software will be good when they actually release a bit more finished version.

Until the next time.

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