I might buy a pinball machine. For those who own one, do you enjoy it?
June 1, 2014 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm seriously considering purchasing a pinball machine. For those who do own one, do you still enjoy playing it or would you rather have a new machine? I can't imagine getting sick of a machine I like, but it's a large purchase for me. Thanks!
posted by shawnmcnulty to Shopping (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
We house-sat for some friends who had two pinball machines - a Twilight Zone and an old 80's game called Taxi, that featured a birthmarked Mikhail Gorbachev. I LOVED them - spent hours playing them. In the 6 months we lived in that house, we had the repairman out twice to fix both machines .. and that was just with me playing them. I'm not sure how bars with pinball machines that get heavy use keep them going. I miss those pinball games and would gladly have one in my own house if I could afford to keep getting it repaired.
posted by Kangaroo at 5:03 PM on June 1, 2014

Best answer: I have two machines - a Pin*bot and a Haunted House. I've had both for many years, and it's hard for me to consider parting with them, even though the amount we play them waxes and wanes. That said, after I sold my first Pin*Bot when I moved across the country, I missed it so much that several years later, I bought another.

But beware. When people come over who aren't previously aware of my love of pinball, the first question (before "Can I play?") is always this:

"Does it work?"

The answer is (typically) yes, but that's almost certainly the right question to ask. Pinball machines require a lot of maintenance, even with mild use, and lots and lots of people know someone who has a machine in their house which is gathering dust because it's not working and they don't think it's worth it to call someone in to fix it.

I tell them that pinball is two games: the first is getting a high score, the second is keeping the thing working. If you want to own a pin, you should probably enjoy (or be interested in) both games. The parts that usually wear and break aren't all that expensive, but service calls can be, and it's hard to justify the money on an expensive service call on a game you're not playing much.

With my pins, I purchased machines that needed some TLC cheaply and locally (less than $1000), and then went through the process of revitalizing them. Pick up a machine that has no major flaws (like water damage, damage from leaking batteries, extreme playfield wear) but lots of small issues (bad flippers, lamps, rubbers, jets, displays, dirty playfield, etc.) that's being sold cheaply because it's not pretty or doesn't quite play right. Make it a project for a few weekends to shop it out with new parts, clean it up and learn all the maintenance tasks, and then you'll have the joy of playing a machine that you've greatly improved.

That way, even if you don't choose a machine that captivates you over time, you'll likely have a good year of fun - and if you fix it up, you'll be able to sell it for more than you paid for it and get the new machine you desire, as well as having most of the skills to keep another machine up and running. If it does still captivate you, it'll probably be as fun after 5 years as it is now.

Best of luck!
posted by eschatfische at 5:25 PM on June 1, 2014 [22 favorites]

We had this Mars God of War pinball machine when I was a teen, and it got a lot of use over the long term. Not only did I love it, I remember my mom playing it a whole heck of a lot, too. It was a super-fun machine and if there were a way I could have it again now, I most certainly would. As long as you've found one whose gameplay you really enjoy, I would say go for it!
posted by DingoMutt at 5:39 PM on June 1, 2014

eschatfische's answer is spot on. I am a huge pinball guy, and got my first machine last year. I love it, and there's a lot of pride to be taken in keeping it running and learning more about it as it needs work.

Having someone local to fix it would be a huge plus, but if you're reasonably handy, the folks at Pinside can talk you through most basic diagnostics and repairs you're not familiar with.

In terms of getting bored: I'd love to have more than one machine (don't have the space or money) but if you can only have one: As long as you get something you already know you like, you'll probably be fine for a while. If you do get bored, most collectors will consider trades.

Definitely consider what it will take to get it in and out of your place both for the initial acquisition and going forward: Getting mine up to a second floor walkup was no joke, and I dread the day I most and have to get it out.
posted by SpiffyRob at 6:01 PM on June 1, 2014

If I may piggyback a question for those who own pins - how noisy do they end up in a home (I've only played them in loud bar environments)?

I'm sure there's a huge range depending on the mechanisms, but could they remotely be tolerated by neighbours in an apartment/condo-living environment? I know there are video version with gumby feeling pinball manipulation and they aren't the same thing.
posted by porpoise at 7:41 PM on June 1, 2014

My parents have this one, and have had it for at least 25 years at this point. Still runs fine with almost no maintenence (I know they've had it serviced at least twice - the last time was about 12-15 years ago after a move from Pennsylvania down to Florida), and we recently bought a set of replacement rubber bumpers that we installed ourselves after a couple of them broke (I think it cost us about $15). They also had to replace the glass a couple of times when we were in high school and cracked it from playing it nonstop. Right now it badly needs a tune-up - a few of the lights either don't light or don't turn off, and the return mechanism is sketchy. But it's still fun to play. I love that it only goes up to 100,000 points, so you can turn it over and feel like you accomplished something. Aesthetically and game-play -wise, I never would have chosen it (OMG I have always coveted Haunted House), but damn if it isn't worth it to play, and I know when my parents decide to get rid of it there will be a fight among us siblings over who gets it, even though none of us lives within 1000 miles of the thing.

Seconding that it's super noisy and I wouldn't recommend it if you have close neighbors.
posted by Mchelly at 8:47 PM on June 1, 2014

My brother-in-law has a couple machines. We stored them in our living room for a month or so when he was moving. I was always terrible at video games and liked pinball. So I fooled around with them some but not nearly as much as I would have thought. I always thought it would be fun to own one but I was glad to have them gone when he moved them to his new place.

They are huge. In a bar or arcade they never seemed all that big. Next to the couch - huge. They really took up a lot of space, visually and physically.

And yeah, they are super noisy. I don't know if the volume of the sound effects could be controlled but the mechanical noises couldn't be. We don't live in an apartment so I can't say for sure but I don't imagine your neighbors would appreciate them. If you get along with them, maybe invite them over to play occasionally?
posted by Beti at 12:06 AM on June 2, 2014

Haunted House is a great game, but they're difficult to keep running and they're also sought after, i.e. expensive.

The older mechanical games are IMO more robust. And they can also be a lot of fun. And you should be able to get one relatively cheaply.

But make sure you have space, 'cos it's hard to stop at one.
posted by wrm at 1:34 AM on June 2, 2014

I bought a Harley Davidson pinball machine new in 2006. The sounds were great, but after the first week there was nothing more annoying that listening to that machine rev the motor every 15 minutes or so, begging someone to play. Luckily, this machine was new enough that it came with a volume control, so I turned it down to a low rumble more reminiscent of my 1984 Yamahopper I had as a kid.
posted by exoticlikeomaha at 6:34 AM on June 2, 2014

This is not quite the answer you were asking for, but there have been some very exciting recent developments in developing 3-d pinball tables using head-tracking. This would have the duel value of providing you with fresh tables if you got bored, and a TV if you got really, really bored.
posted by rebent at 11:20 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I currently have a High Speed and used to have a Black Knight 2000. I keep mine in my garage--be warned if you are going to do that, you want to put a jar of desiccant in the body of the machine to catch moisture buildup, particularly if you live in the fog like I do. My wife did mention the noise of Black Knight 2k, but it never really bothered her that much (I think it was more the You can do it You can do it Beat the Black Knight refrain.) And most pins have a volume control.

I am not electronically savvy and I pay a guy to come out once a year and service the machine. The service runs from about 150 to 300 if a part needs replacement.

Do it! Having a pinball machine is the best and makes you feel like you are on Silver Spoons.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:31 PM on June 2, 2014

Yeah, dude... owning a pinball machine is pretty baller. I have Roller Games, which, while it isn't my favorite game in the world, is pretty fun. My wife, however, hates it...
posted by ph00dz at 1:08 PM on June 3, 2014

We got a pinball machine in our basement when I was around 10 years old (Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, which was an awesome machine). I loved to play it, and kept playing for the next 8 years until I left for college. Weirdly enough, I loved learning how to repair it even MORE. All the little light bulbs and fuses were awesome, and it made me feel like I had a secret superpower while all the other tween girls were playing with their Barbies.
posted by themissy at 9:45 AM on June 9, 2014

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