Pinball games with nonstandard scoring
February 22, 2017 6:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for traditional pinball machines that use nonstandard scoring systems.

Are there any pinball machines that use a different scoring system from the traditional row of numbers that keep going up based on game play? These could be production machines or one-off custom machines but I'd like to be able to read something about them or see pictures or videos of the machines. I don't care about when the machine was built.

Scoring examples that would fit:
•Those big thermometers that are used for charity drives and such that fill up as a goal is reached but don't have specific numbers tied to more than a few points on the picture similar to this.
•A "Love Tester" machine type of a scale.
•A scoring system that advances through an obvious progression, but that's not numerical. Like advancing through letters of the alphabet or colors of the rainbow.

What I am NOT looking for:
•Games with no score at all. There should be some indication of an action resulting in a mark or advancement of some sort.
•Other types of pinball like ticket or gumball redemption games; Pachinko; older, pre-flipper games that are pinballs, but not in the modern sense.
•Examples of playfield or backbox elements with this scoring system but where the machine overall still has a standard scoring system.

Bonus related question: Are there any pinball machines where it's possible for the score to go down based on game play? These examples could use traditional scoring or be the same type as I'm looking for above. I'm not looking for a glitch or slipped score wheel, but where the design is that the score goes down based on some game action.

I have Googled this and looked on IPDB but either such a thing doesn't exist or I'm not finding the right terms for it.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are there any pinball machines where it's possible for the score to go down based on game play?

It's a matter of classification. If I have 100 pts and a 1000pt jackpot on the table, but I lose a ball and the jackpot resets to 0, has my score gone down? I could argue yes, but reasonable people may disagree.

Anyway, lots of pinball games have separate piles of points, and many of those buffers do go down. So it depends on which one(s) you allow to be the "score".
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:53 AM on February 22, 2017

I'm referring to the total, main score on the machine. So if a jackpot is applied to the total score but can later be taken off of the total score it would fit, but if there's a jackpot lit but I don't hit the skillshot before it is unlit for whatever reason, I don't consider that a score.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 7:16 AM on February 22, 2017

Safe Cracker sometimes pays out "magic tokens" that can be re-inserted into the machine for "suprising results!".

I think the this fits the nonstandard requirement because the token is an actual physical object that you could take home and never use, or bring back to the arcade and use some time later, during a different play.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 7:27 AM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Whodunnit - There is a video mode/roulette wheel where you can bet (and lose) the points you've accumulated.
Time Fantasy - Subtracts points if the horseshoe shot is made in the wrong direction (indicated by lit arrow).

As for non-traditional scoring methods, I'd recommend looking at the earliest woodrail machines. I've played a lot of pinball machines and I can't think of any that didn't have the regular score reels.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 8:07 AM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this qualifies, but the NBA Fastbreak machine has Points (scored like basketball), and Rings (achieved by accomplishing tasks on the playfield). From the rule sheet: "When comparing scores, Rings always beats Points. Thus, 150 and 1 Ring beats 200 and no Rings."

It's also unusual in that it doesn't have the normal highest 5 scores. You choose to play as one of the NBA teams, and each team has its own high score.
posted by cruelfood at 8:13 AM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

We can probably get you partial answers, but a call to the pinball museum in vegas might yield more complete results.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:50 AM on February 22, 2017

I'm guessing you won't find any traditional pinball machines that actually decrement scores for a couple of reasons:
  1. In older, electro-mechanical machines with score reels, there is no way to turn the reels backwards. The solenoids that pulse these reels only move them one way. When they need to be reset, they simply fire until they hit zero. The machine can't really add and drecrement numbers, it just pulses the reels when a circuit is completed. The logic to do actual calculations just isn't there. If you wanted to have negative scoring, you'd essentially double the cost of the scoring unit becuase it would have twice as many components.
  2. In newer, solid state games with fully electronic scoring, score has been replaced by other milestones and just isn't as important to players any more. Modern pinball is about starting and completing "modes" and multiballs. Score still plays a factor, but it's not the sole measure of players ability anymore. Plus, I think tradition holds that "everything scores." That being said, there may be a few exceptions, but they are almost certainly going to be more modern, solid-state pins. Your could ask in the forums at the There are a lot of knowledgeable people in there. You could try, but the newsgroups have kind of died out.

posted by cosmicbandito at 9:45 AM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

You could try, but the newsgroups have kind of died out.

Most of the online pinball community has moved to the forums on

You could also try asking /r/cade.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:41 AM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Score is and remains very important to pinball, because it's universal across plays on a single machine, and across machines of the same type. (Although there's important differences between, say, individual Twilight Zone tables, depending on machine maintenance, physical adjustments and operator settings, score still means roughly the same thing between them.) How do you compare "four multiballs and a wizard mode" to "two multiballs and two wizard modes?" Both, however, pay off in points, which is the machine itself telling you how much each is worth.

The most obvious examples I could think of (Safecracker and NBA Fast Break) have already been mentioned. I'd add in games with buy-in extra balls, which usually have a special table just for continued games. There is also the case of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which depending on settings may have three scoreboards. The normal scoreboard, the "Officer's Club," and the "Q Continuum." Officer's Club handles buy-in scores, and Q Continuum is explicitly for scores of over 10 billion. I read (in a rulesheet) that it's possible for a score to beat all the normal high scores but not qualify for the Q Continuum, and thus not make any scoreboard.

There's also the case of games that track scoreboard achievements that aren't top game score. Twilight Zone tracks the "Lost In The Zone Champion," which is the best score achieved only during in wizard mode. Attack From Mars tracks "Martian Champion" (most martians hit) and Ruler Of The Universe, the last player to successfully complete its wizard mode Rule The Universe, as well as time and date and "number of re-elections," that is times achieved uninterrupted by other players. Medieval Madness, in many ways a successor to AFM, goes overboard with this and keeps track of many champions for different features.

The fact that everything scores holds slightly more import than just tradition. Balls that score absolutely zero points, when lost, before bonus, will be returned to the player! This is completely separate from ball savers. The key, in a game with an LCD or DMD scoreboard, is if your score is flashing. If it is, the game doesn't consider the ball to have started yet, and it'll keep flashing until at least a point is scored. While games of the era are usually designed so that a ball on the way to the drain will trigger at least one playfield switch, and thus earn at least 10 points, this can be taken advantage of in a few games....

A failed skill shot that triggers none of the switches in Twilight Zone will land in the Rocket kicker to be launched into play, which will earn points when triggered. But on some tables you may be able to nudge the ball out of the kicker, where it might have a straight shot to the drain. If the ball drains without triggering the Rocket, no switches will have triggered and zero points will have been scored, and the ball will be given back for another try at the skill shot! This can be cycled indefinitely, so long as you keep whiffing at the skill shots. It can actually be safer to do this than let the Rocket fire, since it's aimed into the jet bumpers and, in what is probably TZ's least brilliant design decision, the bumpers have a route directly to the left outlane, meaning you can lose the ball, not infrequently, without it ever touching a flipper. (The best route, really, is to purposely fail the skill shot by overplunging, which won't let you freely lose the ball, but will send the ball into play from the Slot Machine, avoiding the jets. The skill shot is usually not worth it on TZ.)
posted by JHarris at 10:47 AM on February 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

Centigrade 37 has a thermometer that you fill up. MIBS counts marbles. Heat Wave monitors temperature. Also the 2 player Joust pinball has very odd scoring. There are a lot of them out there and someone already suggested posting to pinside, which is where you will get the completest list.
posted by rachelpapers at 11:02 AM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the great answers so far.

joeyjoejoejr those are exactly what I am looking for on the losing points question.

Safe Cracker, while it still has a traditional score is very interesting and I'd never heard of that type of thing before outside of ticket/prize redemption which you can't put back into the machine and very old machines that would actually pay out as in gambling.

Centigrade 37, Heat Wave, and MIBS (which I used to have actually) are what I'm looking for, but they still have traditional score reels. I may have to settle for those as the best examples.

I'm asking because my current project machine will use a non-traditional scoring system and allow for moving both directions so I wanted to see how others have done those things. I understand that different players and machines place a different emphasis on score, but as JHarris says score is still important and a constant in pinball design. The other examples by JHarris are also great starting points for me because they are non-traditional though not quite what I was after.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 11:22 AM on February 22, 2017

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