The Pinball Big Year is pushing me to go to as many pinball places/events that I can. I just handed in my vacation schedule for work and pretty much every day off is in corrolation with a pinball extravaganza. I was on Pinside Thursday afternoon and I saw the thread for the Fairfax open and I knew I had to leave work early Friday and get there. I left on a dreary Friday Afternoon to drive 3.5 hours and 200 miles to take haven in some pins. I got lost (damn you inner loop/outer loop) and spent a long time just trying to turn around. I finally got to the Pinball Open and nothing puts me in a better mood than some pins. I met Paul, the open organizer and piad my admission, bought a T-Shirt (I never thought I’d have a shirt that said Best Western on it) and went into a room with 30+ pins. I entered my 1st tournament, the classics tournament. You pay $5 and you get to choose 3 games to play one time. They record your scores and then if you place in the top percentile, they have a bracketed playoff. Being just dumb I decided to play 2 games I’d never played before (Fathom and Paragon) and one I had, Roller Games. Needless to say, after each game I sheepishly called the scorekeeper over muttering to myself how horrible I did. The ball times were so brief on these games I am not counting them for the Big Year. All I can tell you is Fathom is one bad ass game and I’m looking forward to putting some real time on it later on in the year. I did get to put quality time on 13 pins at the Fairfax Open.
Black Pyramid was the 1st game in the door and the 1st one I played. It has a decent art package and audio. The game play was average at best. Score big by shooting the upper right and left lanes. Spell Black Pyramid. Has a “swinging” target that moves back and forth in the center of the playfield. Every time I would hit it, the ball would ricochet off of the playfield glass half the time draning SDTM. GRADE: C-
Satin Doll is a brightly colored effort from Williams and an average player with a variant playfield (the 2 pop bumpers are down by the lower left flipper, I don’t know why, it’s weird and doesn’t really add much in my opinion). The machine has 15 rollovers and 9 targets, use the upper left flipper to hit the targets on the right side. Nothing great here but a little different with the layout. Pat Hand is the 3 flipper version of Satin Doll. GRADE: C
I then had the opportunity to play Hollywood Heat, a machine that pretty much throws in the kitchen sink when it comes to pinball. Designed by John Trudeau (he went onto design Creature From the Black Lagoon, Bride of Pin-Bot, Judge Dredd, Congo, etc.) you can’t help but notice the similarity to Miami Vice (this would be more esteemed if it featured Crockett and Tubbs and their theme song). The 1980s really loved their pastels. This machine features a couple really cool things. One, remote drop targets (you hit one drop target, it knocks down another one somewhere else on the playfield) a captive ball that when hit can hit the pop bumper (they copied this idea in Stern’s Indiana Jones), a “Hot Shot” ramp that you can shoot which shoots your ball from the lower playfield to the upper playfield. Lots to do and shoot for. A fun, cheesy effort accurately representing the mid 1980s. GRADE: B
I made my way over to Lightning, my 1st early Stern of my big year and I can tell you that I was impressed. Game has a layout similar to Black Knight, but the balls are already locked in play when the game starts. Achieving multiball releases the balls. You have to hit the 3 banks of drop targets (in sequence) to accomplish this. Not easy to do. Shooting the ramps to the upper playfield is paramount and getting into bonus time scores big points. The artwork is an enigma. I really don’t know what’s going on here, but for some reason I’m oddly drawn to it. Maybe because I like the gameplay. Check this one out if you can. GRADE: B+
The Rolling Stones is an underwhelming effort from Stern and really has nothing exceptional about it. From the photoshopped artwork and backglass, to the predictable layout, it just feels like they threw it out there. Sure, it features the music of the Stones, my 2nd favorite rock group of all time (Beatles #1), but when a song starts playing, anytime you hit a switch or a target it plays a new song, so it’s like name that tune. There’s a Mick Jagger target that jerks awkwardly across the playfield and it’s annoying, and the same goes for the British announcer. It is still pinball, but it’s a disspointing experience. GRADE: D+
AC/DC on the other hand is a stellar effort from Stern. Call me impressed. I had the chance to play the LE version which features the mini-playfield under the playfield instead of the wretched artwork of Angus and a bell that you can ring and some other fun toys. This game is the reincarnate of Terminator 2 (even has a cannon that you fire for multiball) and maybe that’s why I like it. I like how the different songs increase different scoring on the playfield (pop bumpers, targets, ramps etc.). The game plays fast and smooth. Overall, a solid good effort from Stern. GRADE: B+
I then played the machine that I was most impressed with out of all of the games there. No, not AC/DC. I was most impressed with Mousin’ Around. Granted the artwork leaves much to be desired (mice dressed like Kid N’ Play, not feeling it). What I was was feeling was the stupendous gameplay, playfield layout and flow. 3 ramps (the center ramp can be accessed by hitting 1-2-3 on the center target bank. Spell M-O-U-S-E T-R-A-P to light the locks (not easy) and hitting the multiball jackpot is tough. The game is fast and smooth and pretty special. Better artwork and theme and this would be a classic. Still, it plays like one. GRADE: A-
I then played the game that intrigued me enough to come to the show. Avengers you might ask yourself? No, not Avengers, rather a 1970 Gottlieb pin titled Snow Queen. I saw the game list the the Fairfax Open was featuring and the 1st game I searched was Snow Queen and saw that no pinsider had it in their collection and there was no public place to play it. IN THE WORLD. When I first got to the show it was not working, I was crushed. But a couple of hours later it was on and I was ready to play. Snow queen was actually a fun and challenging pin. Hitting different shots move the snow mobile around the track (yes an all female snowmobile race theme pin). Make so many shots and get credit for laps which light for the end of ball bonus. The key shots are the 4 kick-out holes at the top (get the ball in there, hit the bumpers, nudge into another kick-out hole, score big points) and the checkered flag spinners. Tiny flippers makes it tough. Good stuff here. GRADE: B+
I then made my way over to one of my favorite games of all time. Theatre of Magic might be the best original themed pinball machine ever made (I go back and forth with this and Monster Bash all of the time). Everything about this game is smashing. Great theme, beautiful artwork, impressive audio and stupendous playfield layout and game play. The game is fast and smooth, and the scoring is well balanced. Grand finale not easy to get to and harder to beat. There is nothing bad I can say about this machine. GRADE: A+
Shrek has the same playfield and layout and game rules as Stern Family Guy, just with a more child friendly theme. It still features farting and shots to the nuts (hit the skill shot, watch Shrek take it to the johnson, fun for the whole family!). Decent gameplay and I like the little mini pinball playfield. Lots of shots and lots to do. Pat Lawlor makes good games. I’m not a fan of the puke green coloring that permeates this machine. Features the Smash Mouth song “All-Star” that Stern paid a pretty penny for to feature in the game. If I had an arcade, Shrek would be in it. Every single kid at the Open was like a moth to a flame wanting to play this machine. GRADE: B
Joker Poker is a classic effort from Gottlieb and a tough one at that. It features a great theme (anything poker related I like) and it’s about hitting the different banks of drop targets, 15 targets in all. Knock them down for bonuses and knock down the Aces + Joker to light the extraball. Really nice artwork as well, a drop target lovers dream. Joker Poker is a good game. GRADE: B
Everytime I went over to this machine, there was someone rocking out on it, but near the end of my evening (after my 1st trip ever to a hamburger place called “Fuddruckers”) I got to put some time on Black Knight 2000 and I was impressed. I said early that Jack-Bot and The Getaway were the best updated pins to pay homage to the original. Black Knight 2000 crushes the original Black Knight in everyway. 1st let me say, this machine has the best audio and music in my opinion out of any machine ever. The music is epic and the choir singing is haunting. The split playfield is well designed and there are a lot of tough shots. The game features 3 multiball modes and I’m a big fan of the mystery wheel. Nice artwork and color scheme, this is a really great game. GRADE: A-
The last game I played during the evening before I had to make my 3.5 Hours 200 mile journey home (I had to work the next morning) was Dungeons & Dragons. It’s got nice artwork and shades of blue. It has a decent playfield and some nice shots, but something to me that I couldn’t get used to were the outlanes. it features a “magic save” that will prevent the ball from draining down the outlane, but you can’t catch or trap a ball on your flipper. If you try to do that the ball drains. I couldn’t not do this. Sometimes I would save the ball with the magic save, most other times it would drain. I’m sure you might get used to something of this nature, but in the 15 or so games I played it was a hard thing to do. Audio kind of annoying. Overall, liked the game, but didn’t like the outlanes. Hope to put some more time on sometime this year. GRADE: C+
Overall, I was impressed my the 10th annual Fairfax Pinball Open. If you haven’t gone and you are in that area, I recommend it. I’m going to make this an annual event, big year or not. The one negative for me was that the games in the tournament (14 of them) could only be played for tournament purposes (at least in the time that I was there). I really wanted to put some serious time on Lord of the Rings, Batman The Dark Knight, Paragon, Roller Games, Swords of Fury, Fathom and more, but couldn’t. I heard that the place was open all night Friday so maybe then people would have a chance to play those games, but alas, I had to go. Next year, I’m going to stay over and check out both days of the open. The best 3 games I played were Theatre of Magic, Black Knight 2000 and Mousin’ Around.