Pinball Showdown Review
Quick Glance: Pinball Showdown by Shoot Again Games
Game Type: Card Game
Number of Players: 2-4
Mechanics: Set Collection / Auction Difficulty: Medium Light
I have been fascinated by pinball ever since I was a young child. Part of it stemmed from the fact that all the older kids always hung out in the pinball area at the back of the arcade. I have many memories tied to very specific machines. So, when I read that a company had made a pinball card game, my interest levels shot through the roof. Pinball Showdown takes a slightly different angle than I expected. Instead of playing pinball, you play AS the pinball, and Multiball has just started! Can you be the ball that scores the most points before Multiball ends?
Pinball Showdown takes place over a series of no more than 10 rounds. Each player starts the game with 20 double-sided tokens. 5 of these are set to denote your speed, the other 15 denote your ability to control where you are going on the table. Each player is also dealt 10 cards.
At the beginning of each round, one card is drawn from the deck, and each player chooses one card from their hand. They are shuffled a bit, and then placed face up on the table. These cards are the various table features you can aim for this turn. These run the gamut from flippers and rollovers to special bash toys and drop targets. Each card shows several elements such as how many points it is worth, how fast you must be going to activate the card, how it affects your speed, and any bonuses.
Starting with the 1st player, each player in turn gets to take several actions. Players can raise their speed (at the price of a permanent loss of control tokens), pull a card from the discard pile (at the cost of 2 control tokens), and they can bid on which table feature they will aim for this turn. These are once around auctions, so if you get outbid, you get your tokens back. You may then freely change some of them to speed if you wish. After each player has done these actions, cards are awarded to those that won them (any control tokens spent are lost). Then, the players that didn’t get any cards may choose any of the remaining cards for free.
After collecting cards, players then look at the Bonus Combo cards. These are specific pairs of features that score players extra points. If one of these cards is collected, then Wizard Mode turns on, and all cards scored the next turn are doubled!
As cards are taken, players adjust their speed based on clear icons shown on the cards. If for some reason, a player’s speed drops to 0, that ball drains. If that happens in the first 5 turns…that player gets to reset to 5 speed, and the game continues. If it happens after turn 6, the game ends immediately as Multiball ends once a ball drains. Either way, the game will last a maximum of 10 rounds. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.
The rulebook starts off strong with nice diagrams of the cards. The rest of the rulebook kind of falls into a “wall of text.” The rules are laid out fairly well, but I think another diagram or two might have helped make them even clearer. I do like that the back cover of the rules has a glossary of pinball terms.
I absolutely adore the theme. The theme extends wonderfully to the art on the cards, which are all photographs of actual pinball machines that have been restored by the designer. I love that so much, and even recognize a couple of the images. In game play terms, the theme is kind of pasted on. I mean, a pinball in the machine can’t choose it’s own speed or aim itself.
It’s largely a card game, so set up and tear down only takes a couple minutes at most. There are a few cards that need to be separated out, but they are easy to distinguish. I strongly recommend putting each player’s tokens into baggies, although dumping them in the box and just counting out 20 each time works as well if you’re lazy.
The cards are very nice. The graphic design is clear, and has a delightfully retro feel to it. Most of the rest of the components are cardboard chips, and they are fine. I kind of want to upgrade some of the bits (such as the 1st player marker) to actual pieces of pinball machines, and maybe find a bunch of old arcade tokens to replace the control markers.
There is no solo mode available.
The biggest knock I honestly have about the game is that it doesn’t truly feel like playing (or being a) pinball. It’s an auction game with a slight emphasis on set collection, but it’s a good one. I love once around auctions in games. I also like the fact that losing an auction doesn’t necessarily hurt you, and in fact it may even help add a bit of take that to the game. I hope there are expansions to add in concepts of nudging the table, tilts, and possibly jackpots. Pinball Showdown may not feel quite like you are living inside a pinball machine, but it does bring a good game, and lots of nostalgia to the table.