PAPA recognizes there is more than one way to teach players how to prepare for competition. If the advice offered in this guide does not work for you, we encourage you to keep trying until you discover a more effective method.
Above all, we encourage players to look within themselves as often as possible for answers. A key moment in a player’s development is when he or she begins to think about the game of pinball with a competitive mindset. Every flip you make will lead you closer to more points or the final drain. The outcome is entirely up to you!
The following guide is intended to challenge players to learn about both pinball and themselves as competitors. Discussion and feedback are encouraged! We intend this guide to be a community resource that grows and becomes more refined over time. If you feel we are missing something important, or feel you can contribute to this guide in a meaningful way, please don’t hesitate to e-mail us.
1. The first step in becoming a competitive pinball player is believing that you CAN WIN!
2. The second step to becoming a competitive player is remembering that having fun while playing, win or lose, is more important than any other skill.
3. The third step is physically getting out there, going to an event, and meeting new people.
Competitive pinball brings a different mindset than casual play, but this doesn’t mean the experience has to be rigid, repetitive, boring, or less fun. It is true game strategies are sometimes simplified during competitive play to help bring risk back into balance with reward, but competition also offers different types of excitement, social interaction, and unusual in-game decision-making that casual play can never supply.
And finally, the best part of competitive play is that just because you’ve made the decision to become a competition player doesn’t mean you have to stop kicking back a few and playing the game with your friends the same way you always have. When it comes to attending an event and giving the experience a try, the risk versus reward equation in this case is always in your favor.
A major step to becoming a better pinball player is learning the game’s fundamental flipper skills. If you still find yourself double-flipping (flipping with both flippers at the same time) or machine-gun-flipping (repeatedly hitting both flipper buttons for no reason), you still have a long way to go. But there’s hope! PAPA has already provided a series of videos designed to show players of all skill levels a series of techniques they can learn that will help them improve.
If you haven’t watched PAPA’s video series on Flipper Techniques, take a short detour and visit the following page.
A Thinking Game:
If you’ve already watched the videos, the next thing you can do is practice! Nothing will make you a better pinball player than actually playing pinball, but before you drop a bunch of tokens into the nearest coin slot and fire up a four-player contest all for yourself, re-consider for a moment how you practice.
The first question to ask is: Do you have a strategy?
As a player, you should know what you are planning on attempting with the ball before it’s ever plunged. The more you play games, the more you will understand the different in-game strategies, and the easier learning the rules of new pinball machines will become. If you are still at the beginning of this process, however, focus on keeping the ball under control and in play. If you’ve never played a game before and don’t know the rules (and the rulecard doesn’t help), experiment with the various shots.
What does the artwork on playfield say?
Do the playfield inserts light up when you shoot certain things?
What happens if you shoot something more than once?
Gather information as you play the game. Pinball is as much a mental experience as a physical one. Pay attention to the sounds the game makes and open yourself to what information it gives you. What may initially appear to be nothing more than flashing lights and arrows are actually a roadmap to what is happening within the game. On a very basic level, if something is trying to get your attention in a big way, it is generally worth the effort to hit it with the ball, but this doesn’t mean you should do so wildly…
Every flip matters!
Every time the flipper is engaged, it should be engaged with a specific purpose. Whether your are attempting to hit a specific target to start a mode or just to gather information, you should always have an associated reward in mind any time you put the ball at risk.
If you always play games the same way with the same strategies, you are not challenging yourself to improve. If you own the games you play and never adjust anything on the playfield, different types of flipper rubbers, tightening or loosening the tilt, or adjusting slingshot sensitivity, you similarly are not challenging yourself to improve.
A major step toward becoming a skilled pinball player is developing the ability to adapt to different games, or the same game setup in different ways, and learning to do so faster than your opponent. A significant part of pinball success is due to muscle memory, but if you repeatedly play the same games prepared the same way, your body will use that muscle memory against you when playing a game that is prepared differently. If you have the capability, force yourself to play a wide variety of games, or adjust the games you do play frequently.
Examples of simple things you could do to change the way a game feels include:
- Change flipper rubbers to a softer or harder type
- Widen or tighten the outlanes
- Tighten or loosen the tilt
- Change the slingshot sensitivity
- Reduce or raise the game’s pitch
- Clean and wax a dirty game
- Adjust the level slightly
If you can adjust your games as described above, do so regularly. Something as simple as changing one aspect every week can do a great deal to help you as a player.
If you find yourself becoming so comfortable with your games that you can handle the kickouts, feeds, and rebounds with your eyes closed, you will never maximize your potential!
How to Practice:
Some players are not fortunate enough to be able to make regular alterations to the games they play. If you find yourself in one of these situations, make a decided effort to play games differently. Using the same strategies repeatedly will not only make the game become more boring more quickly, but it won’t put you into the variety of situations that, as a player, promote decision-making and growth.
To Change things up from time to time, consider the following ideas:
- Play for modes instead of score, or vice versa.
- Play one handed for ball one, then switch for ball two.
- Pick one target, or objective in a game and focus entirely on that shot. Some games even count the objectives for you, such as shooting exclusively for Fish in Fish Tales, Train Wrecks in Addams Family, or Meters in No Fear.
- Pick a target, similar to above, but also choose a Death Shot that ends your ball. Try playing Iron Man for Iron Man Letters, but agree that any successful ramp or full orbit shot ends your ball.
- Play a few games doing nothing but attempting flipper skills. Compete with a friend to see who can post pass, tap pass, or alley pass more times before draining.
- Play a game Split-Flipper! Choose a partner, and have each player take one flipper button. Discuss strategy decisions collectively as the game progresses.
- Disallow a mode, major feature, or flipper skill during a game. If playing with someone else, have each opponent decide which mode, feature, or skill is disallowed each ball for the other player.
The list above is just a small fraction of the possible ways you, as a player, can put yourself into new situations. For every obstacle you manage to overcome, you will learn a little bit more about both the game and yourself as a player.
Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself!
Understanding Game Rules:
Being able to control the ball is only half of the battle. If you want to improve at a pinball machine, make a concerted effort to learn the game’s rules. Only when you know what shots, or sequences of shots, are worth the most points will you know what strategy to use at a given time. The easiest way to learn a game is by playing it. If you want to play a particular game but don’t know if one resides nearby, join a league, post your question in the pinside forum, or check a pinball machine locator.
A second way to learn about games is by watching videos and using traditional game rule sheets. PAPA provides rulesheets and a series of video Tutorials, broadcast coverage, and gameplay videos to help you learn more about a wide variety of games.
What to Shoot Next?
In addition to placing a rulecard on the game offering basic instructions, most pinball machines will guide players by lighting inserts or flashing lights on the playfield to signify important shots. Playfield inserts are clear or colored pieces of plastic set into the playfield. Inserts are lit by lightbulbs underneath the playfield and serve as signposts to the player explaining what is happening within the game’s rules. What may seem like a bunch of random, flashing lights to the uninitiated is actually the game’s software giving the player critical information.
As you play more games and learn more sets of rules, you will begin to recognize similarities between games, between multiballs, and sometimes even between multiple games from the same programmer or designer. The process of learning pinball rules builds upon itself, and while the adventure may seem daunting in the beginning, things will become easier as you progress.
Although modern pinball machines can seem extremely complicated, the good news for new players is that most machines employ similar concepts regarding how the rules work. In most newer games, there will be a sequence of shots that begins a multiball. A multiball is when more than one ball is on the playfield at the same time.
Multiballs are good for players for a variety of reasons:
- The more balls you have available, the more balls you can drain without losing your turn.
- Multiballs give players the opportunity to try out new shots with less risk than during single-ball play.
- The points are usually higher during multiball. Not only are there more balls with which to score, but specific shots are generally also worth jackpots, which can be large sums of points.
In most games, a multiball must be started by locking a ball or balls. The term lock is used because games would originally hold a ball in place, or lock it there, until the player managed to release it with another ball. Some modern games use virtual locks, where the game will announce a ball has been locked, keep track of the number of locked balls in the rules, but then release the same ball back into play. In the end, whether a game uses physical locks or virtual locks doesn’t really matter to the player, since they both serve the same purpose.
If you find yourself walking up to a new game with no strategy in mind, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is whether the game has a multiball, and if so, how do you lock the balls to start it. This information is generally found on the rule card or written somewhere on the playfield itself. Do yourself a favor and look over the game before plunging. Read any writing that is available and take note of prominent or unusual features.
What is classified as a mode, or whether modes are important to scoring, varies from game to game. Nevertheless, it is still good to know whether a particular game has them, what they are, how to start them, and what they’re worth. As a rule of thumb, modes will start a sequence of shots within a game, usually designated with lit or flashing lights on the playfield.
Most modern games have modes, while most older games do not.
Modes are important because they will change the scoring pattern for a game. Generally speaking, they will make certain shots worth additional points or build toward a goal. When playing Addams Family, for instance, shooting the center ramp will award very few points during normal play. If the Addams Family mode Seance is running, however, that same center ramp will award 5million points, 10million points, and then 15million points on three consecutive shots. 30million points on only three shots is a sizable amount of points for this game. Unfortunately, not all modes are created equally, and some are even beneficial to ignore.
The key to playing modes in a competitive setting is knowing which are worth a significant amount of points and which are not. If you know a game’s rules, do your best to play the high-scoring modes early in your game unless there’s a noteworthy reason not to do so.
Some games allow competitors to play multiple modes, or multiballs, at the same time. When two features are running simultaneously during a game, the player has stacked them. Stacking is important because certain modes can be very risky, but playing them during a multiball alleviates the risk of losing a single ball and ending your turn.
In some situations, players can stack two separate modes together, meaning a single shot to a ramp or playfield feature will count toward multiple modes at the same time, offering the player a two-for-one type scenario.
Some games allow stacking. Some do not. Experiment with whatever game you’re playing and find out if any modes or multiballs can be stacked together, and then ask yourself whether or not stacking them, in your case, is beneficial or harmful.
Still curious about learning the rules? PAPA has already done a great deal of research for you and provides a number of different tutorials, rule sheets, and gameplay videos to help players learn the rules.
Do yourself a favor and watch one of the many instructional videos we’ve provided.
When stepping up to a competition game, it is important you move at your own pace. Some players attempt to clear their minds and distance themselves from any nerves. Other players embrace the added energy and try to use it to their advantage.
You can watch other players and learn from them or mimic their styles, but in the end, it will always boil down to you and the game, one-on-one, and only you can discover the style, mental preparation, and state of mind that leads to your personal success.
Different players have different pre-plunge rituals. Some of these rituals are superstition and can benefit state of mind, but others serve more practical purposes. Wiping a lockdown bar, for instance, can make a difference in a player’s grip on the game. Similarly, the series of flips that many players make prior to plunging can offer crucial information later in the ball.
- Are the flippers responsive?
- Do both flippers feel equal?
- Are the opto-interruptors sensitive?
- Is a flick pass or tap pass possible?
- Are the buttons clean and working well?
Don’t be afraid to take a minute and look the game over, especially prior to plunging ball one. Take note of where the outlanes are positioned and look for signs of any modifications. Check the backglass for any notices written by the tournament director. If you’re in the position of being able to watch other players on the game before you, gather whatever information you can from watching their games. Are the feeds consistent? How were those players handling them? Were they successful? Did they give you any audial clues as to how the game is playing? Don’t be afraid to take a page from poker players and learn from your opponents.
In-Game Decision Making:
The risk-versus-reward process that players endure generally follows two schools of thought. Some competitors will do whatever they can at all times to position themselves for an attempt at the most lucrative shot in the game, while other players will always search for single shots, or patterns, that feel comfortable and safe, and build a strategy around those specific shots. It is true that no shot in pinball is completely safe, but when players reach a high-level of ability, they can better recognize which shots are giving them trouble at a given moment and which aren’t. Most players strike a balance between the two concepts and lean in one direction or the other depending on how the game in question is playing.
All players should plan a strategy prior to plunging ball one. If you must deviate from your primary strategy to another, do so decisively and don’t look back. Where many players get into trouble is in being caught between multiple strategies at once, and thus accomplishing none of them. Also, it is best to focus on your strategy in small sections, rather than sweeping goals. For instance, Ruling the Universe in the game Attack from Mars is not a good tournament strategy until you already find yourself extremely far into the game. At the outset, prior to ball one, a more reasonable goal would be to light lock and work toward your first multiball. Don’t be afraid to take this concept a step further and think of the game in singular moments:
Step one, gain control of the ball. Once you have control, take a moment to collect yourself and move on to step two, shooting the lock.
Simplify the game as much as you need in order to stay comfortable. And if you find that none of these mental techniques work for you, don’t be afraid to search internally for a different solution and find success in your own way.
Risk versus Reward:
Players always need to consider what a particular shot is worth. Pinball machines are designed to drain your balls quickly, so you, as a player, must always take care to keep the risk of losing your ball as low as possible. This means only flipping when absolutely necessary and not wasting shots working toward non-lucrative goals.
It is important to remember, however, that value must be considered in more than instant points. Lighting the lock in Attack from Mars is not necessarily the most lucrative shot in a game at a given time, but it could potentially lead to a high-scoring multiball. If you find yourself at a crossroads, don’t be afraid to count the number of shots left to reach a particular mode and make a strategy decision based on the results. If you find yourself five shots from a particular multiball but only three shots from another, consider attacking the three-shot multiball first. While you’re considering your strategy, also don’t forget to account for the difficulty of the shots involved and how it adds to the risk factor. If the five-shot multiball is located in a significantly safer area of the playfied than the three-shot multiball, it may be the better strategic choice even though it will require more attempted shots. As you gain experience as a competitive player, these decisions will begin to feel second nature.
A great deal of the beauty of competitive pinball is found in situational play. A player at a bar, arcade, or home game could potentially use the same strategy on the same game at all times without deviating. Competition play often forces players into making unusual decisions. The best way to play games in a qualifying situation is not necessarily the best way to play them in a head-to-head matchup. Similarly, the best way to play a game in a four-player group may not be the best way to play it when head-to-head! The important thing to remember is to always gather whatever information you can from the players around you and consider how your strategy may, or may not, affect them.
In a Best-Game qualifying situation where players receive multiple attempts on the same game, the best strategy is often to go for the high risk, high reward situations, even if that means potentially ending with a low-scoring game. If the tournament format affords you multiple attempts, that low-scoring game won’t make much of a difference, but the one time you break through and do achieve your goal, you will reap the reward.
In a PAPA-style qualifying situation, where players must string together multiple games on a single qualifying card, players will often dial the risk-taking back some, not wanting a single bad game to ruin four other solid performances.
Target scores are more common in a head-to-head scenario. Always pay attention to what your opponent is doing. The knowledge that you need 50 million points, as opposed to 500,000 points, or worse yet, not knowing the score at all, can often be the difference between success and defeat.
Pinball competitions have developed a general code of conduct that has served the game well. Please keep the following considerations in mind anytime you play into a competitive event. Some of these items are suggestions while others are enforced by official rules.
- If you must swear to relieve tension, excuse yourself to a private location or do so under your breath. Pinball can be very frustrating at times, but larger events are also attended by younger players. Help us encourage the next generation of players rather than scare them off. Screaming obscenities in public is never acceptable and may lead to disqualification.
- If you must leave mid-game for any reason, even temporarily to use the rest room, inform the tournament director prior to leaving. Leaving without telling anyone, expecting them to wait for you without knowing when you will return, is discourteous to the other players and also against the rules. If a tournament director is not notified and a player is found absent when it is their turn, PAPA rules allow three minutes for the player to return before the tournament director will plunge the ball in question and continue the event.
- Rooting for particular players is a fun by-product of competition. Don’t hesitate to cheer for your favorite player, but keep any negative comments within the bounds of good taste. There is no need to disparage other players or openly root against them.
- Waiting for a tilt mechanism to settle is allowed. If the amount of time you plan on waiting is significantly longer than normal for any reason, please explain your situation to the tournament director so he or she may inform the other competitors in your group of the reason for delay.
- Clean your hands often, especially after eating or using the rest room. All players are forced to touch the same flipper buttons, and all players should work collectively toward cleanliness. Hand sanitizer is your friend!
Improving your pinball techniques, or flipper skills as we like to call them, will help you score loads of points and enjoy pinball even more than you otherwise would have. At one point in time, every World Champion had to learn the basics, just like you. So whether all you want to do is have a little bit of extra fun and reach that next mode, or whether you go to sleep every night dreaming of taking home the World Championships Martian Trophy, learning new flippers skills will help you become more popular, lose weight, and achieve your wildest desires.
Every player starts with the basics! The more you practice, the more you will learn to aim your shots and utilize flipper skills. The more you utilize flipper skills, the higher your scores will rise. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques and improve! And trust us… it’s not random. You can make the game do what you want!
The dead bounce is the easiest flipper skill to learn… Do Nothing! Often times, the key to gaining control of a moving pinball is to not flip. Mastery of this technique lies in knowing when to use it and when not to use it. If you’re new to pinball, force yourself to hold back on some occasions and gain a feel for where a ball goes when it hits a lowered flipper.
- How does the angle change?
- Is the ball safer after the dead bounce than before it?
- Does the ball bounce to the same place when it hits different parts of the flipper?
- Is the dead bounce consistent every time the ball leaves certain playfield features?
If you’re struggling to learn this technique, play a few games one-handed and see how it forces you to gain control of the ball by dead bouncing. Challenge yourself to learn this technique, and once you feel you have a handle on it, pat yourself on the back; You’ve graduated to Intermediate Techniques.
After you have improved your aim and learned to use both the cradle and dead bounce, it’s time to start challenging yourself with intermediate-level skills. Most of these techniques are designed to bring the ball under control, but some skills, such as the post pass, are designed to move the ball from one flipper to the other for setting up a desirable shot. The more you play pinball, the more you will learn which shots are valuable and worth setting up.
The drop catch is a beneficial technique for gaining control of the pinball anytime the ball is angling toward the flipper. The key to a successful drop catch is releasing the flipper button just prior to contact. When the ball finally does contact the dropping flipper, it will lose momentum and move up the inlane, as opposed to bouncing back into the field of play.
It is important to note the drop catch can only be used when the ball is angling toward the flipper. If the ball is angling away from the flipper, or in other words, moving toward the center drain, lowering the flipper prior to contact will do nothing but guide the ball into the outhole and cause your friends to shake their heads at you.
While the drop catch works best when the ball is angled toward the flippers, the live catch works best when the ball is angled toward the center drain. A successful live catch is determined by how closely a player can match the end of the flipper stroke with the impact of the ball. Ideally, the flipper will reach its highest point at the exact moment it contacts the falling pinball. The better the player’s timing, the easier it will be to bring the ball under control.
Pinball machines frequently put players into positions where specific shots on the playfield are worth a great deal of points while other shots are not nearly as valuable. In these moments, players find themselves wanting to transfer the ball to the flipper that has the best chance of making the most valuable shot, and when that happens, the most common technique to transfer the ball is post passing.
To complete a successful post pass, a player must shoot the ball off of the bottom portion of the slingshot directly above the cradled ball. The proper flipper-button timing to complete a successful post pass varies from game to game.
If a ball is moving too quickly to cradle, briefly releasing the flipper button as the ball approaches the end of the flipper can cause a flicking motion, safely transferring the ball from one flipper to the other.
This technique, and many others, require the flipper mechanisms to be very responsive to quick button presses. It’s always in players’ best interest to flip a few times and get a feel for the flipper mechanisms prior to plunging the ball.
After you find yourself catching the ball successfully and implementing other intermediate-level skills, it’s time to kick things up a notch with advanced flipper techniques. The following tap pass, loop pass, and other techniques all require a high level of precision that can take thousands of attempts to master, but acquiring these techniques is often what separates the good players from the great ones. Also, you can admit it, they’re pretty cool to look at!
While tap passes will work on all eras of games, the technique is primarily used on older games from the Solid State era, such as Paragon or Future Spa. A successful tap pass requires a fast flick or tap on the flipper button, causing the flipper power to briefly engage, sending the ball only as far as the opposite flipper, rather than into the upper playfield.
The loop pass is an advanced technique used to transfer the ball from one flipper to the other by way of an orbit shot. This technique only works on games where an orbit shot feeds the opposite flipper.
To successfully complete a loop pass, a player must lower the flipper just prior to contact. As the pinball contacts the dropping flipper, its energy will be reduced enough for the player to gain control.
Cradle Separation – Traditional:
When a player needs to separate two balls that both reside on the same flipper, the most common way to do so is the traditional cradle separation. To separate the two balls, the player must gently flip the ball closest to the tip of the flipper up the slingshot and wait for it to return. If the moving ball contacts the cradled ball with enough force, it will bounce to the opposite flipper.
Cradle Separation – Over / Under:
The over / under cradle separation is a variation of the traditional cradle separation. In this version, instead of waiting for the first ball to contact the cradled ball, the player employs a post pass to transfer the second ball to the opposite flipper.
Several pinball techniques are banned from competition. Some of these techniques, such as the bang back, are banned because they risk player injury. Other techniques, such as the shooter-lane cradle and death save are banned because high-level players are capable of abusing these skills consistently enough to play single games lasting several hours. PAPA does recognize some of these techniques involve a high degree of skill, but this recognition alone does not outweigh the potential negative impacts of allowing these techniques to be used in competition.
Shooter-lane juggling occurs when players repeatedly tap the plunger rod on a machine to keep a second or third ball from being sent into the playfield by the auto-plunger. In a best case scenario for the player, enough balls will stack up in the shooter lane that the auto-plunger is not strong enough to remove them, allowing the competitor an opportunity to play a one-ball multiball for an extended period of time.
Shooter-lane cradles are a variation of the more common, shooter-lane juggle shown above. On some games, either the shooter rod is slightly too long, or the auto-plunger is slightly too weak, and when a player continually presses the shooter rod in as far as it will go, the game will not be capable of auto-plunging the appropriate number of balls into play.
The Death save is a technique players sometimes use in casual competition to send a ball draining down the right outlane back into the field of play. When the ball reach the outhole, the player raises the left flipper and pushes the game slightly forward and to the right. If the technique is performed correctly, the ball will rebound off of the metal guide leading to the center drain and rebound back into play.
Bang Backs are the king of all illegal pinball techniques. Any players who attempt this maneuver are risking sprained or broken wrists and damage to the pinball machine. This demonstration is for informational purposes only.
Note: The video refers to a ball draining down the left outlane, but a bang back can be successfully employed from both sides.
PAPA World Championships: Official Rules
Official Ruleset Version 19.1
Version Updates can be found here.
This document contains the rules for the PAPA World Pinball Championships. This document is the baseline for all PAPA-related competitive pinball rulings. Leagues and tournaments are welcome to copy these rules and adapt them as needed but are required, as per the Creative Commons license, to cite the original source PAPA.org within their own ruleset. All leagues and tournaments using this ruleset as a baseline are encouraged to update their own rules at least once a year to include recent PAPA revisions.
The Pinburgh Match-Play Championships ruleset and the PAPA Circuit Final ruleset contain adjustments that supersede portions of this document for those specific tournaments. All disputes involving those tournaments should first refer to the Pinburgh and Circuit Final rulesets here, and here, respectively.
The event coordinators for the PAPA World Championships are Kevin Martin, Mark Steinman, Elizabeth Cromwell, and Douglas Polka. Event coordinators organize volunteers, designate scorekeepers, handle malfunctions and rulings, delegate responsibilities and authority, and otherwise work to ensure the smooth operation of the tournament. Event coordinators and designated officials may participate in the tournament, but their entries will automatically be considered void at all times, and they are not eligible to participate in any final rounds or to receive prizes of any kind.
I. Quick Overview
PAPA tournament rules are quite lengthy and detailed. They reflect the experience of many years of tournament and league play, under many different systems. The principles are simple, however.
The majority of the tournament consists of qualifying rounds for singles players. During these rounds, each player may make as many qualifying attempts as he or she likes, within a single division chosen according to skill. Attempts may also be made in the special divisions (Classics / Juniors/ Seniors / Split Flipper / Womens), separately from qualifying attempts in Divisions A, B, C, and D.
Each qualifying attempt consists of play on a set of machines the player selects from those available in the division. The player’s performance on those machines is ranked and a composite score is determined. The highest composite scores within each division will advance to the final rounds.
In the final rounds, qualifying players play against each other in multiplayer games. A point system is used to determine who advances to the next round and, ultimately, who wins the division.
There are also mini-tournaments and other miscellaneous activities.
II. Singles Competition
1. Divisions of Play
- Division D – Division D at the PAPA World Championships is designed for beginners and novice players. This Division is intended to offer experience to players who are new to competitive pinball. If you are unsure of how PAPA’s tournament process works or do not feel comfortable competing in Divisions A, B, or C, we encourage you to play in Division D. Please note that Division D is heavily restricted to only allow newer competitive players.
- Division C – Division C at the PAPA World Championships is designed for players with below average league or tournament experience, or anyone who does not feel confidant competing in Divisions A or B. Please note that some restrictions will be applied to help determine who can and cannot enter Division C.
- Division B – While Division B is frequently labeled as an intermediate division, this designation is relative to the rest of the PAPA World Championships. The level of skill exhibited in this division is higher than the main divisions of the vast majority of tournaments throughout the world. Players with higher than average league or tournament experience who are not yet capable of competing in the main division at the PAPA World Championships play in Division B. Please note that some restrictions will be applied to help determine who can and cannot enter Division B.
- Division A – The main division of the PAPA World Pinball Championships is the most renowned event in all of competitive pinball, annually deciding the title of PAPA World Pinball Champion. All players of any skill level are welcome to compete in Division A and challenge for the title!
- Classics Division – PAPA offers three separate Classics events at the World Pinball Championships, featuring machines created prior to 1990. The Classics divisions function as their own self-contained daily tournaments and do not prohibit any player from also competing in any other division.
- Juniors Division – Only players 15 years old or younger are permitted to play in Juniors. This division offers medals to the winners and is intended to encourage younger players by providing them experience in the PAPA tournament setting. In order to ensure each player has a chance to experience the pressure of a final rounds format, all Juniors players will be entered into the final rounds.
- Seniors Division – Only players 50 years of age or older are permitted to compete in the Seniors division.
- Womens Division – Only women will be permitted to compete in the womens division.
- Split-Flipper – The Split Flipper Division gives competitors the chance to play with a partner. Each player is permitted to control the buttons on one side of the machine cabinet, and they may only do so with a single, designated hand once the ball has been plunged. Players may only switch sides, or hands, between balls, although they are permitted to nudge at all times with their non-designated hand.
Note that the Juniors, Seniors, Womens, and Division D will share the same bank of machines during qualifying and final rounds.
All players, winning or not, grant PAPA, Pinball Bug LP, Replay Foundation, and any and all other event sponsors and organizers, individual and collective, the right to use their names, scores, and likenesses for the purpose of promoting this tournament as well as other pinball-related events. This right is transferable without restriction. Video recording and photography occur at all PAPA events.
2. Skill Division Restrictions
Divisions A, B, C, & D are considered major divisions. Competitors may only play in one major division at a time. A player may choose to move to a higher major division, with Division A being the highest and Division D being the lowest, automatically voiding all entries in lower divisions (no refunds are provided), but no player may move to a lower division without special permission from tournament directors. Players are not permitted to change divisions after noon on Saturday.
The following restrictions are designed to discourage any player from intentionally competing beneath his or her level of skill:
- Any player who has placed in the top four of Division B or C at the finals of any previous PAPA tournament must enter the next higher division in their next PAPA tournament. If they fail to qualify in the higher division, they may return to the original lower division in the following year.
- Any player who has qualified in the Division A or B of any previous PAPA tournament may not enter a lower division in subsequent tournaments except at the discretion of tournament officials.
- At the discretion of the tournament officials, any player may be required to move to a higher division based on his or her performance or past league or tournament standings.
- Any player who plays in more than one major division will not be allowed to void their first entry in the higher division. Non-voided entries are used by the automated scoring system to establish which division is valid for each player.
- Players ranked between 1 and 199 in the World Pinball Player Rankings are restricted to Division A.
- Players ranked between 200 and 599 in the World Pinball Player Rankings are restricted to Division B or higher.
- Players ranked between 600 and 7499 in the World Pinball Player Rankings are restricted to Division C or higher.
- Only unranked players, or players ranked higher than 7500 in the World Pinball Player Rankings are permitted to compete in Division D.
- No player may move to a higher division after noon on Saturday, in order to prevent sudden shifts in standings late in the qualifying process.
A one-time $5 registration fee is required of each player who wishes to compete in any division. Registration is not required to play mini-tournaments, to play non-tournament machines, or to simply watch. Each registered player receives an identifying number and this number is used to track his or her subsequent play.
Registration does not include entries in any division; each entry is sold for an additional fee. Coupons for entries may be included with registration packages or available from special events. All players who reside outside of the United States and travel to the tournament to register as a player will receive one free entry coupon. Coupons for entries must be redeemed at the registration desk.
Players may enter in their chosen division(s) as many times as they like. No player may have more than two unplayed entries outstanding at any time. Each day of qualifying will have a published cut-off time, beyond which no entry may be started, and a further cut-off time, beyond which no new game may be played.
The fees for each entry are:
|Basic Registration (required for Division play)||$5|
|Division A, each qualifying attempt||$20|
|Division B, each qualifying attempt||$15|
|Division C, each qualifying attempt||$10|
|Division D, each qualifying attempt||$5|
|Classics Divisions, each qualifying attempt||$15|
|All Other Divisions, each qualifying attempt||$5|
No entries will be refunded at any time, so please plan your timing accordingly with the posted schedule.
The tournament features a guaranteed package of prizes. In the event of an overrun beyond expenses, excess revenue will fund the operations of the non-profit Replay Foundation, which contracts PAPA to operate events.
|1st Place||10000 + Trophy|
|2nd Place||4000 + Plaque|
|3rd Place||2000 + Plaque|
|4th Place||1000 + Plaque|
|1st Place||4000 + Trophy Cup|
|2nd Place||2000 + Medal|
|3rd Place||1000 + Medal|
|4th Place||500 + Medal|
|1st Place||1000 + Trophy Cup|
|2nd Place||500 + Medal|
|3rd Place||300 + Medal|
|4th Place||200 + Medal|
|1st Place||500 + Trophy Cup|
|2nd Place||300 + Medal|
|3rd Place||200 + Medal|
|4th Place||100 + Medal|
|Classics I, II, & III|
|1st Place||1000 + Trophy Cup|
|2nd Place||500 + Medal|
|3rd Place||300 + Medal|
|4th Place||200 + Medal|
|All Other Divisions|
Total prize package $45,000+
The winner of the A Division will also receive the title “World Pinball Champion”. This title remains in effect until the next annual PAPA tournament, or will expire after two years if PAPA tournaments are discontinued.
Other non-cash prizes may be awarded for special competitions, door prizes, top scores on certain qualifying machines, top scores on non-tournament machines, etc, at the sole discretion of tournament officials. Prizes will be paid by check, and appropriate IRS regulations for tax reporting will be followed. In the event the winner is not a U.S. Citizen, we will provide the appropriate forms.
III. Singles: Qualifying Rounds
1. Purchasing Entries
Before purchasing any entries, players must be registered. A registered player may purchase qualifying round entries in one or more appropriate divisions (at most one skill division, plus special divisions if eligible). Each purchased entry is specific to one division. Players should keep their registered player number handy for use when purchasing entries. Up to two entries may be purchased at a time by a player, although no more than two entries may be outstanding. Any coupons for free entries must be redeemed at the registration desk.
Entries will not be sold for any division beyond the posted time, nor will entries be sold for the Classics Division except when it is operating. Entries are non-refundable unless by special permission or as described herein.
2. Playing an Entry
When a player is ready to play a qualifying round entry, he or she approaches the bank of machines designated for the division corresponding to the entry. The player will select the appropriate subset of those machines to be played for the qualifying entry. The exact counts of machines in each bank and machines to be selected per entry may vary from division to division and from tournament to tournament. A typical example might be a bank of ten machines, from which five are selected for each entry.
No machine may be selected more than once on a single entry. The player will line up behind the machine he or she wants to play. When it is the player’s turn, he or she will signal for a scorekeeper who will take down the player’s number. At no time may the player begin play on any machine without being instructed to do so by the scorekeeper. Players may select a different set of machines for each qualifying entry.
After playing each game, the player will request that the scorekeeper record his or her score before leaving the machine. It is the player’s responsibility to ensure that the scorekeeper takes down the score, and to verify the score for correctness prior to submission. If a player’s score is recorded incorrectly and the result is beneficial to the player, tournament director’s reserve the right to correct the mistake. In all other qualifying situations, the recorded score will stand.
When all games for the entry have been completed, the player must submit the entry by pressing the “COMPLETE/SAVE THIS TICKET” button.
At any point during play or immediately after play has been completed, the player may elect to abandon his or her entry by notifying the scorekeeper. The player would then press the “VOID THIS TICKET” button. This will void all scores recorded so far for that specific entry, and the entry will not be entered into the scoring system except as a “void”, which does not affect scoring in any way. No money will be refunded, but the player has no further obligation to complete his or her entry. Once all games have been completed and the “COMPLETE/SAVE” button pressed, the void option is no longer available for that entry.
Players who begin an entry must remain present to complete the entry, except in cases of logistical challenges or emergency conditions.
All scores posted on a particular machine, including multiple entries from individual players, are maintained in a ranking. Point values are assigned to each position in this ranking. The overall score of a particular entry is the total of the point values assigned to its ranked scores on the selected machines for that entry. Because the rankings will change as new scores are posted on each machine, the overall score of each entry may change as the qualifying rounds progress.
It is important to note that each entry is scored separately from other entries, based on the sum of the point values for the ranking of its scores on the selected machines. Each entry a player completes has its own score, and there is no consistent way to compile a score based on “best of” results, nor is this the intent of the tournament system. The intent is to reward consistently good play within a single entry. Players should be aware that on each entry, they are also competing with their own previous entries on the selected machines. Remember that a player may void an entry at any time during its play, but once an entry is submitted as complete, it may not be voided by the player for any reason.
In the event of two or more scores on a machine being exactly tied, the highest point value of the tied positions will be awarded for each such score.
There are no scoring normalizers or other adjustments. Scores cannot be compared across divisions. As the qualifying rounds progress, players may wish to adjust their choice of qualifying machines according to the scores already posted, as well as their personal skills and preferences.
The rank of the player’s result on each machine contributes the following points to the score for that entry.
|4th down to 87th||84 down to 1|
Tournament officials will provide up-to-date scores and rankings at all times, using a projected screen or television-type display. The up-to-date scores and rankings are also available on the web site at all times. Detailed results for every scored entry are also available online.
4. Scoring Example
A player purchases a qualifying entry in the B Division, and is assigned an entry number of 2058. She plays five of the ten available machines, and the scorekeeper records her scores. At the time the entry is completed, her scores are ranked in the 3rd, 13th, 7th, 98th, and 31st positions on the five selected machines. Her total score for entry 2058 is therefore 85+75+81+0+57 = 298. This score may change as other entries are played, by this player or other players. For example, at the end of qualifying, the scores for this entry may only rank 8th, 21st, 9th, 121st, and 35th, providing a total score of 80+67+79+0+53 = 279.
Note that barring the correction of errors in scoring data or the removal of a player from competition in the division, the total score for any qualifying entry can only remain the same or decrease as new entries are played; it can never increase.
IV. Singles: Final Rounds
1. Advancing to Finals
When qualifying rounds have been completed, a final calculation of entry scores will be made. Those scores will be ranked, and the top unique players in each division will advance to the final rounds. Only the highest entry score of each player will be considered. No player may qualify in more than one skill division.
The determination of final qualifying standings will be made by tournament officials at the end of qualifying on Saturday night, and shall not be changed for any reason, including player error or tournament error.
The number of qualifying slots which will advance to the final rounds is partly dependent upon the number of players competing. At a minimum, each division will take the top eight qualifiers to the final rounds. This may expand to nine, twelve, sixteen, or other numbers as determined by tournament officials. The final decision on expanding the number of qualifiers in each division will be made no later than 11 pm on the Friday night of the tournament. In the event that any chosen number of qualifiers does not match the groupings described in these rules (for 6, 8, 9, 12, 16, or 24 players), the groupings will be posted at the time of the decision.
Finals in each division will consist of a semifinal round and a final round, unless twelve or more qualifiers are playing, in which case additional rounds may be employed.
In the event a qualifying player is not available, he or she will be skipped in the ranking as if he or she had not qualified. Upon discovering at any point (before finals play or during finals play) that a player is not present, tournament officials will make a specific announcement for that player, allowing at least ten minutes but no more than twenty minutes, for that player to appear. Substitutions or late arrivals are not allowed.
No player shall be allowed to play in the finals of more than one division simultaneously. Any player who qualifies in two divisions with a scheduling conflict must select only one finals round in which to compete.
2. Qualifying Tiebreak Procedure
In the event that two or more players are tied on the qualifying bubble, such that not all of the tied players can advance to the final rounds, or a meaningful tiebreaker needs to be played, such as to determine a bye, a tiebreaking procedure will be utilized. A single game will be played on a machine selected by tournament officials from the qualifying bank of the division. The tied players will play, in randomly determined order, in a multiplayer game on the selected machine, and will subsequently be ranked in the order of their scores on that game. If more players are tied than the selected machine will support in a single game, multiple games will be played to accommodate all tied players, in randomly determined order, and the resulting scores will be compared as if they had occurred in a single game on the same machine.
Player groups in a tiebreaker will be arranged breadth-first so that each group is of similar, but descending, size. For example, five players will be arranged as a group of three and a group of two, rather than a group of four and a solo player. Nine players would be arranged as three groups of three.
In the event that two or more players are tied but are not on the qualifying bubble, a random tiebreak procedure will be implemented to assign players to groups. Under no circumstances will players be given a choice of groups at any time.
3. Final Round Machines & Warmup
The machines used for final rounds in each division will be designated before the beginning of the final rounds of play. This designation will be determined solely by tournament officials, and may include in each division machines that were not utilized in the qualifying rounds for that division, as well as machines not previously utilized in the tournament at all. There will be at least four machines available in each division, and quite likely more.
All games played in the final rounds are treated as three-player or four-player. In the event a machine being utilized does not support enough simultaneous players, multiple games will be played on the same machine, with playing order preference going by original seeding as usual, and the resulting scores will be compared as if a single multiplayer game had been played.
Before the final rounds begin, a 30-minute warmup period will be provided. This allows players to obtain a feel for certain machine features such as kickouts. Any player who notices problems with a machine at this time must notify tournament officials. This warm-up period is not available in the Classics divisions.
4. Final Round Scoring
Each group will play three separate four-player games, each on a different machine from among those designated for that division.
Each four-player game will be scored as follows:
Three-player games will be scored as if a nonexistent fourth player received the 4th place finish (i.e., 1st earns 4 points, 2nd earns 2, and last earns 1).
In the event of two or more scores on a machine being exactly tied, the players with such scores will immediately play a tiebreaker game, on the same machine, unless another machine is selected by tournament officials.
The group that contains the highest-seeded player gets first choice of machine and order of play. The highest-seeded player within each group may choose either the machine to be played, or the order of play. If the highest-seeded player chooses order of play, the remaining players may choose their order, in descending order of seeding, and choice of machine then goes to the next highest-seeded player in the group. Conversely, if the highest-seeded player chooses the machine to be played, then the next highest-seeded player chooses the order of play, with the remaining players choosing order of play in decreasing order of seeding. Once a player verbally announces their game choice, or chooses position, that decision cannot be changed.
If at any point a high-seed player declines to make a choice, the choice is deferred to the next highest-seeded player, as appropriate. The affected group still retains its order of choice among groups, however. If no player in a group will make a choice, the choice(s) are determined by tournament officials, who may or may not choose randomly.
Note that the original seeding of players when entering the final rounds from qualifying is used in every round. At no time does a player’s seeding change from round to round; therefore the advantage of qualifying in first place can be significant.
No group may select a machine which has already been selected by a group in the same round, nor may they choose a machine on which they have already played in that round (unless machine malfunctions have made this unavoidable; tournament officials may choose to provide additional or substitute machines, however). If the machine selected is currently being played by another group in a previous round of play, the group may wait for that round of play to be completed. For example, if one group is playing a given machine as their first machine, a different group may choose to wait for it as their second machine.
In the event a division’s final round overlaps with qualifying for a different division on the same bank of games, final round groups are permitted to wait for games that are being used by players attempting to qualify for a different division.
In the event too few machines are available during any round of play, the group(s) with the lowest high-seed players will be forced to wait until a game becomes available. As soon as a game becomes available, as indicated by the scorekeeper, the next highest-seeded group must begin play on that machine. In this situation, choice of order of play will be made by the highest-seed player in the group (unless that player declines, as described above).
When all games have been completed by a group, each player will have a point total for the round. The players with the top two point totals from each group will advance.
5. Round of 24
If a Round of 24 is to be used, it will consist of players ranked 9th through 24th, with the top eight highest seeded players receiving a bye.
|Group 1||#9, #16, #17, #24|
|Group 2||#10, #15, #18, #23|
|Group 3||#11, #14, #19, #22|
|Group 4||#12, #13, #20, #21|
6. Quarterfinal Round
A quarterfinal round may be employed only if twelve or more qualifiers are playing in a division. Tournament officials may choose to skip this round even with twelve or more qualifiers.
In the quarterfinal rounds, the qualifiers in each division will be divided into three or four groups as follows:
|12 Qualifiers||16 Qualifiers|
|Group 1||#1, #6, #7, #12||#1, #8, #9, #16|
|Group 2||#2, #5, #8, #11||#2, #7, #10, #15|
|Group 3||#3, #4, #9, #10||#3, #6, #11, #14|
|Group 4||n/a||#4, #5, #12, #13|
7. Semifinal Rounds
For the semifinal rounds in each division, the qualifiers in each division (or players advancing from quarterfinals, if those were played) will be divided into two to four groups of three or four, as necessary depending on the number of qualifiers. The groups will be organized according to the original qualifying rank as shown here:
|Group 1||#1, #4, #6||#1, #4, #5, #8||#1, #6, #9|
|Group 2||#2, #3, #5||#2, #3, #6, #7||#2, #5, #8|
|Group 3||n/a||n/a||#3, #4, #7|
As in the previous round, the players with the top two point totals from each group of players will advance.
8. Final Round
In each division, four players advance to the final round. The final round for each division is conducted in the same manner as the semifinal round. The total scores for this round will determine the ordering of winners in each division. All ties in the final round are considered significant.
Unless otherwise determined by tournament officials, the same machines will be used in the final rounds as the previous rounds.
Winners will receive prizes as a check, medal, or trophy during an awards ceremony shortly following the conclusion of all final rounds on Sunday. All taxes are the sole responsibility of winners. Certain tax forms may need to be completed, as directed by tournament officials. All decisions by tournament officials regarding winners and prizes are final. Please note that tournament officials are excluded from receiving any cash prizes.
10. Classics Division
The final rounds of the Classics I, II, and III divisions, as played on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings of the tournament, will utilize the final rounds format of the A/B/C/D divisions.
In the event that a selected machine supports fewer than four players, the players will play multiple one-player or two-player games in turn, with the resulting scores being compared as if a four-player game had been played.
Machines used in Classics may include extra balls and/or five-ball play. These features may be utilized by the player unless otherwise posted.
Winners for each day of Classics competition will receive their awards promptly and do not need to wait until the awards ceremony on Sunday. We appreciate everyone’s understanding of the unique challenges and limitations of using older machines for a competitive tournament.
11. Final Round Tiebreak Procedure
Significant ties between players at the end of any final round will be resolved by one tiebreaking game chosen by the highest seed involved in the tie. The high seed is not permitted to choose a game that has already been played by the group in that round. Note that a tie is only significant if it affects whether or not a player will advance toward the final round, or occurs in the final round.
If more than one group of players are tied, the machine is chosen for the group with the highest-ranking tied player first. The selected machine is not available for selection in lower groups. All tied groups will play their tiebreaking games in parallel.
In the unlikely event of an exact scoring tie on the tiebreaking game, only those affected players will play another tiebreaking game, on another game chosen in similar fashion, under the same rules.
V. Other Competitions
Rules and descriptions of all mini-tournaments, if offered, will be posted at the event.
2. Target Scores
On any given day of the tournament, tournament officials may choose to post a set of target scores or objectives for certain machines. The first player to reach any target score will be awarded $100 cash. Target scores expire at the end of the day and are only awarded to the first player to exceed the score.
3. Door Prizes
Other door prizes and/or random drawings may be offered as tournament officials see fit.
VI. Malfunctions and Rulings
1. The Nature of Pinball
The unique charm of pinball lies, in large part, in the physical nature of the game. Unfortunately, this means that unusual events and outright malfunctions cannot be prevented, nor can they be perfectly compensated for. PAPA attempts to strike a balance between compensating for malfunctions and accepting the physical nature of the game.
In certain cases, malfunctions will be dealt with more strictly during final rounds than during qualifying rounds, at the discretion of tournament officials.
2. Minor Malfunctions
A minor malfunction is any incident without external cause which deviates from the normal course of gameplay, without directly causing a player’s loss of turn and without providing any player a significant advantage over others. A minor malfunction is considered part of normal play. Tournament officials shall determine what constitutes a significant advantage; in the event that such an advantage is obtained, refer to “Beneficial Malfunctions”.
A minor malfunction that occurs repeatedly, to the extent that it is markedly affecting play of the machine, may be considered a major malfunction at the sole discretion of tournament officials. If a player receives a tilt warning caused inadvertently by another player’s action, please see the “Player Errors” section for how that situation will be handled.
3. Major Malfunctions
A major malfunction is a gameplay problem with a machine that results in the premature loss of ball in play in a fashion that is not a normal feature of the machine’s gameplay. These may be unusual one-time events, or they may indicate a recurring problem that will need to be addressed by technicians.
Examples of major malfunctions include:
- The bonus count begins while the ball is still in play. This can happen if, for example, the machine loses track of how many balls are in the drain trough.
- A flipper or other major playfield feature ceases to function.
Note that unrepeated physical failures, such as kickbacks or balls jumping off ramps, balls flying over flippers, or balls moonwalking into the outlane following a successful shot do not qualify as major malfunctions. This is the physical nature of pinball.
Any malfunction that results in the loss of one or more balls during multiball play, without losing all balls so as to end the player’s turn, will only be considered a minor malfunction. Loss of any lit feature, running mode, or other gameplay specifics, shall not be considered a major malfunction. Loss of Tilt warnings, without loss of ball, shall not be considered a major malfunction. If the loss of Tilt warnings was caused by another player, please see the “Player Errors” section for how that situation will be handled.
Should a player lose a ball due to a flipper not engaging when the flipper button is pressed, or due to a flipper sticking in the held position when the flipper button is pressed, they should immediately notify a tournament official. The tournament official will attempt to recreate the problem by pressing the flipper button for up to 3 minutes. If the tournament official is able to recreate the problem, this will be treated as a Major Malfunction. If the problem is not able to be recreated, this will not be treated as a Major Malfunction and play will continue. If the game is in multiball play and one or more balls are lost as a result of this kind of issue, possibly ending multiball but not ending the ball in play, this will be considered no worse than a minor malfunction.
When a major malfunction occurs, it is the player’s responsibility to notify the scorekeeper, calmly and promptly. The scorekeeper will request advice from a tournament official. If the official(s) agree that the incident is a major malfunction, one of the following steps will be taken, in order of priority:
- 1. If the machine’s software supports adding balls to a game already in progress, a tournament official will add a ball to the game in progress and the affected player will complete their game. All other players will continue to play their game as normal, without skipping a ball.
- If the major malfunction cannot be fixed without resetting the machine, the player’s score will be recorded and their game will be terminated and restarted. The affected player will continue their remaining balls on the restarted game and their score from the aborted game will be added to their total. For example, if such a malfunction occurs on Ball 2 of a 3-ball game, the player will be given two new balls on a restarted game. In multiplayer games, all players will receive the same compensation.
- If the major malfunction can be fixed without resetting the machine, the player will be provided with one additional ball of play at the beginning of a new game, after the current game has been completed. The player’s total score on the additional ball will be added to his or her previous score, and the new game will be terminated.
Tournament directors may allow the player to play ball 3 or 5 of the new game, if that player has been denied certain features that are freely awarded by the machine. Examples of this include ‘Double Bonus’ balls on many EM machines, as well as pity Mist Multiball on Dracula should the player have not yet played one. The player’s total score on the additional ball of play will be added to his or her previous score, and the new game will be terminated. Tournament directors may attempt to re-establish the state of certain game features at the time of the Major Malfunction if the tournament directors feel this has a material impact on the results of the game/match in play. An example would include reaching Super Bonus on Bally games that carry this forward for future balls.
In the event that two or more major malfunctions take place during the same game, the current scores of the player(s) will be recorded, and the game terminated. Once the machine has been repaired, players will be provided additional ball(s) of play on a new game, as necessary to provide the correct number of balls of play for each player. In the event that a recurring major malfunction cannot suitably be repaired, the failure must be treated as a catastrophic malfunction.
Under certain specific conditions, a major malfunction may be declined by the player. This must be approved by the tournament official, and must not result in a situation which provides an unfair advantage to the player.
4. Known Malfunctions
Any malfunction or unusual behavior that is determined to be relatively minor but unusual enough to merit comment may, at the discretion of tournament officials, be posted for players to be aware of before playing the affected machine. Players who have played the machine before this notice is provided will not be allowed to replay the machine nor to replace it with play of another machine. The occurrence of any posted malfunction will be treated as a minor malfunction unless it worsens or interacts with another feature to yield a major malfunction.
5. Catastrophic Malfunctions
A catastrophic malfunction is any event, not caused by a player, which immediately ends play for all players on the machine.
Examples of catastrophic malfunctions include:
- The game system crashes and/or resets due to a software error or component failure.
- Power is lost or interrupted.
- A new game starts.
- A major malfunction repeatedly recurs in spite of attempts to repair the machine.
Any event caused by a player, intentionally or unintentionally, including Slam Tilts, is covered under “Player Errors” below.
When a catastrophic malfunction occurs, if the scores are able to be recorded, players will be provided the appropriate number of additional ball(s) of play on a new game once the machine has been repaired. If the scores are not retrievable, players will be forced to start their game over. No attempt will be made to estimate scores, or reestablish state, at any time.
If a machine affected by catastrophic malfunction cannot be repaired in order to continue play, it is considered disabled; please see “Disabled Machines”.
6. Beneficial Malfunctions
Any malfunction which provides at least one player with a significant advantage over any other player competing on that machine is known as a beneficial malfunction. Tournament officials shall determine what constitutes a significant advantage.
Any beneficial malfunction which results in a player being able to continue play of a ball that normally should have ended is normally allowed once per game. Examples of this would include an unexpected software ball save or a ball that comes to rest on an unlit kickback in the outlane (which will lead to a ball search, kicking the ball back into play). Any such behavior shall not be allowed if it repeats, meaning that tournament officials may require players to allow the repeatedly-saved ball to drain, or play on the machine may be terminated in accordance with catastrophic malfunction rules, at which point repairs may be attempted.
For situations where a ball goes through the drain trough area without triggering the trough switch, and is spit out into the plunger lane as the same ‘ball in play’ will be immediately placed in the drain. This mostly occurs in EM machines, and early Williams Solid State machines. For situations where the playfield isn’t yet valid (typically this is a minimum switch count or some sort of scoring having been made), players will be allowed to continue play as normal. Please contact a tournament director immediately should this situation arise.
Any beneficial malfunction which provides one or more players with a significant scoring or strategic advantage in a way that is not part of normal gameplay will void the score of the affected player(s), unless all immediately-affected players and tournament officials can agree on a suitable adjustment of the score or other elimination of the advantage. If the beneficial malfunction has been specifically avoided by the player, it is unlikely that a penalty is necessary. If any player score(s) are voided, the affected player(s) may then replay the game after the other players have finished, and the new score(s) are used for the affected player(s).
Examples of beneficial malfunctions would include a jackpot switch that registers when a different target is hit, a valuable switch that scores repeatedly without the ball contacting it, a failed Tilt sensor, or a ball stuck during multiball. See also “Stuck Balls”, below.
Any situation which indicates the presence of a beneficial malfunction should be brought to the attention of the scorekeeper promptly, who will alert tournament officials. Any player who intentionally takes advantage of a significant beneficial malfunction may be given a warning and/or have his or her affected entry interrupted and disqualified by tournament officials.
7. Stuck Balls
During the course of play, it is possible for one or more balls to become stuck on a playfield feature, usually after becoming airborne. If this happens during single ball play, the player must wait for four automatic ball searches to occur. At the discretion of the tournament director, the forcing of a ball search to be triggered can be waived. This is for situations where inducing a ball search has adverse effects on the current game state. The expiration of any timed feature during this period is not considered a malfunction.
If the stuck ball has not been freed after four such searches, or if the machine is not performing searches for some reason, the player must alert the scorekeeper, and a tournament official will be brought to the machine. The player must remain alert and at the machine, as he or she is responsible for the ball if it becomes freed at any point. Where possible, machines will be configured with “chase” features disabled, so that additional balls will not be released into play as a result of ball searches. However, in the event this occurs, the player is responsible for continuing play, and a suitable malfunction will only be ruled if the machine is unable to function normally from this point forward.
A tournament official may initially choose to try to free the stuck ball through judicious nudging, tapping, etc. The player must remain ready to resume play at the machine during this attempt. If actions by the official result in a Tilt, this will be treated as a major malfunction (not the fault of the player). If the official frees the ball but the player does not successfully continue play, this is normal play (the fault of the player). Loss of Tilt warnings due to tournament official nudging is considered normal play.
If the tournament official is unable to free the stuck ball, the machine will be opened, and the stuck ball freed and placed either in the plunger lane, or on the upraised flipper of the tournament directors choosing, with the flipper button held by the player. In the event this is not possible, the official may select another location or feature where the ball can be placed safely while the machine is being closed in order to resume normal play.
If more than one ball is stuck, all freed balls will be placed on the flipper(s) of the tournament director’s choice before play resumes, or in the plunger lane if the flippers are inactive while the machine is open.
If the ball is inadvertently freed while the machine is open and drains without the player regaining complete control (stopped on a flipper), this will be treated as a major malfunction. If the machine cannot be opened successfully, or if opening or closing the machine terminates the game(s) in progress for any reason, this will be treated as a catastrophic malfunction. If the ball is freed and the machine closed without the player’s loss of ball, play continues as normal. If the game is in multiball play and one or more balls are lost as a result of freeing stuck balls, possibly ending multiball but not ending the ball in play, this will be considered no worse than a minor malfunction. If any feature or mode that is lit or active times out while one or more balls are stuck, this will not be considered a malfunction.
Any player who chooses to shake or bump the machine in order to free a stuck ball does so at his or her own risk. No allowance will be made for a player who tilts while attempting to free a stuck ball, whether or not tournament officials are present.
If a ball becomes stuck during a multiball mode, the player should attempt to trap the other ball(s) in play and request assistance. A stuck ball during multiball often represents a significant beneficial malfunction, and intentionally taking advantage may result in a penalty. Please note specifically that a ball ending up in the plunger lane during multiball on a machine where there is no autoplunger (or where the autoplunger for some reason refuses to fire) counts as a stuck ball, and the ball must be plunged by the player. See “Beneficial Malfunctions” for further details.
Any player who misuses a game feature in order to intentionally trap a ball during a multiball mode, such as holding in the plunger on Tommy in order to defeat the autoplunger, may be given a warning and/or have his or her affected game disqualified by tournament officials. Please note that intentionally causing ball searches is also prohibited (see “Delay” under “Player Conduct”).
In situations where a ball is trapped in a way that it can be released through player action other than shaking or bumping – for example, a ball at rest underneath a flipper which the player controls – this is not deemed to be a stuck ball. Balls trapped in this fashion during multiball modes are not generally considered to be a rules violation, although the ruling will depend on the exact machine and situation.
Any ball that comes to rest in an outlane, where any portion of the ball is below the outlane post, is not deemed a stuck ball. In these instances, players will have the option of attempting to free the ball themselves or to ask a tournament official to place the ball in the drain for them without triggering any additional switches.
A ball which has come to rest on top of a center post, an inlane-outlane post/guide or a lamp insert/playfield divot directly above an outlane will not be considered a stuck ball. Players may choose to free balls resting in these positions through nudging of the machine, or request that an official end the ball in play by manually placing it in the drain for center post incidents, and the outlane for inlane-outlane incidents. If an automatically-triggered kickback exists that will send the ball back into play upon draining it in the appropriate outlane, that feature will be manually triggered, and the ball will be treated as a stuck ball from that point and placed on a flipper or other suitable location. Player-controlled kickback features, such as mini-flippers, posts, or manually-controlled kickbacks that send the ball back into play, do not count toward establishing stuck ball status in this case, and the player will not be permitted to utilize these features or touch the game until the ball has reached the ball trough.
If, during multiball, a ball comes to rest in an outlane or on top of a center post, inlane-outlane post/guide, or directly above an outlane, in no way will a player be allowed to take advantage of this situation by continuing to play any other balls currently available. This situation must be dealt with immediately by either the player or a tournament official. The player must attempt to free a ball resting in these positions, or request that an official place the ball in the drain or outlane.
One highly debatable stuck ball situation has to do with setting up Dirty Pool on Attack From Mars. Players will often avoid hitting the ball stuck behind the visor and sacrifice the ability to advance a saucer through Dirty Pool, and instead continue to play multiball. For this situation on Attack From Mars, this is not considered a stuck ball and players will continue to play on.
8. Disabled Machines
Any tournament machine that breaks down during play will be attended to by technicians as promptly as possible. In the event that a breakdown is severe and cannot be repaired promptly, the machine may be taken out of service temporarily or permanently. A permanently disabled machine may be replaced with a substitute by tournament officials. If the failed machine is eventually repaired, it will be put back into play.
In the event that any players completed their game before the machine became disabled, and their finishing position on that game has been determined, that finishing position will stand and that player will not participate on the substitute machine. The remaining players will then play off on the substitute machine to determine the remaining finishing positions that were not able to be determined on the original machine.
Scores will be kept on a disabled machine if the tournament is >50% through the qualifying process. If the tournament is <50% through the qualifying process, all scores will be considered void. Players will be compensated with one game on a replacement machine, unless the tournament software allows the ability to track how many times that player had played the disabled machine.
In the Classics Division, scores for a disabled machine will be allowed to stand after 2 pm on that day. If a machine falls disabled before this time, affected players will be invited to amend their qualifying entries as described above.
9. Player Errors
A player error is any player action, purposeful or accidental, which affects the normal play or outcome of a game in progress.
Any player who tilts his or her ball in play will not receive any penalty other than the normal loss of ball. Note that some older machines may penalize the player with loss of game; this is equivalent to tilting all remaining balls in order. Abuse of machines is covered under “Player Conduct”. Any player who tilts the ball of another player will receive a score of zero for that game, unless tournament officials grant an exception based on the behavior of the machine in question.
Any player who tilts their own ball, which then results in a tilt warning given to the following player will not have any consequences for the first offense. The player with the warning will be allowed to continue play as normal, or choose to have the ball played on a fresh game. A second offense by the same player anytime throughout the tournament, and it will be treated as a tilt of another player’s ball, with the rules from the previous paragraph being enforced.
Any player who slam tilts a machine, thereby ending play for all players, will receive a score of zero for that game. The slam tilt is treated as a catastrophic malfunction for any other player(s) who have not completed their game(s) in progress. If a tournament official rules that the slam tilt sensor is not functioning properly, the slam tilt will be treated as a catastrophic malfunction for all players.
Any player who deliberately tilts or slam tilts a machine in order to derive some benefit to his or her own play, or the play of others, under these rules, will receive a score of zero. Repeated offenses may result in ejection from the tournament.
Any player who moves a game to the point it slides off of a rubber foot beneath the game’s leg will be given a score of zero for the game. This is determined based on any portion of the leg leveler being in physical contact with the ground. A tournament director will then attempt to put the game back onto the rubber foot. If successful, the game will continue. If a tilt-through occurs, the appropriate tilt-through procedure will be followed. Should this happen to the last player on the last ball of the game, the same rules will be enforced, with a score of zero being given to that player.
Any player who deliberately interferes with the play of another player, through distraction, touching the machine or player, or disrupting tournament procedures, will receive a score of zero for the game. Any repeated offense under this rule will result in ejection of the player from the tournament. Any non-player, or tournament participant not playing in the game in progress, who deliberately interferes with the play of any tournament game, will be ejected from the facility.
Accidental interference is regrettable but can happen. Any player or non-player who accidentally interferes with the play of any tournament game will be warned. If the interference was sufficient to cause the loss of ball, this will be treated as a major malfunction. If the interference terminated play for all players (for example, tripping over a power cord and pulling it from the wall), this will be treated as a catastrophic malfunction.
In any multiplayer match on any machine, it is the equal responsibility of ALL players involved in the match to ensure that the correct number of players are started. If a game is started with the incorrect number of players, anything that occurs within that game is considered void, with no penalty to any player. At no time may players be added to the game once player 1 has plunged their ball into play. At no time may player 1 finish their game as a single-player. The game must be restarted from scratch, with the correct number of players started. Players may always ask a scorekeeper or tournament official to instead start the game in any final round. If the scorekeeper or official makes a mistake, the game will be terminated and restarted, with no penalty to any player. There will be no compensation or adjustment of scores or game state at any time.
A player who plays out of turn in a multiplayer game will receive a score of zero. The affected player may choose to take over the ball in play, if possible, or he or she may choose to have the incident treated as a major malfunction. In the event the player takes over, he or she shall be deemed “in control” after declaring his or her intent, taking his or her position at the table, and making contact with the ball via the flippers. The affected player may not change his or her mind once he or she is “in control”. Any player who plays out of turn deliberately in order to employ this rule will be disqualified. Any points scored when a ball is being played out of turn count. It is the responsibility of all players to ensure the correct player is on the machine at all times.
If a player does get disqualified from a game, their position in the game is considered open. Any interference caused by player error (for example, tilt throughs or accidentally playing out of turn) in that position will have no additional consequences to the offending player. Any activity played in that open position will be considered void.
For certain tournament machines, only players 1 and 3 will be used to help prevent tilt throughs. It is the equal responsibility of ALL players involved in the match to ensure that players do not accidentally play in the player 2 and 4 positions. If a player accidentally does play in position 2 or 4, anything that occurs within that ball is considered void, with no penalty to any player. Players must play their proper ball in the correct player slot.
In qualifying rounds, any player who starts a multiplayer game will only be allowed to complete the “player one” game, regardless of when he or she noticed the error. Any player who restarts a qualifying game, rather than completing it and allowing it be recorded, will have that entire entry disqualified. Repeated offenses will lead to ejection from the tournament.
Because the tournament divisions consist solely of singles play, coaching of any player during a game, in any round, is not allowed. An exception is provided for Juniors play; Juniors players may have no more than one coach during their qualifying and final rounds of play. If a non-Junior player specifically requests advice on a game feature during play, his or her question may be addressed only by a tournament official, and answered only in terms of whether or not the machine is functioning correctly. Non-Junior players are not to seek assistance from other players or spectators. Informing player 1 too many or too few games have been entered into the machine will not be penalized as coaching.
No player may use a camera or visual aid of any kind, other than the instructions provided by the machine, while standing at the machine. A player may review electronic or written notes in between turns of a multiplayer game or between games, but not during their own turn or between balls of a single-player game. While not actively playing, players are of course free to discuss features and strategies as much as they like, including between balls during a game, but no spectator or other player is compelled to answer, nor are they responsible for incorrect advice or answers to questions.
In mini-tournament events which feature team play, players on a team may freely discuss game features and strategy without penalty.
Tournament officials will be the sole determiners of what constitutes interference and whether or not it is accidental or deliberate. Scorekeepers are strongly encouraged to watch for and, if possible, prevent incidents of interference.
Rulings shall be made by tournament officials, which includes event coordinators and any person(s) designated as officials by the coordinators. Designated officials may have restrictions on the breadth of rulings, and may be overridden by tournament officials. Any designated official or event coordinator is excluded from ruling on any play situation that directly affects his or her actual or potential standing as a player. Such persons may also be recused where their decision affects a close friend or family member, at the discretion of other tournament officials. Final authority for any ruling, including rulings that contradict or vacate anything written in this document or in other PAPA materials, rests with the President of the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association, Kevin Martin.
PAPA accepts all feedback and constructive criticism, including player complaints, without reservations. However, please recognize that PAPA strives to be fair even in the most difficult situations. Complaints will be taken seriously, ruled upon, and considered resolved. There is to be no whining 🙂
VII. Machine Settings
1. Software Settings
In general, the software settings of each machine will be adjusted to best accommodate tournament play. The following settings will be employed on any machine that supports them:
- Tournament Mode
- Free Play
- 3 Balls
- Extra Balls disabled
- Buy-In or Continues disabled
- Game Restart disabled
- 2 Tilt Warnings (may be 0 on older machines)
- Flipper AutoLaunch disabled
- Timed AutoLaunch disabled
- Standard Factory Settings for Ball Savers, Difficulty, Timers, etc
- Specific Difficulty Settings as determined by tournament officials
- Automatic Reflexing Features disabled
- Replays disabled (no score or Extra Ball awarded)
These settings may vary according to division, at the discretion of tournament officials. In general, expect settings to be the most difficult in the A Division.
Please note that older machines, such as commonly used in the Classics Divisions, may have different settings, such as allowable extra balls, five-ball play, or a Tilt penalty of “entire game” rather than “current ball”.
2. Hardware Settings
Machines used for tournament play will be prepared and kept in good working order to the greatest extent possible. Each machine will be properly leveled left-to-right and inclined front-to-back.
Any player with a complaint or question about the hardware setup of a machine should make his or her inquiry in between games, or in between balls, if urgent.
3. Machine-Specific Settings
In order to best suit tournament play, certain machines may be subject to specific settings or rules adjustments, at the discretion of tournament officials. These adjustments will be made before tournament play begins, and will be documented if possible. The intent is to eliminate features which can be abused by skilled players, or which arbitrarily extend play time to a degree that would hinder the smooth progress of the tournament.
VIII. Player Conduct
The PAPA facility is private property and must be treated with respect. PAPA reserves the right to refuse play to anyone at any time, as well as to remove anyone from the property at any time. Any person(s) may be banned from the property, indefinitely, at the discretion of tournament officials. Banned persons will be prosecuted for trespass if necessary.
The tournament facility and playing areas must be kept clean. Food and drink are not allowed in the playing areas. In the tournament area, drinks are allowed only for actively qualifying players. Please keep the cap on your bottled drinks when not in use. Spills of any kind should be reported to officials immediately. There is a cafe area adjacent to the tournament where food and drink should be consumed. Trash should be deposited in the provided receptacles. Please do not remove chairs from any area where they have been placed.
All areas inside the building are strictly non-smoking. Smoking is restricted to designated areas outside the building.
Weapons and illegal drugs are prohibited on the property. Naturally, any and all types of illegal activity are prohibited as well.
The PAPA facility is not a daycare service! Anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Violation of any of these rules may lead to ejection from the property.
2. Personal Conduct
All players are expected to conduct themselves in a polite and sensitive manner. Outbursts, especially those including indecent language, are unacceptable. A wide variety of players and observers will be present, including media, and these types of outbursts do nothing to promote pinball as a sport.
Any player who behaves rudely toward any scorekeeper or tournament official may be warned, disqualified, and/or ejected from the facility. Any player who argues a ruling once it has been made will receive a warning. Any player who continues arguing once receiving a warning will receive a score of zero for the game in question, a voided entry, ejection from the tournament, or ejection from the building, as determined at the sole discretion of the tournament director involved. These penalties will be given out in this order unless the circumstances are extreme enough to warrant otherwise.
Any express or implied threats or actions of violence are grounds for immediate ejection from the facility, and authorities will be contacted. Other possible grounds for ejection include but are not limited to fraud, theft, illegal activity, harrassment, inappropriate behavior, public drunkenness, etc.
Any person ejected from the facility is banned and may not return to the property. Banned persons will be prosecuted for trespass if necessary.
3. Abuse of Machines
Tilt sensors are employed to determine what constitutes unduly rough handling of each machine, within the parameters of normal play. Abusive handling such as punching, kicking, lifting, tipping, or rocking a machine, or hitting the glass in any way, is grounds for a warning and possible disqualification of game or ejection from the tournament, at the discretion of tournament officials.
4. Interference, Collusion, and Cheating
Any player who intentionally interferes with tournament play or otherwise disrupts the tournament setting will be warned and/or ejected from the tournament, at the discretion of tournament officials.
Any form of cheating, including game restarts, tampering with games, tampering with recorded results, scorekeeper intimidation or collusion, or anything else not covered here, will be addressed by tournament officials as appropriate, including disqualification and/or ejection from the tournament.
Any collaborative effort between players in an attempt to unfairly affect the outcome of the competition, or to “lock out” a third player, or to otherwise refrain from making the best possible competitive effort on each and every game played, will be looked upon very poorly by tournament officials, and may result in disciplinary action, including disqualification and/or ejection from the tournament.
5. Intentional Delays
No player may delay their game for more than 30 seconds, except to await a ruling or resolution of an environmental inconvenience. Environmental inconvenience is defined as any condition which can reasonably be expected to be resolved quickly, such as unusual noise, lighting problems other than sunlight, or repairs to an immediately adjacent machine.
Intentional delay is defined as time when the player is intentionally making no progress towards in-game objectives, including but not limited to time during which the ball is left in the plunger lane, held on a flipper, or passed from one flipper to another. Stuck balls do not count as intentional delays. Holding one or more ball(s) while one or more ball(s) remain in play does not count as intentional delay.
Intentional delay will result in a warning for the player. If the delay continues or is repeated, tournament coordinators may instruct the player to stop playing, and a score of zero will be recorded for that player.
A player may not intentionally cause a ball search in order to activate any feature of the game. A player is permitted to wait a reasonable amount of time, as determined by the tournament director, for a tilt mechanism to settle.
Any player who is absent when he or she has a ball to play, whether in qualifying or final rounds, will be given a maximum of three minutes to return. After that time, a tournament official will plunge the player’s remaining ball(s) in play, until such time as the player returns. Any player who has an emergency should notify a tournament official, so that accommodations may be made. Should a player have to permanently leave the tournament for any reason prior to its conclusion, he or she will not be permitted to pre-play any games, and all scores for any remaining games will be recorded as zero points.
Note that an absence at the beginning of final rounds results in the player not being part of the final rounds at all.
7. Death Saves, Bangbacks, etc
Techniques known as “Death Saves” and “Bangbacks” are sometimes employed by certain advanced players. Because the effectiveness of these techniques varies from machine to machine, and because of the risk of injury to either player or machine, these techniques are banned from tournament play. In the event that a drained ball bounces back into play without deliberate player action, such as in the case of a “lazarus”, this is considered the mechanical nature of pinball and the ball may be played. If this situation occurs repeatedly, and there is question as to whether the lazarus ball was naturally occurring or induced by the player, tournament directors may end the game in progress and award a score of zero.
8. Wagering or Gambling
Please note that gambling is illegal in our venue and the tournament does not endorse, condone, nor support wagering between players. We also feel that pinball is at least 75% skill-based, making any wagering at best ill-advised, in addition to being illegal.
9. Internet Use
The facility provides access to Internet kiosks as well as a wireless Internet access service, at no charge. This is provided to our players and guests as a courtesy and we expect proper behavior. Any abuse or misuse of the service may result in ejection from the tournament and/or facility.
10. Accommodating Disabilities
Tournament officials will make every reasonable attempt to accommodate genuine disabilities, and may also elect, on a case-by-case basis, to ameliorate injuries or other hardships. Players who are not fluent in English are allowed to utilize a bilingual assistant in order to understand these rules, official rulings, and so forth.
1. Special Score Handling
a. Any player who reaches the maximum possible score on a machine that has such, will receive that score as their total. For example, Guns n Roses stops scoring at 9,999,999,990 points.
b. Any player whose machine “rolls over” to a zero score is responsible for immediately advising the scorekeeper, both when this is imminent, as well as when it happens. The score keeper will then make a note to record the appropriately increased score. If the player fails to notify the scorekeeper, he or she may not receive the increased score.
c. On the game NBA Fastbreak using basketball-style scoring, each championship ring collected by the player shall cause their recorded score to be increased by 100 points.
d. When playing an electromechanical machine, players must understand that some score reel skipping or inaccuracies are inevitable over the course of a tournament due to the mechanical nature of the mechanism. If a score reel is not operating properly, players must notify officials immediately. No ruling will be made unless the score reel in question is the highest, or next-to-highest value reel. Tournament directors reserve the right to adjust scores on electromechanical machines if an obvious error has been made and the integrity of the match in question can be maintained. If the error in question was not witnessed by a tournament director, or it did not occur in a way such that an obvious correction can be made, no adjustment will be made and the score shown will stand. In the case of a continuously malfunctioning score reel, tournament directors reserve the right to declare a game invalid for the affected player, or for all players involved in the match.
e. If a player verbally concedes for any reason, the concession will only be considered valid if it is witnessed by a scorekeeper, tournament director, or all members of a group. If a player attempts to use an invalid verbal concession to interfere with an opponent, the issue and resolution will be treated on a case-by-case basis, and the offending player risks receiving a score of zero for the game in question.
2. Creative Commons License
These PAPA Tournament Rules by PAPA.org are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
The intent is that the rules can be adapted and reused, with attribution, with the license preserved.