Hey, what’s up. This is the first of a quasi-irregular series on how to play Game X in a tournament. One of my goals is to describe how and why playing a competition game is different from playing a normal game. I’ve picked Attack From Mars, a well-known game where I feel tournament strategy is significantly different from arcade strategy.
Before you play: If possible, ask another player how the game is playing! For Attack From Mars, critical information includes the feed from the Stroke of Luck, the feed from the right loop (and whether the ball hits or activates the sling), and the return from a botched lock ramp shot — this return sometimes sends the ball directly to the right outlane, and sometimes straight down the middle. Also, if possible, watch another player on the game. Specifically, find out if a ball saver is active or not, watch for tilt warnings, and try to get a sense for how the other player is “missing” their shots. Does this player keep missing the lock ramp to the right? That’s good information to improve your own play.
Know the sucker shots: Each game has shots that are valuable but lead to drains. In arcade play, these are worth going for — they’re fun, they score points, and if the ball drains, no big deal, you can earn an extra ball. In tournaments, these shots are death. Outlanes are usually wider. Tilts are tighter. Required reaction time is faster. Basically, if you think the ball may drain from a successful shot to something, don’t shoot it unless it is absolutely critical to success. For Attack From Mars, this is the saucer. Do not shoot for the saucer unless the ball saver is on, you are in multiball, the drop target is down, or you need exactly that many points to win a head-to-head match. AFM doesn’t have other significant drain shots, but by the same argument, you should never shoot for the MARTIAN targets, even if there is only one left. The reward does not justify the risk.
Getting started: A key concept when playing a game for the first time is to have some success with shotmaking, and ideally get to multiball. In multiball, mistakes are penalized a lot less severely — unless you “double drain” the worst that can happen is you’re back in regular play. So, my target when playing AFM is to get to the regular multiball as quickly as possible. On plunges, if ball save is active, I go for Super Skill Shot (hold down left flipper) to try and open the saucer, otherwise make a regular plunge — bonus multipliers are actually pretty valuable on AFM, at least 5 million each. Then, shoot only for the lock and possibly the right orbit (a wide, safe shot to the bumpers) with the goal of getting the ball fed to the right flipper for a lock shot. By shooting consistently for the lock, confidence and accuracy on that shot increase quickly, and the lock shot is always very valuable on AFM. Find out early, too, if you can “hop” the ball from the left flipper to the right from a lock feed, as this decreases the number of shots you need to make to get to multiball.
During multiball: Multiball is a time to get used to other shot locations — specifically, the right ramp, which tends to be very difficult to get used to, and punishes a missed shot. I aim for the right ramp immediately, until it’s hit or until ball save shuts off. Beyond that, play the normal strategy of trying for a Super Jackpot. It’s not worth aiming for the saucer; probably a ball or two will bounce in there anyway. Ideally you should get at least one Super Jackpot, since that will raise the value of the next multiball immensely.
After multiball: There are really only two strategies worth trying for on AFM in tournament: multiball and Total Annihilation. Multiball is easier to get to (4 or 6 shots instead of 12) and awards about the same number of points. If you got a Super Jackpot in your first multiball, I suggest continuing to play for the regular multiball for the rest of the game: the first cycle of jackpots and Super is worth 650 million, but the second cycle is worth 1,150 million, the third is 1,650 million, and the fourth and beyond are 2 billion each. This is a lot of points! If you are good at multiball this is really the way to go, I feel, especially if the “hop” is working.
If instead you are a better single-ball player I suggest going for Annihilation, specifically the 1 billion bonus for Hurry Ups. To do this, shoot each of the four shots exactly twice before starting any Hurry-Up. Additionally, do not shoot an Annihilation shot as Super Skill Shot unless it is the last one, since you are forfeiting the chance of going for the 1 billion bonus. During Annihilation, shoot the orbits as much as possible. It is only necessary to shoot the lock ramp once to collect the building Annihilation Jackpot, which has no maximum value. So, ignore the lock ramp until there are two balls left in play, or unless the value is so large it can’t be ignored. Shooting the orbits frequently doubles the value of the actual Annihilation shot through bumper and multiplier points, and Super Jets (3 million per bumper) almost always begins during an Annihilation. Balls shot into the jets don’t come back for a while, which is a key strategy for multiball known as “parking a ball”.
Other advice: AFM is a game where you can easily lose track of your strategy, since all shots score decent points. Success in tournaments is often about efficiency — you will miss shots, and you will drain. So, you want every shot you take to be as valuable as possible. A “Fleeing Bonus” of 10 million is not that shot. A shot to the saucer is definitely not that shot. Get control, and advance toward multiball or Annihilation.
Nudging is not as significant on AFM as on some other games, but there are a few things to consider. One, the feed from the right orbit to the flippers often goes into the sling. If this is happening, consider bumping the side of the machine high on the right side of the cabinet, which pushes the ball off the railing. Frequently this stops the ball from going into the sling. Outlane saves on AFM are pretty difficult, and often involve banking the ball off the side wall. Saving a ball off the side wall takes practice, but basically involves a quick shove toward the side wall as the ball hits the inlane/outlane divider. This doesn’t come easy but can be a very satisfying save.
Score targets: If you need this many points… try…
- Less than 200 million: saucers, or the orbits to light Hurry Up for 100m. If plunging, make a normal plunge, which is typically worth more than 50 million between the Skill Shot award, the +5x multipliers, and the bumper points.
- Less than a billion: regular multiball, unless you need only one or two shots for Annihilation.
- 2 billion: regular multiball, unless Annihilation is close or at a raised value.
- over 2 billion: relax, and play your normal strategy.
Don’t panic, and remember that the T in MARTIAN is not a jackpot! I hope you found this helpful and let me know in comments what questions you have or what other games you’d like to see profiled.
– Bowen, former PAPA champion