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The Professional & Amateur Pinball Association

Director Guide

"A helpful guide for starting your own local league or competition."

The goal of this guide is to help directors run successful pinball tournaments and leagues that will result in repeat attendance, positive word of mouth, and help the game of pinball prosper. Setting up games for competition requires far more thought than just making them play as difficult as possible, otherwise the PAPA World Championships would include games without flippers and force players to wear blindfolds.

When setting up your games, avoid arbitrary, sweeping decisions and focus on the specific needs of your event!

This guide is intended to be a community resource that grows and becomes more refined over time. To this end, PAPA welcomes feedback and suggestions. If you feel that you could contribute to this guide in a meaningful way, please contact us!

League Information:

Competitive pinball leagues exist in a variety of formats. Some require meeting every week, while others are monthly. Some require players to all meet at the same location at the same time, while other leagues provide different locations on different days to help split the crowd. No matter how a league is set up, the primary goal is always to help spread enthusiasm for pinball. It doesn’t matter whether your league is primarily competitive or social, you should always remember to have a good time.

Competitive Aspects:

Becoming better at pinball is rarely a solitary experience. All competitive players learn from one another, whether it involves openly discussing strategy or watching how some else handles certain situations while playing in multiplayer games. Make a point to answer questions from new players, and encourage them to take advantage of the growing number of resources available. If your league consists primarily of experienced players, encourage them to compete at tournaments and travel to play against the best in the world and strive to improve.

Social Aspects:

Many leagues are viewed as a reason to get out of the house for novice players, and there is nothing wrong with this viewpoint. These types of social players could always be doing something else, and pinball should be grateful for anyone who drops a quarter or cares enough to flip the flippers. Some of these players may one day develop into highly-skilled competitors, but even if they don’t, there is never a reason to discourage interest in the game. Be supportive when necessary, and always be thankful.

Starting Out:

So you want to run a pinball league or tournament? The first thing you need to do is make some decisions and have a clear goal. If you’re going to run a tournament, decide where and with what games. Are you after a primarily social crowd, or are you after the hardcore players? Do you want to run a multi-day event, or is everything going to happen in a few hours? Are you going to provide food? Do the players have a place to relax? Are the restrooms capable of handling the crowd? Do you have the electricity necessary to power all of the games without an issue? Do you have a technician in case something goes wrong? Once you have the answers to these types of questions, it’s time to read up on differing tournament formats and decide which one best suits your situation and establishment.

If you’re planning on starting a league, the same types of questions apply. Are you after a primarily competitive league, a social one, or a little of both? Do you have a primary location, or will the league nights move from place to place? Will you allow private game collections? Will you allow public game locations? If the location is public, have you spoken with the owner, bartender, or operator about using their games and potentially bringing them more business? Can you use the possibility of regular league meetings to your advantage when speaking with the owner? Have you recruited other people to help you run the league?


The best advertising is word-of-mouth. Be vocal. Tell people about your league and use your own enthusiasm to attract others. Often times, all it takes to draw in new players is showing them how to play a game and exhibiting genuine excitement. The universal truth we all have working in our favor is that pinball is fun. It’s damn fun. Show this to others and tell them about your league or event.

More traditional methods of advertising can also be very successful. No one is suggesting you take out a radio ad or pay for a billboard, but a few properly placed flyers can be extremely effective. Go to local arcades, bars, bowling alleys, and any nearby locations with games and ask if they would mind if you put flyers on or near the games. Be sure to check with the operator or owner if possible, and explain to them you want to start a league that will bring them business. If no locations near you have a pinball machine, pick a likely candidate and explain that you want to start a league and see if they will ask their operator to bring them one. Many bars are familiar with dart or billiards leagues and will be excited at the prospect of regular meetings at their establishment. If you get turned down, stay positive and move on to the next location.

Once a location has been chosen, one of the best ways for advertising a pinball league is to start with a pinball tournament. Make a post on RGP, Pinside, or online newsgroups. Get in touch with the IFPA to help promote your event by including it in the World Pinball Player Rankings, and run a simple tournament. Use starter-tournament as a learning experience on how to make rulings and meet new people.

League Formats:

A large number of different pinball league formats are in use around the world. PAPA offers the following examples, as provided by the respective league organizers, for new leagues to use as templates. If you run an established, successful pinball league and would like to include a description of your format on this page for the benefit of new leagues, please contact us.

Free State Pinball Association:

This section of the Director’s Guide was created and submitted by Kevin Stone.

FSPA provides the rules, code and web-site for non-FSPA leagues that want to play FSPA style leagues. Contact for more information on how you can create your own league using this system. More information can also be found at the FSPA web-site at

Overview: The Free State Pinball Association (FSPA) is designed to allow players to compete directly against peers of similar skill level. This is accomplished through a system similar to a ladder or bubble system. As players win their groups, they move up to the next higher group, and if they lose they move down to the next lower group. Over the course of a league season, players naturally pair with players of similar skill level.

How the league works: Each league season is comprised of 10 meets, which are generally held once per week. During each meet, each group contains 3 or 4 players. Each group is assigned 4 games. Players within a group play each game together and scores are recorded on the official score sheet for that group. Points are awarded for each game based on how players score compared to other players in their group. Bonus points are also awarded based on the total points each player accumulated for all four games.

Groupings: After each meet, players change groups for the next meet based on how they performed. In 3 player groups, the winner moves up, the loser moves down, and the remaining player stays in the group. In 4 player groups, the top two players move up and the bottom two players move down. There are slight changes to this for the first and last groups, i.e. in the first group only the loser(s) moves down, and in the last group only the winner(s) move up.

Point System: Players earn 0 to 4 points per game. Players are initially assigned points based on their finish, i.e. first, second, third or fourth. Then bonus points are awarded based on the score between players. For instance, in a 2 player group, if the winner has more than tripled the loser’s score, the winner gets the bonus point, otherwise the loser gets the point. The same system is used to determine bonus points after all four games have been completed. The maximum points a player can receive during a meet is 20.

Two Player Scoring
Place Base Points Is #1 pts > 3 times #2 pts?
1st 3 Yes: +1
2nd 0 No: +1
Three Player Scoring
Place Base Points Is #1 pts > #2 pts + #3 pts?
1st 3 Yes: +1
2nd 2
3rd 0 No: +1
Four Player Scoring
Place Base Points Is #1 pts > #2 pts + #3 pts? Is #2 pts > #3 pts + #4 pts?
1st 3 Yes: +1
2nd 2 Yes: +1
3rd 1 No: +1
4th 0 No: +1

Divisions: Players are assigned divisions by week 4, which are based on average ladder position. If a player has been at the top of group 1 all season, they have an average rank of 1. These averages continue to change week to week until meet 8 is completed, at which time the divisions are locked.

Playoffs: Players in the the top half of each division qualify for the playoffs. Players competing in the playoffs compete within their own divisions. With 4 or fewer players, two games are played with all players. In addition, each player plays a head-to-head match against each other player. With 5 or more players, there is an initial round where each player plays a head-to-head match against each other player. The top 4 players move on to the finals, which is played the same as the 4 or fewer players finals. Standard point system applies to each round. The player with the most points wins, and there are tie-breakers in place.

Prizes: Prizes are bought using league dues and awarded to all players that qualified and played in the finals. At the end of the playoffs, each winner for each division plays one ball on a selected game. This determines the order of prize selection between divisions. For instance, if the order is determined to be Divison B, then A, then C the order of prizes would be: 1st B, 1st A, 1st C, 2nd B, 2nd A, 2nd C, etc. This gives every player regardless of skill the chance to compete for the best prizes.

Other Notes:

Game selection: Winning players from the previous week have the option to pick the first game for each meet. In 3 player groups, the last player in the group is the winner from the previous meet. In 4 player groups, the 3rd player is the winner from the previous meet.

Pre-Plays: Pre-plays allow players to pre-play the games in the league for a specific meet they know they will not be able to attend. Then those scores will be pre-populated in the official score sheet before the meet begins. Players may also submit undated pre-plays which will be used in the event of unplanned absence or tardiness. These are limited to 12 total pre-plays per season.

Extra Balls: Players may use one extra ball during each game. Additional extra balls must be plunged. Players can attempt a skill shot but must not flip or nudge the game after plunging the ball.