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The Professional & Amateur Pinball Association

Player Guide

"An introductory guide for competitive pinball players."

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 contact 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.

Flipper Skills:

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.

Game Setup:

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!