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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.

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.