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Tips: Preparing EMs for a Tournament

June 27, 2013
If you’ve ever considered running a tournament with electro-mechanical (EM) games, here are some thoughts based on my experience.  A lot of this applies to solid state (SS) and “modern” dot-matrix display (DMD) games as well.

Here we go:

1) Make sure the Tilt functions and that the factory tilt bob is installed.

2) If possible, re-install the tilt bob inverted. (This will require disassembling the tilt). This minimizes its settle-down time after a shake or a tilt. Also, it reduces the possibility of player 1 “tilting through” to cause a tilt to player 2. In most tournament rules, this means an instant disqualification for Player 1, and then requires a judgement call as to how best deal with Player 2 (since s/he didn’t get to play), so the best overall situation is to avoid this scenario to begin with. It also means more lively play by players.

3) Test with the max number of players to make sure all score reels and resets are working properly. In other words, if it’s a 2-player EM, ensure that the switches score consistently for both players, and make sure all drop targets, bonus lights, etc. operate consistently and reset from player 1 to player 2.

4) Pull glass and verify every switch is functioning and scoring correctly (I typically hit each switch 5 times on each player while watching score reels)

5) Don’t use Gottlieb Sys 80 or Atari games unless your tech really understands the idiosyncrasies of these games and can fix them fast.

6) Clean and wax, ideally two coats of wax.

7) Flipper and sling rubbers should be new or like-new. Slings should be very responsive. All else should be intact – no cracking, especially loose, etc. Upper playfield rubbers, where they matter (example: Jumping Jack, where nudging into saucers is key), should be new or like-new. Probably a good idea to put a bag of replacement rubbers in one of the games. One broken flipper rubber can slam the breaks on your tournament if you don’t have a spare.

8) Set to free play. EMs require moving a connector on the floor of the cabinet or underneath the playfield to enable this. Possibly in the backbox.

9) Plunger should be clean and consistent. Plunger skills can sometimes be very important on EMs (example: Klondike, where the right plunge can mean many extra balls)

10) All playfield bulbs and backbox indicator lights functioning.

11) Score/instruction cards in place. One of the nice things about EMs is they are often so simple a player can learn a solid basic strategy from reading the instruction card. Don’t deprive players of this option, particularly because few players have regular access to EM games.

12) Flippers should be rebuilt and adjusted so that they’re the same height in the full-up position.

13) The flippers should stutter (bounce) minimally when released. Williams EMs are kind of bad in this respect, in my experience. Put another way, it should be possible to drop catch by a skilled player.

14) The Feed from the inlane should be clean or minimal bounce. Unless you intentionally want to make the game tougher or make a repeatable shot tougher to hit. (Example: left upper playfield shot on Wizard).
Inlane bounce occurs because the inlane guide has gradually worn over time, creating a larger and larger gap between the inlane guide and the flipper over time, which results in the ball hitting the equivalent to a pot-hole on its way to the flipper and skipping. This is expensive to correct (requires a replacement inlane guide), and in the end, it’s the same condition for everyone, so it’s not a defacto reason to not use an EM, but something to be aware of.

15) If Tilt ends game (like on many 70s Gottlieb games like El Dorado or Target Pool), put a sign on the game so players know it, and also consider letting them know during the player orientation.

16) Put a sign up on the game to note if the game is 3-ball or 5-ball.  This is especially important on “tilt ends game” games, as those games don’t typically award any sort of end-of-ball bonus and the player should be encouraged to tilt as much as possible to win on their final ball.

One Comment
  1. July 1, 2013 9:55 pm

    17: Don’t Use Fireball

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