Weekly PnP: Paper Pinball

  • Designer: Robin Gibson
  • Artist: Robin Gibson
  • Publisher: Metal Snail Idea Workshop
  • PnP Location: Itch.io

Luke: Pinball has always been one of those arcade wonders that have alluded me. Whether it’s because I’m just bad at them or that they feel a little too random for my taste, I’m not sure. But other than that one machine in my childhood doctor’s waiting room, nothing about the flashing lights or bombastic noises has ever drawn me to try the imposing cabinets.

Phil: It’s an acquired taste. Often acquired by people who aren’t bad at games.

Luke: That would explain it. Luckily, there’s a board game for people like me who are blinded by the blinking lights and flash of the physical iterations; Paper Pinball, a roll-and-write designed to mimic the same experience as the originals.

Phil: Regardless of whether you download the free black-and-white versions or the colorful pay-to-play versions, these tables can have some pizzazz; the art on display here is phenomenal and really presents a style that hearkens back to afternoons pumping quarters to fight for that high score.

Luke: And yes, he said “versions” with an “s”; Paper Pinball features a wide, wide variety of tables to choose from. As of writing, there are 7 tables included in season 1, 3 tables in season 2 (with more on the way), and a holiday gauntlet of 25 new tables, designed to be played back to back. Each table has its own wacky and ridiculous theme that makes it memorable.

Phil: That’s an incredible wealth of content, especially considering the quality of the game we’re working with here.

Luke: In Paper Pinball, players roll 2 dice each turn, simulating a pinball shooting through the machine. Depending on what numbers you roll, you’ll mark different parts of the machine the ball ricocheted off of, scoring you points. You play until you either score every part of the machine you can or run out of balls, at which point you tally your score and see if you make it onto the high score scroll.

Phil: Wait, is there actually a scoreboard to beat?

Luke: In Season 2, other players’ scores can be found at the bottom of each table, showing the scores to beat and the maximum possible score you can get on a board in the unlikely event that the dice are so inclined.

Phil: Can new scores be added to said sheets?

Luke: I’ve seen a few people reach out on the Metal Snail Idea Workshop Discord and have their scores added to the roster.

Phil: That’s a really smart way to build a community around your game.

Luke: I think the coolest thing about the system, for me, is seeing how the game has evolved over time. Each table will introduce a new mechanic or a way to play, with the more successful ideas returning in future tables whereas the less viable options are unique to 1 or 2 tables.

Phil: What are some of the mainstays?

Luke: Generally speaking, what you’ll see on most tables are:

  • Bumpers: Players can put any number into these, so long as you don’t repeat a number in the given set.
  • Ramps: These require that you fill slots in ascending or descending order.
  • Targets: If you roll the labeled number, you can cross out the target.
  • Tunnels: These must be unlocked, and can only be filled in if you rolled 2 of the same number.

Filling in all of a set will reward you with bonus points, multipliers for your final score, or a prize of some kind, such as a multiball or unlocked tunnel.

Phil: I imagine it can be hard to remember all these mechanics game-to-game.

Luke: Not at all; each table comes with instructions, allowing you to refresh yourself on any mechanics you can’t recall or introducing you to newer ideas.

Phil: You mentioned that the scoreboard is exclusive to Season 2; are there any other changes made between the seasons?

Luke: Plenty, and mostly for the better:

  • Tables are longer and slightly more elaborate, leading to tables that feel a touch more unique and themed.
  • Dice can be used more creatively to fill in spots, with the game allowing you to use either the total of the 2 dice or split them for 2 different values.
  • Sets are better color-coded (even in the black-and-white version) and are more visually readable.
  • Each board has a Special Mode that gives you bonus points if you accomplish a particularly difficult feat.
  • Each board has its own slightly variable rules that fit the themes and challenges it presents.
  • Scores are made lower, and thus a lot more manageable to track and add up at the end.

My only real cons with Season 2 thus far is that the Special Modes can be a little confusing to understand at first glance and the rules aren’t as easy to reference.

Phil: How do you mean?

Luke: In Season 1, Bumpers, Ramps, and Targets looked like their traditional pinball counterparts and had large icons in the rules to quickly recognize and reference. In Season 2, scoring types are organized by both shape and color, which is nice, but the rules are much smaller in the bottom-right corner of tables, with the information not being as readily clear. It’s a small thing and an understandable shift, but I really enjoyed the big reference boxes for ease of play.

Phil: So, on the whole, it sounds like you really dig this system.

Luke: Indeed I do; I’d highly recommend people try it out for themselves and buy the gauntlet if they find themselves loving the system at large.

Phil: Which of the traditional boards would you recommend?

Luke: My personal favorites are Sherwood 2146, Laser Sisters, Sorcery Sleuths, and the first 3 Season 2 tables (what’s been released so far). Definitely start with Season 1 to get a feel for how the game works and then shift over to Season 2 for the best overall experience. It’ll be worth the effort.

Verdict: Paper Pinball is a great system that spoils fans with a ton of content. Tables are quick to play and, while the dice can play a roll in how well you do (pun intended), it’s loads of fun and easy to find yourself getting sucked into the creative and inviting themes Robin Gibson has created. There’s no reason not to give this a shot for yourself.

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