A Beginner’s Guide to Playing Pinball

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In recent years, pinball has become popular again, popping up in bars around the world. When I joined a pinball league about a year ago—having only played in passing—I had a lot to learn. Since beginning to play more consistently and introducing my friends to the games, there are a few tips which seem like no-brainers to me now but will help anyone who’s nervous about walking up to a pinball machine for the first time. Here are a few tips and tricks for pinball newbies.

The Basics

Each pinball game typically consists of three balls, essentially making up your three turns. Players use the buttons on each side of the machine to control flippers and direct the ball through the various parts of the machine. To play, insert coins and press the Start button. You launch the ball using either pulling and releasing the plunger or pushing the Launch button on the machine.

Multi-Player aka play with friends!

The other day I was with some friends playing pinball when I asked if they’d like to play multi-player. They looked at me in shock having no idea that it was possible. Every credit (usually 50 cents) allows one game. However, if you insert four credits into one machine, then push the Start button four times, four people can play at once. Each player plays one ball, then lets the next player play their ball until all players have played all three balls. So make sure to bring friends along to play!

My favs enjoying some #pinball last night. ???

A photo posted by Heather (@nerdheather) on


I used to think that the only skill involved in pinball was the ability to continue hitting the ball until you missed but oh, was I wrong. Each table has a strategy to learn in order to improve your score. Whether the goal is to spell something out by hitting all of the bumpers or consistently hitting the same door over and over again, learning the strategy for each machine will really up your game. Try playing on the Pinball Arcade app, which has instructions and tips for a bunch of favorite machines. Also, often the screen above the play field gives tips and instructions while you’re playing.

For example, on The Twilight Zone machine, the goal is to light up all of the door panels. You do this by hitting the lit Player Piano. It can be lit by shooting the left ramp. You can also earn a door panel by shooting the lit Slot Machine, which can be lit by shooting the right ramp. Watch below:

On the Attack From Mars machine, there are six objectives. In order to complete ’em, you must get a multi-ball by shooting the center loop a total of four times. Multi-ball is exactly how it sounds. There will be the mayhem of multiple balls flying around, which is fun and terrifying. Watch below:


  • If you see a far-off machine with the Start button flashing, it already has a credit! So rush over for your free game.
  • At the end of many games, there’s a mini-match game. If the final two numbers of your score match the number on the machine, you win a free game.
  • Don’t flip both flippers at the same time. Moving them independently actually makes it easier to hit the ball and less likely to “drain” the ball in-between them
  • Hold one of the flippers up as you launch and you might get extra points for a ‘skill shot.” Many machines have a specific skill shot that gives you bonus points for completing.
  • If the ball is moving slowly around the flippers, hold one up to “catch” the ball. You can take a little break and reorganize your strategy while you hold the ball in the flipper.
  • If you’re unsure of what to do, try to hit any targets with flashing lights as usually the lights are flashing because you’re suppose to hit them!
  • If a ball is heading down the gutter, you can nudge the machine a bit to try to get it to fall back in play. However, if you hit it too hard, the machine will stop and flash “tilt” on the screen
  • Have fun!

Looking to join a pinball league?

Check in with your local pinball spot to see if they have an ongoing league or are interested in starting one up. Also, try a one-day tournament first to get the hang of competing and have a chance to watch better players!

What tips do you have for pinball beginners? Let’s hear ’em in the comments.

Featured Image:  Heather Mason

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