The game of pinball has found its way into many different pop culture genres, from advertising to movies, beer cans to art exhibitions, books to phone apps.
Now, a new ‘roll & write’ tabletop game takes pinball and its core features as its inspiration.
Super-Skill Pinball 4-Cade from WizKids takes the established format of roll & write dice games and applies a pinball theme to create four different tables which are played with laminated cards, dice, tokens and dry-erase marker pens.
If, like us, you are not overly-familiar with the concept of roll & write games, they are played by one to four players on a table or floor using dice to advance through a play area, triggering features and scoring points as you go. You mark your progress on the playing boards using a dry-erase pen and a token, trying to complete features to give you power-ups and scoring boosts. The game can be played alone purely for points or against others to try to beat their scores.
It sounds complicated, but soon becomes clearer once you start playing.
The four tables in Super-Skill Pinball 4-Cade are called Carniball, CyberHack, DragonSlayer and Dance Fever, all of which should be pretty-much self-explanatory as far as their themes go.
Inside the box you get eight double-sided laminated cards which equate to four copies of each of the four tables. You also get eight backbox cards which feature each game’s ‘backglass’ artwork along with a scoring grid.
Most titles also have a backbox mini-game on the card which, like a real pinball, momentarily transfers action off the main playfield. Only the Carniball table doesn’t have a backbox mini-game.
Up to four players can play at once, each receiving their own copy of the table, two ball markers, the backbox card for scoring and any extra features, and a dry-erase marker pen.
Carniball is the simplest of the four and serves as a good introduction to how a pinball roll & write game works. There is a detailed instruction manual which explains the various unique features of each table, how you start them and how they function, but there’s also a single-page quick-start guide just for Carniball for those like us who are eager to dive in and get going.
The game starts with one ball marker at the top of the shooter lane – the second marker is reserved for the multiball feature. You get to play three balls – or rounds – before it’s finally game over.
The two dice are rolled and you can choose which die to use as you move the ball marker through the top rollover lane corresponding to your die’s number. You fill in the rollover lane with the pen and can’t go through it again until you have completed all the lanes. If you do manage to complete all three lanes then you get a Skill Shot which lets you pick a number you can use later to replace one of those rolled on the dice.
The ball then moves down the playfield card which is divided into four zones – the top rollovers, the pop bumpers, the side targets and the flippers. You roll the dice again, pick one of the numbers and move the ball to a pop bumper with the corresponding number, crossing off that number and scoring a point.
Once in the bumpers you can stay there if either the next numbers rolled matches one on the next bumper moving clockwise. This allows you to stay in the bumpers for a while, filling in numbers as you go and scoring a point each time you do.
There are three types of number boxes on the card – those with a solid outline which are wiped clean when completed, those with a dashed outline which are wiped at the start of each round (ball), and those with a double outline which carry over between rounds and only get wiped at the start of a new game. The pop bumper numbers have a solid outline, so only when all twelve have been filled can you wipe them clean and start filling them again. Until then you can only move clockwise to the next bumper if it has an unfilled number matching one of your dice.
If you can’t move clockwise to match one of the unfilled numbers then you move down to the next zone and start completing the side targets. You can skip a zone if you roll a number you could really use further down the table or can’t match an unfilled number, but mostly you move down one zone at a time.
The side targets, when completed, allow you to pick from various bonuses. These can be things such as allowing you to move either way around the pop bumpers, scoring double points, advancing through features and starting multiball.
Multiball lets you add the second ball token to the playfield and use the discarded die’s score to move it, complete features and collecting stars in double time.
After the side targets zone, the ball heads down into the flipper zone.
If you can match one of the die’s scores with an unfilled box, the ball drops onto either the left (red) or right (yellow) flipper, allowing you to shoot the ball back up the table as far as you want with the next roll.
It can go all the way to the top rollovers, into the bumpers, into a progressive lane, or to any of the other features on the table. Some features are colour-coded red or yellow and can only be hit from the same-coloured flipper, so you may need to choose which flipper to land on wisely if you have the choice of either.
If you can’t match an unfilled number on either flipper, your inlanes may be your saviour, since they feed the flippers and give an extra bonus. Otherwise it’s either down one of the outlanes or a straight drain, either of which ends the round.
Points are indicated by stars on various features. As you earn them you mark them on your backbox card until you have 100 stars, when you mark the 100 box and wipe the 1-99 stars clean.
Besides just getting a score, there is a high score table and list of additional achievements to complete for each game on the back of the player instruction guide.
Super-Skill Pinball 4-Cade does an excellent job of incorporating familiar playfield features into the roll-and-write format. There are many more features in the games than we have described here. Apart from skill shots and multiball you also get spinners, scoring multipliers, ball saves, nudges, tilts and even flipper passes. The game designer, Geoff Engelstein, clearly knows a thing or two about pinball.
Each of the four tables has a number of unique elements and is sufficiently different from the others to give four very distinct and well-thought-out games with good theme integration. There are the common elements of course, but they serve to flatten the learning curve and ease your way into each new table. The artwork is attractive and immersive, immediately setting the tone of the game even before the first roll of the dice.
Pinball players will find the game package a great on-the-road alternative to the real thing, which also allows up to four players to safely social distance while playing, if necessary.
If there is a drawback it’s probably the multi-player mode where, although they share the same dice roll, everyone is really playing at their own rate and with their own strategies, having no direct interaction with each other apart from trying to beat their score.
That can also mean some players take far longer to complete their games, resulting in those who finish their three rounds quickly being left twiddling their thumbs while the remaining players take their own sweet time trying to get the highest score, no matter how long that might take. In a way that aspect is no different to real pinball where you’re waiting for subsequent players to try to catch up and get a higher score, but it can break up the flow if everyone else is waiting to start a new game.
Overall though we thoroughly enjoyed both learning the roll-and-write style of gameplay and playing this pinball-themed implementation of it. It’s a great game to take with you on road trips or to shows (when they return), or to play at home when you fancy a change of pace.
The recommended price of Super-Skill Pinball 4-Cade is a very reasonable $24.99 in the US. It will be available from most local independent game shops with public release expected soon. Otherwise, it’s likely to be on your local Amazon site and can be ordered from the WizKids’ website. On that WizKids’ site you can also download home-printable versions of the Carniball and CyberHack tables for free to help you get a feel for the gameplay.