The Pinball Player’s Guide

plunger lane startrekLooking to beat your high score on the Pinball table? Worry not: with our guide to getting the most out of each game, you’ll be racking up points on the scoreboard in no time.

Pinball: A Recap

First let’s take a look at the basics of Pinball – it never hurts to refresh on the simple things. As the player, your task is to navigate the ball across the playfield, scoring as many points as possible and (crucially) taking part in various objectives to maximise the time spent playing with each ball and your final score. Certain actions and triggers in the game set off a chain reaction of events, allowing you to gain mega points – but you might have to play the table a few times first to get a feel for the layout, the rules and the quirks.

We wrote a whole blog post about the different parts of a Pinball table, but the main things you need to be aware of are the plunger and flippers. If you can master these, you’re well on your way to becoming a Pinball master – and we’ll go over just how to do that.


Different games have different plunger skill-shots available when you first release the ball. The Twilight Zone, for example, awards points if you can fire the ball gently enough to reach the top of the plunge lane without entering the playfield – for this you can rack up a cool million points. Others award extra points for hitting a certain bumper or target first – there’s no way to master this without practice, but generally it’s worth not extending the plunger all the way, and learning where the ball lands at each point of force.


flipper wweThere are a lot of rookie mistakes that come up with flipper control, and it’s hard to know where to start. As the only point of control for the player during a game, it’s tempting to really go to town with them – but this is definitely the wrong way to play! Before you start, hit the flippers once so you can find any hidden flippers inside the playfield, as the ones over the drain might not be the only ones. During play, try not to touch the flippers too much, as when they’re open there’s a bigger gap for the ball to fall in, and less you can do about it. Flip it down again as soon as you’ve used it. Similarly, when you do use them, only use one at a time! We can’t stress this enough. It’s tempting to panic and hit both flippers, but all that means is that if you miss, there’s no way you can try to save it with the other flipper. Forget the way you see people play in TV shows; playing like a master means you need to make careful, calculated movements.

It is possible to aim with the flippers; generally speaking if you hit the ball closer to the base or hinge of the flipper it will fly upwards, and if you hit it at the tip, it will fly off in the direction the tip is pointing at. You can use this to your advantage, but be careful – the tip also yields a stronger, less controlled hit, while flipping when the ball is at the base gives a softer hit that may bring the ball back down a little too soon. The more you play, the more you’ll get an idea for the physics of the game.

Once you’ve got basic flipping down, you can also perform what’s known as the Drop Catch. This is a great technique worth mastering, as it allows you to “catch” the ball with a raised flipper, holding it in place and giving you a chance to think carefully about your next move.


nudge kissNudging is just as important as flipping, and while some people frown on it, most operators accept it as part of the game and design the playfield with that in mind! It’s a little advanced, but once you’ve worked it out you’ll be well on your way to longer playtime and bonus points in every game.

The very basic principle is that you want to nudge the machine in the opposite direction to where you want the ball to go, with enough force to neutralise the ball’s momentum and change its direction. This is useful if you see the ball heading down the chute into the drain, or if you want to shift it over to another bumper to complete an objective or trigger an event.

The reason it’s an advanced technique is that most tables now have nudge and tilt sensors, and they will give you a penalty if you’re too rough with the machine. Sometimes you’ll get a warning, other times the machine will call end-of-ball and you won’t score any more points on this round. This is partly to ensure fair play and also to ensure the integrity of the machine – pinball tables are expensive, so do be light and gentle with your nudging!

We can’t talk about nudging without covering the highly controversial “Death Save” move. Many players believe this should be illegal due to the force sometimes required, but some manufacturers (Data East in particular) not only recognise it, but also offer a point award for successful execution. Essentially a Death Save is a way to stop the ball falling into the drain if it is travelling down the outlane. If the player nudges the table just as the ball reaches the bottom, the ball will bounce off the wall of the lane and onto the opposing flipper, which can then fire the ball up back into the playfield.

Learn more

Pinball’s best quality is how deceptively complex it is, and we couldn’t possibly offer every tip and trick out there. Once you’ve mastered the techniques here, we encourage you to carry on by taking on one of these next steps:

  • Watch other players. Pinball is massively accessible, and there’s nothing more satisfying (and infuriating) than seeing a complete newbie pull off an amazing trick. There’s always something to learn from others, so make it a social game.
  • Join a pinball league. These exist across the world, and your local area almost definitely has one. Check out the IFPA to find your closest group.
  • Buy a pinball table. Everyone’s got their favourites, and there’s no better way to start a games room than with your own pinball table. Invite friends over, crack open some drinks and snacks, and hammer home that high score.

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