Given my enjoyment of pinball, I was curious to see how it translated to the board game world when I was hipped to Geoff Engelstein's pinball-themed roll-and-write game Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade from WizKids. WizKids kindly hooked me up with a copy so that I could give it a whirl and share my initial impressions of (spoiler alert!) the most thematic roll-and-write I've played to date.
In Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade, 1 to 4 players compete to score the most stars (victory points) after three rounds of roll-and-write pinball. The game comes with four unique pinball tables, each featuring a different theme and variation on the core mechanisms and ranging in complexity levels. Each pinball table is represented by two dry-erase boards — one for the pinball table and one for the backglass, which is primarily used to track your score.
A turn in Super-Skill Pinball begins with a player rolling two dice, followed by all players choosing one die result to move their ball and fill a box on their board showing what feature their ball hit, but you're not just filling any boxes — they're bumpers and targets and spinners and flippers, just like a ball hitting different parts of a real pinball machine. It's quite clever!
Your pinball will eventually drop down to the flipper zone, where there will hopefully be a box available to mark off, timed with the right dice roll, so you can flip your ball back to the top of the table; otherwise you lose the ball, and your round ends. After all players have completed their third round, the player with the most stars (victory points) wins.
In Super-Skill Pinball, players are playing simultaneously, sharing the same dice rolls, but making their own choices independently, which means players will usually start rounds 2 and 3 at different times, and it's highly unlikely you'll all finish the game at the same time. It is a bit multiplayer solitaire in that sense, but since everyone is equally invested in the outcome of each dice roll and knowing where your opponents are scoring wise, it usually ends up being exciting, and feels quite engaging.
As I mentioned above, four themed pinball tables are included in Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade, and they range from easy to advanced difficulty:
• "Carniball" is a carnival-themed introductory table covering the basics of Super-Skill Pinball and is the best place to start if you're new to the game. It features plenty of flair with ferris wheel cars, as well as carnival games like knocking ducks down by squirting a target, throwing darts at balloons, and testing your strength. Once you have the basics under your belt, then it's fun to mix it up and play the other tables and explore all the variety and twists they offer.
• The "Cyberhack" table allows players to unleash their inner hacker and try to bring down the data monopoly of corporations that run the world. This table builds off of the basic mechanisms introduced in "Carniball" and adds spinners and a fun press-your-luck mini-game played on the backglass board once you've filled up the RUN bumpers. This one pairs well with The Matrix soundtrack.
• The "Dragonslayer" table transports us into a fantasy world where players are wizards on an adventure building up their book of spells, fighting goblins and rats, casting spells to modify dice and gain bonuses, and defeating the dragon to capture its hoard and gain even more victory points.
• With the "Dance Fever" table, players flash back to the 1970s and get their groove on with disco ball bumpers, boogie bonuses, and the Disco Pinferno multiball mini-game. There's quite a bit to juggle in this one at moments, but because the graphic design is so consistent and well done across the board, you'll pick it up fairly quickly after you've played the other tables.
As you complete various sections of bumpers, targets etc., you get to unlock different bonuses, such as multiball, which allows you to play with two balls at once, and different score multiplier bonuses, which are super helpful for beefing up your score.
Certain sections when completed allow you to select a "Skill Shot", which is a reserved result you can use at any point instead of either die result. You simply circle whichever number you want (1-6), then erase it once you use it.
In addition to Skill Shots, you can also nudge the table to modify one of the die results — or even a Skill Shot — to a different number to optimize your choices and avoid losing balls. This is awesome because anyone who's ever played pinball has probably bumped the table here and there trying to force the ball to go where you need it, so I love that this element is captured in the game.
Each game you have only three opportunities to nudge, so use them wisely. To nudge, you write the difference between the original number and the number you want in the nudge box, then move your ball accordingly. The harder you nudge, the more likely it is that you'll tilt and lose your ball(s). How does one tilt? you're probably wondering. Well, on the next roll after you nudge, you check the difference between the two die results. If the difference is less than the nudge amount, you tilt!
Nudging is a fun little gamble that you'll be tempted to do often, but sometimes it's best to save at least one nudge for round 3 emergencies. In one of my four-player games, two players nudged at the same time with two balls in play from the multiball bonus, then I rolled doubles which caused them both to tilt (since the difference was 0 and they had nudged 1). Whoops! It was a bummer for them, but we all laughed about it, and it's one of those gaming memories we won't forget. (Those nasty double 4s!)
All-in-all, I think Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade is really well done and worth checking out. Every time I play, I'm tickled by the fact that it's soooo pinbally — the way your ball interacts with all the different pinball elements (bumpers, flippers, targets, spinners), the nudging, the exciting bonuses, multiball mode. It all ties together so well. I've played only a handful of different roll-and-writes, but I'm pretty sure this one takes the cake for being most thematic! ...and it's also awesome to see such a unique, refreshing theme in a board game, period.
On a few occasions, I lost track of whether or not I had scored something, but it never mattered too much because the scores weren't super tight at the end; either way I was having a lot of fun and not caring so much whether or not I won the game. That is something to be wary of, however, since everyone is in their own zone trying to keep track of everything. There was also one game in which someone ended their game way before everyone else, and he ended up just rolling dice while we played for another 15-20 minutes, so that is something you may run into.
I really love how Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade captures different themed pinball machines and it feels like you have four different games in one. I also think it's cool that the tables ramp up in complexity and have a nice variety of themes. I can't help but think about all the fun expansion possibilities, too — wink wink, Mr. Engelstein and WizKids. I could also totally see Super-Skill Pinball having an awesome (and addictive) digital adaptation with some sweet pinball sound effects! In the meantime, I'll continue enjoying it analog and making my own sound effects.
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