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Super Skill Pinball 4-Cade is Lit - Review

MB Updated October 08, 2020
 
4.5
 
0.0 (0)
1414 0
Super Skill Pinball

Game Information

Publisher
Players
1 - 4
There Will Be Games

Disclaimer - this review contains absolutely no reference to The Who's "Tommy".

A couple of years ago roll and write games turned into a THING and suddenly everyone was doing them and playing them. Most were, as expected, utterly forgettable and as ephemeral as a single-use score sheet. So far, only Cartographers has emerged in my estimation as one worth anything other than a dalliance. Geoff Englestein, who has been quietly making some really damn good games for years now, presents his take on this genre and it turns out that Super Skill Pinball 4-Cade is a brilliant use of the roll and write concept to pull off something that I would have thought otherwise impossible – to make playing a tabletop game feel like playing a pinball machine.

There is some genius design work here to make that happen. At its core, it’s standard roll and write fare where you roll a die and mark off boxes, and the player that made the best choices on the die rolls and the options available wins. But wait, there’s more. Mr. Engelstein saw, in the mechanism of checking off sets of boxes to earn points or advantages, something not unlike lighting up a group of dropout lanes or knocking down a bank of targets to spell a word.

That’s smart stuff, but even smarter is how he has taken the concept of a ball traversing the plane of a physical play field – of course, with a terminal point at the bottom – to control available choices. After launching the ball, your die roll choices are limited to the top field. If you can’t check one off, you drop to the next field. If you can check something off, you must drop to anylower field for the next roll unless you are hitting the right numbers to play the bumpers. Once you get to the drain, there are limited boxes for each drop and flipper. There’s a red flipper and a yellow flipper, and these coordinate to which targets you can hit with that flipper as the subsequent roll sends the ball back up the playfield.

You can bump the table, fudging your roll, three times a round. But doing that means you risk a tilt if the next roll is under what you adjusted. Or you can earn a Skill Shot for hitting the topfield dropouts and pick a number to use instead of a future die roll. There are light-up bonuses, multiball, spinners, and even backglass mini-games. This is a comprehensive tabletop simulation of playing a pinball machine, and it offers four different tables – carnival, cyberpunk, fantasy, and disco -  each with unique layouts, targets, bonuses, and challenges.  

And it just feels right. As your marker (a bifurcated silver ball) carroms and careens between the targets, you are constantly engaged in making decisions and deciding when to take risks or shoot for a better scoring opportunity. Sure, the physics of a real table and the engineering of one can’t really be duplicated but the simulation will particularly surprise and charm anyone who’s ever plunked quarters into a Williams, Stern, or Gottlieb arcade machine.

There are two chief negatives to what is otherwise a brilliant design. One is that the high score play coupled with elimination means that some players might be playing for quite a bit longer than others, although the limited checkboxes in the drain-level field act as a sort of timer and all play is simultaneous.  This is adjunct to another issue – the game feels long. At 20-30 minutes, it’s a delight. At 40-45 minutes the repetition starts to grind and from my experience the last quarter of the game tends to feel kind of anticlimactic in terms of determining a winner. It is strictly a high score game, although there are some achievements you can mark off on the score sheets in the rulebook. And yes, you should absolutely write down your high scores on these tables, ACE.

Even when it runs a little long and my daughter is beating me by 200k going into my third ball I love that this is a high concept, small box game with a modest production and a completely fresh idea. It has the kind of heart and soul, a passion for the subject, that is missing from far too many games pumped out onto the market today. It’s a singular design rich with character and care; although it risks coming across as Yet Another Roll & Write it manages to hit the mark and light up the “definitive example of the genre” bonus.

Thanks to Geoff Engelstein and WizKids for supporting our site with a review copy. TWBG never accepts payment for our content


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
4.5
Super Skill Pinball 4-Cade
The Black Knight of Roll & Write.
MB
Top 10 Reviewer 137 reviews
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314512 24 Sep 2020 13:32
Interesting. I usually don't give R&W games a second glance, but this sounds like it might deserve one.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #314519 24 Sep 2020 14:24
I probably haven't played pinball since my teens, but this review made me feel like tracking down a local pinball machine. This does sound like a clever game design, but playing probably pales in comparison to actually playing a pinball machine. Back in the day, my two favorite pinball machines were XENON and Black Knight.

XENON:



Black Knight:

RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #314529 24 Sep 2020 16:02
I bought this one at an estate sale. Did it work? Guy said it did but he flat-out lied. Fixed it myself for big handyman cred.



My brother checked, "Owns Eight-Ball Deluxe" off his bucket list.

Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #314543 24 Sep 2020 19:00
It seems so counterintuitive that the weird kinetic pantheism of a pinball table could be translated to anything as static as a boardgame, but if you say so I think I need to check it out.

My favourite table has got to be Tales of the Arabian Nights. The only pin I've ever triggered end-game on. And that sultry narration? Phwoar.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #314548 24 Sep 2020 19:32
I used to play Black Knight at a 7-11 in Parlier, CA. The night clerk was a black dude named Fred. We called him the Black Knight. He was mostly glad for the company and sometimes comped us free Slurpees.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #314550 24 Sep 2020 21:22
Soccer, Firepower III, High Speed, Earthshaker. I still love pinball.

If the concept is sound you could sell dozens of different machine renditions for this, mock ups of old or entirely new.

Does each play have a theoretical limit in score? Do the targets pop back up when you clear the set or are they one and done? At some point it would seem you’d run out of goals to go after.
Gregarius's Avatar
Gregarius replied the topic: #314564 25 Sep 2020 12:21
Don't forget-- Mr. Engelstein offered a sample pdf of one of the boards to try for free. I had a lot of fun with it.
therewillbe.games/forum/10-ameritrash/20...ll-free-pnp-download
engelstein's Avatar
engelstein replied the topic: #314635 28 Sep 2020 22:50
There are actually two out of the four tables available now as a PNP from Wizkids website.

To answer Sag's questions, there is not theoretical maximum high score. You can bounce around the bumpers forever, although it becomes increasing unlikely.

Targets are grouped into 'Sets'. When a set is completed, you erase them all and typically get a bonus of some type.