Date: May 13th - 15th 2011
Report by: Jonny O
There are three big shows in the California Bay Area: California Extreme, Pacific Pinball Expo and Pin-A-Go-Go. Set a few months apart from each other, each show has a unique character - a kind of vibe - and you immediately begin to sense it once you get your badge and step into the main show room.
The feeling you get at Pin-A-Go-Go is like you already know everyone. It's like stepping into your own game room for some relaxing pinball and a beer, just that there are hundreds of other people there too.
It might be the most laid-back pinball show in the world.
Longtime friends who only knew each other from the internet, either met for the first time or shook hands again. The latest news of local pinball business and life were discussed, and local vendors plied their wares.
Speculation about the next Stern game was a hot topic, with Tron an especially white-hot item of discussion and speculation. Not to mention Steve Ritchie's return to Stern and what he's cooking up for a future release. Exciting times for pinball all around.
Speaking of which, Steve Ritchie's booth - a Pin-A-Go-Go show count-on-it - was conspicuously absent due to his triumphant return to Chicago. Yet, the idea of another Steve Ritchie designed pinball game seemed enough to placate his fans.
In Steve's honor, I decided to create a fun side competition for the show. Enthusiasts were tasked to write a haiku poem with Steve as the subject to win a Stern translite and a T-shirt designed by Dirty Donny that just came hot off the press. Beth Davies won Steve's admiration and took home the prizes. The details of all the entries along with the eventual winner can be found here.
The show had a fantastic collection of games with tons of dot matrix games for sale and to play, and the main show room was filled with players.
Attendance was higher than the previous year. Friday was surprisingly well-attended, and Saturday threatened to stretch the walls out a bit. It was great to see so many enthusiasts out for the show.
The usually scorching Dixon, CA sun gave us a break this year, with temps around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (that's about 21 Celsius for our friends in the rest of the world). The biggest complaint I got was from a fellow wearing long sleeves who said it was bit warm.
New for this year at Pin-A-Go-Go was a pinball tournament. The tournament was designed to match the show and was a fun introduction to tournament play, yet still a very competitive affair where skill made the difference. The majority of entrants had never played in a tournament before.
Brad Grant, one of the show staples, was assigned to help me work on the details. After meeting with Brad he was like a little kid full of excitement. "I found a Volley in a barn I think I can fix up. And maybe the Sacramento Pinball Group can add some games!" We went from there.
Prior to the event, I contacted Michael Schiess of the Pacific Pinball Museum and asked if I could use some of his warehouse space to make the plaques. Mike, always gracious and supportive of the show, readily agreed and then asked how he could help with prizes.
Games came in, a Funhouse from Greg Ong, an Attack from Mars from Eric Johnson, a Firepower, Fireball... soon enough we had eight tournament games confirmed which became ten by the day of the show, including a Flintstones and Star Wars for the kids tourney. The Sacramento Pinball Group really came through.
Since show-goers often want to play the games that end up in the tournament, I made the decision to keep the tournament to one day, allowing entrants plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the show, and non-entrants a chance to play the games.
We did some fixing up on Friday, fixed some switches and dialed-in the tilts. Since the games were open to everyone on Friday there was plenty of play testing. Rubber feet were placed below the games to keep the more physical players from getting too zealous.
Saturday came and I was on about five hours of sleep, printing-up last minute items for the tourney and frantically finishing up the plaques - a total of 30 for Open, Novice and Kids. 61 players entered the tournament by the 2pm cutoff and I knew I had my hands full. Fortunately, my three volunteers - Brad Grant, Molly Reisman and Jeannie Rodriguez - showed tremendous dedication in recording scores, forming groups and fielding players' questions. Everything ran smoothly.
There are all kinds of pinball tournament formats, so I went for one that would fit the show: laid-back, relaxed, fun for all, prizes for many. Pin Golf seemed an ideal format to meet the need. In Pin Golf, objectives are set on each machine and the players try to conquer the objectives with the fewest balls possible.
For example, light two S-T-E-P awards on Funhouse, or start Martian Attack on AFM. The number of balls played to reach the objective is the player’s score for that game (or hole). Thus, lower scores are better.
Even if you're not a high score specialist, there's something for everyone in Pin Golf.
Entrants paid just $5, and proceeds went to the Boys and Girls Scouts. Plaques were awarded to the top 8 in both Open and Novice. The first ten kids got mini-plaques. Sponsors included Pacific Pinball Museum, Playland not at the Beach, Pinball Video (Pinball 101 and The Pinball Collector) and Stern Pinball. All entrants got their pick from a box of Stern key fobs, 2-for-1 coupons to Playland not at the Beach, as well as a stash of official Disney Flynn's Arcade tokens and PAPA tokens.
Players were organized into groups and sent off to play. This created a great social opportunity. Far from being a win-at-all costs affair, players were cheering their group-mates to the goals and celebrating the elusive hole-in-one.
Robert Freitas battled his way through the crowd to take top honors in the novice division.
In the Open Division, it was no surprise that some of the top tourney and local league regulars were in the running going into the play-offs. Yet there were a few surprises, in the form of Damien Charlety, James Edes and Dave Easterla.
A first time tourney player and the very bottom qualifier for the Open event clawed his way into the final, and when it counted most, he dug deep against some of the best of the best to take the whole thing!
It was his first tournament and he probably didn't know he had it in him. Well, he certainly does now. Congratulations to Dave Esterla - you not only won the first tournament you've ever entered, but you also won the first Pin Golf tournament at Pin-A-Go-Go!
A note about the final results:
It was a fantastic show, a fun tournament and a great chance to see lots of pinball friends, as well as make some new ones.
Hope to see you all next year at Pin-A-Go-Go!
© Pinball News 2011