Author Topic: Compilation of Traditional and Fun Tourney Formats and Commentary  (Read 1243 times)

Offline pinballcorpse

  • Moderator
  • Kingpin
  • *****
  • Posts: 1417
This is a work in progress and is very long and I will edit/add to from time to time.

I have put this compilation of formats and commentary together for tourneys I have personally organized as a Host/Tournament Director and used in our local club: FLiPS.

I have included some details of these 8 formats:

1 High Score Only
2 Elimination/High Score
3 Objective Only (Scores do not count)
4 Zen or Split Flipper
5 Pingolf
6 Groups of people play as single player
7 Drag Racing
8 Ladder (Laps)

The comments are intended as a guide for groups looking to host a casual tourney.  It is not meant to be “definitive” or as comprehensive as the PAPA tourney guidelines.  Tournament Directors (TDs) should have contingencies in place for broken games or malfunctions-particularly in timed events. 

TDs and competitors should also keep in mind many of these formats are designed to organize a QUICK, FUN TOURNEY.  The tourneys are not designed to necessarily ensure the best/strongest player will win.

Many of the formats incorporate much more luck than one would expect at a sanctioned IFPA event. Many of the formats are designed to encourage participation from more people not just skilled players or people with tourney experience.

This is some basic advice before starting/organizing a tourney:

Know your crowd

Most club get-togethers are for fun and take place over an afternoon or evening for a few hours. Most people like to be able to also play casually and talk, eat, watch TV etc.  It is highly doubtful that any club will have an entire group of die hard competitors.  The trick is to cater a little to each group.

Number of Games to Use

Clearly, one game is the minimum for a tourney, but having 20 people play on just one game is a bit boring.  It is preferable to have several games to play.  Also, keep in mind that if there are elimination rounds, it is recommended to leave some games available for those eliminated to have fun on while the competitors play.


In running a tourney, serious or not, time has to be considered.   Many people have what are seemingly great tourney ideas but fail to think of how long it will take or what to do if many people are standing around with nothing to do waiting for someone to be done. 

A very general rule of thumb is to assume 4-5 minutes per person per game played.  Some games like EM’s are wicked fast, and some DMD games are very long. With a party of 15-20 people and multiple rounds on DMD or Modern games, the day can quickly become consumed if not careful.  Some good players might play for 20 minutes; others might only play for 3 minutes. People who are there for a limited time want to play, not sit around and watch and wait to play.

To solve the potential time dilemma, either a limit on the ball time or game time can be applied to regulate the time of the event:

TIME VARIANT 1:  Allow a maximum time per ball.  This is useful for fixing the length of a game or a round if multiple people are on a game.

TIME VARIANT 2: The number of balls can be reduced or increased as desired to speed up or lengthen tourney.

The time could be set to any length desired to fit a time slot.  This will probably elicit some complaints, but experience has shown that with most players, even allowing 1-2 minutes/ball, many people finish the ball before time is called.

To calculate time needed, consider the following examples:   

Example: In a 3-ball, 2-minute max time per ball, 4-player format, each game will finish in about 24 minutes, maybe shorter. Using 3 players, each game would finish in 18 minutes 

Example: With groups of people lined up one per machine across multiple games, people can be moved game to game in “waves” by regulating the game time rather than ball time.   If each player is only allowed 5 minutes max to play, approximately 12 games on one machine can be played in an hour. Or another way of looking at it, each player can play on 6 different machines in 30 minutes.   

Number of Games/Rounds

There is generally not enough time for every person to play against every other person on every game.  Players should at least feel they had a chance to play; so if possible, letting players have a chance at a few games is recommended.  Eventually some people will have to be eliminated or ranked-after all, it is a tourney. Try to avoid drastic eliminations like one ball on one game/do or die.

Splitting and reducing players to final rounds

Since most final games are using 4 players, consideration should be given how to efficiently reduce the field to 4 people particularly when the number of players is not a power of 2 (numbers like 64, 32, 16, 8 ). That is, taking half the number of players each time will fail if for example if there are only 20 players. Viz: 20 reduces to 10, then to 5 then what?

In team formats like 3 per team, 4 per team formats, suppose 11 people show up. How do the teams get split? 

Do not assume there will always be a nice dividable number.  Be creative on how to make up the differences-Remember it is for FUN, but have a plan!


TDs and hosts should also keep in mind the game settings.  Extra balls can greatly extend the time and make people wait.  If it is not desired to change the owner’s game settings, have people plunge extra balls. It is not necessary to set the software on the games up on tourney setting. 

Strength of Players

If many people attend, there might be players much better or worse than the host/TD, so the host/TD should not use what he can do on a game as the basis for the tourney setup. If the host or any invitees are as skilled as Keith Elwin or Bowen Kerins, think about the mere mortals. Conversely, if the host is a flailer and has the games set up on 10 balls with closed outlanes, he may be quite surprised what some people can do.

SKILL VARIANT: Have people play one handed.  Pick a hand to use and place the other behind the back, in the pocket etc.  Players are allowed to use the one hand to switch flipper to flipper only.

Order of Play

Try to randomize order or devise a system that is consistent.  Winners of previous rounds must play first next round or something similar.  Drawing from a deck of playing cards can be used to randomize orders. Some players prefer to play first or last, but having as system prevents everyone from trying to play the same position. 

Grouping people

In events with multiple players on a machine, people are always concerned about being unfairly paired with players that they feel are too good and hence they are shy to play.  Use playing cards or draw names etc. to randomly group people for starting assignment. 

Mixing and Matching Formats

Don’t be afraid to combine concepts.  For example: maybe do a ZEN/Objective based tourney.

Final thoughts before describing some formats

The purpose of our local club FLiPS was to introduce more fun into the tourney equation and get more people to play competitively without worrying about money or big prizes or ranking points. There are many serious IFPA events that are more hardcore if that is the desire.  Please look at for more events. 

If the reader wants to use these rules and modify them for their use, be my guest. I welcome comments and suggestions. 

Any questions, feel free to ask.     

Enjoy and play more pinball-


FORMAT 1: High Score Only

SUMMARY:  This is the most basic format:  Given a game, players try to score as high as possible. The order of players/teams can be randomized using numbers, a deck of cards, etc.

TD WORK REQUIRED: Minimal/Moderate

PLAYERS NEEDED: As many as want to play and tries allowed. This is an easy format for throwing something together last minute or as a side event. Can apply to single players, ZEN or multiplayer events.

GAMES NEEDED.  At least 1. (see option below)

OPTION FOR MULTIPLE GAMES:  Each player is trying for a high score on each machine. Rank each score 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 , 5…1.  (IFPA uses 100, 90, 85, 84, 83, 82, 81…1).  Add the player’s rank (position) on each game for a composite score. Best scores advance. Example: in a 10 high…1 low point system on 4 games, 40 points is a perfect score.  Placing 1 st, 5 th, 2 nd and 7 th would score 10 + 6 + 9 + 4 = 29 points

TIME: Generally LONG-but can be regulated via a timer or ball restrictions.  Depends on game(s) and number of players.  The TD can also restrict the number of tries using tickets, tokens etc.

This multigame option requires MUCH MORE WORK for the TD but is more fun for players.

SUGGESTION: Use a computer or index cards to track and rank scores or shift around.

FORMAT 2: Elimination/High Score

SUMMARY:  Useful for rounds of play.  Players all play on one machine or are grouped on multiple machines.  The lowest score (or scores) on each machine are eliminated with winners advancing to subsequent rounds.  In each round, players are advancing and eliminated until reaching final 4 or ultimate winner. 

TD WORK REQUIRED: Minimal/Moderate

PLAYERS NEEDED: As many as want to play. Can apply to single players, team or multiplayer events.

GAMES NEEDED:  At least 1.  More games can be used to create follow-up rounds.

TIME: Generally LONG, but can be regulated via a timer or ball restrictions.

TIPS: The format does NOT require that all players play the same machine or each other. 

VARIANT 1.  Group players evenly across machines. 

Example: With 16 people at the event then there could be 4 groups of 4 players playing on 4 machines.  Have groups of 4 on a game. Eliminate 2 from each game each round. Works best with powers of 2 (Numbers like 8, 16, 32, 64). Example: 16 turns to 8 to 4 to 2 to 1.

Example: With 20 people on 5 games (4 per game) ½ could be eliminated to 10 people, then to 5.   A different format would be required to reach final 4.

VARIANT 2: Divide the players into 2 large groups of players, one group on Game A and the other group on Game B working towards to final 4 competing against each other. Top 4 scores from Game A have a playoff to reach top 2 and have a similar format on Game B. Have top 2 players from A play against top 2 players from B.


FORMAT 3: Objective Only, Scores Do Not Count.

SUMMARY:  This type of format is great with EM or SS games and possibly some DMD games.  The object is to pick a simple objective to maximize-For example on Joker Poker, a goal could be to only count the number of A (Diamonds) knocked down. Some games like Target Pool have insert numbers 1-15 and the goal is to light all the numbers. 

Highest number of (Objective) wins.

TD WORK REQUIRED: Minimal to Moderate (Some thought must go into a reasonable and fun objective)

PLAYERS NEEDED:  As many as want to play and tries allowed. Great format for throwing something together last minute or as a side event.

GAMES NEEDED.  At least 1.

TIME: Generally FAST.  Depends on objective and number of players.  Time and ball restrictions are probably not necessary, but it could add a twist: most (objectives) in (time)

TIPS: There is no limit to objectives or ideas.  It is recommended that the objective be something easily understandable (and quickly verified by a spotter) that almost everyone can do and that most players will likely get something done and that draws people in. 

SUGGESTION:  It would not be advisable to pick wizard modes like Tour the Mansion in TAF,  “Rule the Universe” in AFM or  “Valinor” in LOTR as an objective.

FORMAT 4: Split Flipper aka (ZEN)

SUMMARY: Pick a game or games to be played by each team. Each team of 2 players plays one flipper side of the game (one on the left flipper, one on the right flipper) by using one hand. Players do not move sides during the ball, but can change ball to ball. 


PLAYERS NEEDED: Even amount required.  Makes it easy for the host or TD, since if an odd amount show up/sign up, he can fill in, or if an even amount show up/sign up he can run the event.

GAMES NEEDED: At least 1. Note:  This allows up to 8 people to be on a typical 4-player game.

TIME: Depends on games used, but often much shorter than a solo-player tourney since 2 people act as one player.

TIPS:  If the bank of games has the machines close together, this should be taken into account since people are standing more to the side than in front of the game and will bump into adjacent players.

FORMAT 5: Pingolf (fixed score objective)

TD WORK REQUIRED: Moderate to Involved. (Par scores must be carefully thought out) 

PLAYERS NEEDED: As many as want to play.   

GAMES NEEDED:  The more the merrier, but if using many games, a multiple of 9 looks more “golf like.”

TIME: Generally long.  Depends on games used. Not recommended to use a timer.

SUMMARY: Each player is trying is to reach a pre-determined fixed score on a game in as few balls (strokes) as possible.

DESCRIPTION: Each game has an assigned score to reach using a certain number of balls.  The lowest score is a hole in one (score reached on 1 ball), the highest or max strokes allowed is based on settings.  Typically modern games are set to 6 or more to allow for a distribution of scores.  If the player does not reach the objective in the max allowed balls add one to that number.

Example: if 6 is the max number of balls used, award a 7 if the score is not reached. On a 9 hole match, the worst score would be 7 x 9 = 63, the best is 1 x 9 = 9 

The winner is the player who plays all games in the least amount of balls.

TIP: Consider prizes for most holes in one.

CAUTION:   Where this format often fails is when the scoring objectives are too high or too low (too high is more often the problem).  It may be helpful to look at the average score audits on a modern game to get an idea of what a reasonable score is. Keep in mind the average score in the game is probably based on 3-ball factory with extra balls allowed.  The game should be set on something like 6 balls, but this is up to the operator.  As the TD, pick a score, try it out across the games.   

FORMAT 6:  Groups of people play as one player

TD WORK REQUIRED: Minimal/Moderate.  TD needs to have plans on how to handle the issue if there is not an even distribution of players such as 3 per team, 4 per team.  Example of issue to resolve: What should be done with 11 players?  (There are many approaches depending on format, but this just gives an example). 

PLAYERS NEEDED: Depends on multiple desired.   

GAMES NEEDED:  At least one

TIME:  Depends on games used. Time can be regulated per player as described above

SUMMARY: Each team acts a “player”.  Each person on the team can play one ball. No different than any other setup other than each person is only playing one ball.

DESCRIPTION:  None.  Use as necessary in any format.

TIP:  Try to utilize several rounds or games as players are only playing one ball each.

FORMAT 7: Drag Racing

TD WORK REQUIRED: Moderate to Involved; need to keep track of time also need to have a tiebreaker format.

PLAYERS NEEDED: Any even amount. Powers of 2 best.

GAMES NEEDED: 2 for the drag race, and optimally, 1 more to settle ties.

TIME: As fast as desired. Works well with a 1-minute /1 ball format.

SUMMARY:  Players are competing head to head in a timed match.

DESCRIPTION: Randomly pair an even amount of players.  Two games will be run concurrently.  Player 1 starts a 2-player game on his machine, Player 2 starts a 2 player game on his machine. 

Both players are “racing” in lane one.  This is a TIMED round.  Players have 1 minute to score as high as possible in LANE 1.  If the player loses the ball before the 1 minute mark, they have crashed and just step away and the score is as stands.  If the player is playing at the end of 1 minute, the player just stops playing when TIME is called. The ball(s) drain and bonus is counted.  Both Players now have a score in LANE 1.

The Players now switch machines and are racing in LANE 2 (player 2 slot).  Same format.

At the end of the next minute the scores are compared.  If one player won both races they advance.  If there is a tie, then the tiebreaker is decided by the qualifying result with the higher qualifier advancing. The loser forfeits his title or PINK slip.

Process can be repeated to halve the field each time.

SUGGESTIONS:   Have a predetermined way to settle ties that helps advance rounds.  This can be accomplished by having racers play a single pre-qualifying game to rank scores or ties can be settled afterwards on a single game.  With a pre-qualifying result ahead of time, this settles drag racing ties faster, but the lower ranked player will feel he is already at a disadvantage having to win 2 games. 

Using a timed game after the races to settle ties moves the races along faster.


4 games used per round. This allows for 2 groups of 2 players to be lined up across 4 machines.  Line up Players 1 2 3 4 on Games A B C D.  Player 1 is racing against Player 2 on Games A and B, Player 3 is racing against Player 4 on Games C and D. Two races are running at once to help move the tourney along.

At the end of the (2) 1-minute rounds, the scores are compared on each machine and tallied.

Have each group now switch.

At the end there will be a Win-Loss result based on the 4 games played.  Have a method available to settle ties.

FORMAT 8: Ladder (Laps)

TD WORK REQUIRED:  Involved; need to keep track of time and have an easy system to move players game to game. TD needs to have a tiebreaker format for racers with same score.. Also have an easy computation system when the number of games is not 10.

GAMES NEEDED:  Best with 10, but can be modified.

TIME: As fast as desired. Works great with timed ball format.

SUMMARY: Players play a fixed number of rounds and determine net result of wins.

DESCRIPTION:  30 players are randomly assigned to 10 machines (3 players per machine). The machines are assigned a Starting Game Number from 1 to 10.  Each player writes down the Starting Game Number on his/her card.  This number is only used for grouping and determining each player’s “Start Point.” It has no ranking significance.   

Each group starts a 3-player game

3 balls per player/extra balls are allowed.

The timekeeper announces GO.

Each player’s turn (ball) is limited to 2 minutes max.  Play continues until the ball drains or STOP at the 2-minute time limit is called. If an extra ball is earned during the 2 minutes, it can be played until time is called. Extra balls waiting to be played after time expires are plunged without flipping.  Repeat process for all 3 players until the game is over and compare the 3 scores. Each group of 3 players does this at the same time.

Moving on (or back) in the race:

All first place winners move up to the next highest number machine. Example: Winner at 7 moves to 8. Winner at Position 10 would move to Position 1-think of it as 11.

All last place finishers move down to the next lowest number. Example: Last place at 6 moves to 5. Last place at Position 1 would move “down” to 10.

All 2nd place finishers stay put and do not move.

Order of play for next “lap” is based on previous round.

Repeat for 4 Laps (rounds).

At the end of 4 rounds, each player moves to the final destination based on 4th Lap finish.  Each player writes the number of the card assigned to the game, compares to the start position and determines how far was traveled.


"It's better to make it to the finals and play like sh*t than to not make it to the finals at all"-Josh Sharpe, pinball pro and IFPA president