Joker Poker is Now Set to 5 Ball

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You asked, we listened! Our beautiful solid state Joker Poker pinball machine is now properly set to 5 balls – as it should be! Why should this game be set to 5-ball? Why wasn’t it set to 5-ball the whole time it’s been at Pinball Land? Read on to learn why, as well as some pinball history, the intricacies of Joker Poker’s rules as well as some idiosyncrasies of running a pinball arcade in the year 2022.

The Transition from Electro Mechanical to Solid State

Before we get into Joker Poker’s 5-ball rules, I would like to give you a bit of history to help you understand why there is a significant difference between 3 and 5 ball play.

The late 70s were an exciting time in the arcade industry with the introduction of solid state electronics in pinball machines. By 1979, video arcade games were all the rage.  The traditional electro-mechanical (EM for short) pinball machines that used to dominate the scene were suddenly looking quite “old” next to the latest videos. Pinball’s bells and chimes that were once so charming were now coming across as antique next to the amazing electronic sounds coming from games like Space Invaders and Asteroids. Pinball needed to do something different if it wanted to stay relevant in the arcade world.

Asteroids Deluxe arcade monitor at Pinball Land arcade in Rockford MI

The solution amusement manufacturers came up with was to upgrade electro-mechanical pinball machines with solid state electronics. This upgraded framework would provide the pinball player with digital scoring displays, more complex rules, and those sweet, sweet sound effects. It also came with the promise to arcade owners and game operators that the maintenance would be easier and less frequent. The solid state revolution sounded like a win-win!

D. Gottlieb & Co. and the Solid State Revolution

Chicago-based amusement giant D. Gottlieb & Co. found decades of success with their “Cadillac-quality” electro-mechanical pinball machines. They were a tightly-run family business, known for re-using the same components in creative ways across different game designs. Why go through all of the hassle of inventing a new gimmick, figuring out how to manufacture it, then figuring out how to maintain it, when the company had a library of tried-and-true components already on the shelf?  Good designers could utilize these “generic” components in unique ways. This model worked very well for Gottlieb for a long time.

When hit with the digital revolution, Gottlieb didn’t believe it was a permanent paradigm shift and were very slow to change their ways. This was compounded by Gottlieb’s new ownership at the time, Columbia Pictures. and a general desire to not want to make an expensive investment in new technologies. The industry forced their hand, however.  Despite their reluctance, Gottlieb had to eventually take the plunge and move into the world of solid state electronics.

Instead of making all-new solid state games, Gottlieb began the transition by taking existing designs and retrofitting electronics in place of the traditional electro mechanical mechanisms. Joker Poker was one of the first games that bridged the electro-mechanical and solid state generations. Other Gottlieb pinball games with both EM and SS versions are Cleopatra, Sinbad, Solar Ride, Charlie’s Angels, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Joker Poker Backglass Title

You can tell Joker Poker was very early in the transition process not just from the traditional layout and artwork typical of the previous generation, but also because it still retains its chime box! Solid state Joker Poker does not have electronic sounds. Gottlieb would add electronic sounds in later games that were exclusively solid state designs, titles such as Torch, Totem, The Incredible Hulk, Roller Disco, Genie and others.

Joker Poker Playfield

Joker Poker’s 5-Ball Rules

The enhanced solid state electronics enabled Gottlieb’s designers to pack in more features and gameplay into their games. Joker Poker is a great example of this!  In many instances the EM version of a game is more desirable.  In the case of Joker Poker, the solid state version is absolutely the way to go, largely because of these improved 5-ball rules.

In the solid state version of Joker Poker, when set to 5 balls, the game gives you a goal to shoot for on each ball:

Ball 1: Shoot the single 10 target

Ball 2: Shoot the 2 Jacks targets

Ball 3: Shoot the 3 Queens targets

Ball 4: Shoot the 4 Kings targets

Ball 5: Shoot the 4 Ace targets plus the single Joker target

These goals are easy to remember as the ball number corresponds to the number of targets in each goal target bank. For example, on Ball 3 you need to complete the 3-bank whereas on Ball 5 you must complete the challenging 5-bank.

Completing the “goal” for each ball lights the 5X Bonus!  Complete the other drop target banks to maximize this bonus to reach very high scores.

Joker Poker Bonus Inserts

So, Why Wasn’t it Always Set to 5 Ball?

Pinball Land attracts lots of families with young children and many people that are not experienced pinball players. Many of these beginning players have a hard time understanding the concept of “3 balls per game.”  They often walk away from a game after they drain a single ball. They get even more confused when faced with extra balls, ball savers, and multiball. It’s a jungle out there.

Joker Poker served the purpose for years as being “the old fashioned game” at Pinball Land. It was great for experienced players to have the opportunity to play a more traditional pinball machine and to ease new and younger players into the concept of pinball with a less-sophisticated layout. By setting it to 3-ball, it was just like all the other games at the arcade and didn’t cause any additional confusion (except for the location of the start button….)

Joker Poker 5 Ball In Play

Now that Pinball Land has grown to over double our original size and has added many more unique pinball-style games, we are more confident that players w,ill be able to handle the ball count difference on Joker Poker.

The change from 3-Ball to 5-Ball play will make for a more satisfying and deeper Joker Poker experience for players that know to appreciate such details, and the two “extra balls” will make for a more forgiving experience for casual players.

So, come on down to Pinball Land and see what you can do to that high score now that 5-ball has been enabled on our fantastic Joker Poker pinball machine!