Multiball: How to Activate It…and Survive!

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A multiball round in pinball is always exciting and usually leads to good scoring opportunities. It’s hard to walk away from a game where you got a multiball and feel bad about yourself, so here’s some universal tips on how to activate multiball on many pinball machines. Once the multiball mode begins and you’ve launched two, three, four or even five more balls into play, what was already a chaotic game can really spiral out of control! As some new players see multiball as a negative occurrence, we will also discuss some tips on how to survive these frantic rounds.

First, make sure the game you’re playing actually has a multiball feature before you worry about how to activate it. Most pinball machines made after 1986 have at least a 2-ball, if not a 3-ball multiball feature.  There are exceptions (Cyclone, Bad Cats, and many Gottlieb machines come to mind) but for the most part, “modern” pinball machines will offer a multiball feature.  Sometimes multiball isn’t always called by that name; look for “Tri-Ball” on Data East games.

Locking Balls for Multiball

Generally, multiball is activated by “locking” balls. This means the game will hold a pinball, sometimes physically, sometimes virtually, and count the “lock” towards a total. Once you achieve a certain number of locked balls – usually 3 – the game will shoot them back out at you in a multiball mode!

Now, where do you lock these balls? It varies from game to game, but look for a playfield insert light labeled “Lock when lit.” Typically if this insert exists, it will be green.

The ball lock inserts on a Bally Attack from Mars pinball machine

The ball lock inserts on Bally’s Attack from Mars. The lock shot must be lit before it will count as a ball lock. Usually the color green represents a ball lock on a pinball machine.

Through the years green has become the standard color to represent locking balls, though the shots and mechanisms are extremely diverse. While Attack From Mars has a straight forward locking system using green inserts, rewarding repeated shots to the same lane, Theatre of Magic gets very creative by locking balls in the “secret entrance” behind the magic trunk, then locking the third ball to a magnet against the trunk itself!

Keep your eyes out for Pinbot’s clever locking mechanism where you lock two pinballs in his face and the balls become his eyes!

As you play more and more machines, see what other cool locking devices are out there in the world of pinball.

Iron Maiden pinball playfield

Iron Maiden has several different multiball modes. Trooper Multiball is earned through locking balls, however 2 Minutes to Midnight, Aces High and Rime of the Ancient Mariner are all achieved by starting the corresponding Battle mode.

There are other games where multiball is not earned by locking balls, but rather by accomplishing other goals, such as hitting a target sequence or hitting the same shot repeatedly. In games made from the mid 90’s onward, it’s common for there to be multiple multiball modes, each with different requirements. However even on those games, there is usually a classic “basic” multiball designed to be regularly achievable.

Surviving Multiball

So you’ve locked balls and otherwise started multiball! Hold on! The game will probably go crazy with some sort of buildup sequence then begin releasing balls, sometimes incredibly fast. What do you do now? In short, survive.

There will be so many balls flying around hitting so many targets that as long as you can keep the game going, you’re going to earn some good points. This is especially true on newer games where there are many lit Jackpot shots (more on this in the next section) and almost any shot will yield big points. The old joke is “hit the flashing shot” – and that’s actually pretty good advice!

Black Knight pinball multiplier inserts

The inserts on the original Black Knight pinball tell the player their current scoring multiplier, typically known as a “playfield multiplier.” This increases the value of all shots and targets in the game! If all three balls are in play, you will get a 3X multiplier. If one of them drains, it drops to 2X.

Generally while multiball is activated, target and shot scoring is enhanced. One example of this is on the original Black Knight: when you have three balls in play, your score is tripled, however when you are down to two balls, your score is doubled.  Pinbot has “double scoring” while multiball is activated, but in addition, it opens up the potential for a Jackpot shot.

Jackpots and Super Jackpots

When Multiball is active, on a modern pinball machine, at least one Jackpot shot will be lit. In many games, multiple Jackpot shots will be available, tempting you to fire away at everything you can. While shooting on the fly at Jackpots will work to an extent, the best players attempt to trap as many balls as they can in a flipper cradle in an effort to control the chaos. They then use the other flipper to actually aim for the Jackpot shots without other balls zipping around getting in the way.

An impressive multiball ball trap on an Indiana Jones pinball machine. Here two balls are trapped on the right flipper and shots are made exclusively with the left.

It is also very common for a Super Jackpot shot to open up once Multiball is engaged. The location of this shot varies from game to game, but you can reliably start your search at the most difficult shot in the game. Is there an upper flipper? Odds are, that upper flipper is the key to your Super Jackpot shot.

Multiball is Your Friend

In the wild world of pinball, multiball is almost always your friend and something you want to start as often as possible. Yes, there will be a lot more balls flying around, but scoring potential will multiply with the Jackpots and Super Jackpots that will now become available.

It’s important to think about those extra balls as what they are – extra balls! As long as you have one ball in play, your game will never end. In that sense, multiball gives you a lot of “extra lives” you can use to get your score up to the top!