Pinball Machine Reviews: A Meaningless Quantified Value System (MQVS)

Deciding how to rate pinball machines is no small task.  By what standards do you judge a machine on besides overall feeling, whether I want to own it, or if I find myself wanting to keep playing it?  Is that even a good judge of a pinball game?  Maybe a game can be like a movie where you know it’s a masterpiece but… you have no intention of ever watching it again. What about if you’re a player that doesn’t own any machines and have no intention of purchasing one? What if you’re an operator trying to decide what games to purchase and put on-location? A collector looking for the next game to add to their home collection?

After spending some time looking at how others rate pinball machines (Pinside, SDTM, Buffalo Pinball, etc…), spending some time thinking through what I want out of a rating system, I combined those into a portmanteau of rating systems. MQVS uses the following categories can best be used to quantify a pinball machine’s overall value and then a weighting that is point-of-view specific targeting the 3 most popular pinball user types: players, collectors, and operators.

  • Theme
  • Communication
  • Play
  • Value
  • Fun

With each of these categories, a game can rate between 0 and 20 for a total of 100 points possible.  The number of categories used to rate a game are less than most other’s use, and there is a reason for that.  Let’s put a pin in that question for now (I promise to come back to it) and break down the categories first:


Theme is one of the more straight forward categories but it’s also often one of the more divisive.  Theme will include the art package on the playfield, the cabinet, the backglass/translite, and then the toys and integration of the machine’s theme throughout the game.  Often you’ll see these broken out into more individual ratings on other sites but I’m partial to viewing all of this as one category that better represents how the theme as a whole integrates with the pinball machine across those categories. 

Batman ’66 (Stern)

Examples of machines that do theme well IMHO: Twilight Zone (Bally), Wizard of Oz (JJP), and Batman ’66 (Stern/Kapow).


This is an interesting amalgamation of several categories that I think are all trying to communicate the same thing, thus “Communication”.  How well does the game communicate the rules and what needs to be done to the user?  This includes the DMD/LCD, this is lighting (hit the flashing lights), the rule cards, and even a more general sense of how easy it is to figure out how to play the game based on the artwork and shot layout.  If you’ve found yourself needing to ask someone what to do on a pinball machine… that machine has failed to communicate well with the player.

Total Nuclear Annihilation (Spooky)

Examples of machines that communicate well IMHO: Deadpool (Stern), Guardians of the Galaxy (Stern), Dialed In (JJP), and Total Nuclear Annihilation (Spooky).


This category does it’s best to rate how a game plays.  If it is a flow based game, does it flow well?  If it’s a start/stop shooter, are there shots that create a yahoo moment when successfully hit?  If there are cut-scenes, do they add to the mode at an appropriate time for a break?  Do the mechanics within the game create a cohesive product that feels as though it was built that way from the ground up or does a toy seem like it was thrown in because the manufacturer had spares?  How do the rules impact play? Do they improve the game, or take away from it?

Jurassic Park (Stern)

Examples of machines that play well IMHO: Attack from Mars (Bally), Jurassic Park (Stern), Black Knight 2000 (Williams), and White Water (Williams)


This category encompasses all aspects of the game’s value.  It includes the quality of components, the difficulty in repairs, the likelihood of repairs, a game’s ability to “pull-people-in-off-the-street”… While this points to how successful a pin may be on-location, it can also be used to determine what kind of investment a collector may be making.  Does the game hold it’s value?  To compare it to vehicles, is this a Toyota that will very likely run for 200,000 miles if basic maintenance is observed or will it crash and burn just after the warranty expires?

Deadpool (Stern)

Examples of machines that have good business value IMHODeadpool (Stern), Star Wars (Stern), and Medieval Madness Remake (CGC)


Fun is fairly self explanatory and seemingly redundant because it relies on other categories but at the same time it’s not redundant at all because this focuses on how those other categories coalesce into a game.  But let’s get specific: First and foremost, is the game fun to play?  It may have all of the shots and a theme that other manufacturers would have killed someone for, but did they bring it all together in a way that makes playing it satisfying?  When you’re done do you want to play it again?  And again?  How quickly do you forget about the world outside of the pinball game and “wake up” after hours to find that you’ve missed your bedtime?  That is my definition of fun and this category aims to identify how much fun a game is to play.

Tron Legacy (Stern)

Examples of machines that are fun to play IMHOTron Legacy (Stern), Creature from the Black Lagoon (Bally), and Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure (Williams)


We’ve broken down each category and now it’s time to pull the pin we set earlier and explain why we haven’t gone with 10 different categories or 20 and the answer is simple… Game of Thrones.

The Super Simple Explanation: Game of Thrones should have been a great theme with amazing artwork and a fun shooter. There was so much that could have been done regarding toys with GOT… but we got we got. Which looks more like a renaissance festival than something themed after one of the greatest television shows in the history of television shows.

Honestly, who looks at the Game of Thrones Pro/LE playfield and doesn’t expect a “Ye Olde Apothecary” sign somewhere amidst all of the sandy brown? Or perhaps a handy-dandy sign leading patrons towards the giant turkey legs?

And GOT is an wonderful deep game, but when you break it down to it’s individual components, the game rates poorly. The theme is awful, the layout is mediocre at best, the toy is a battering ram? It’s only when you think about how it plays as a whole does the game rate better and in my opinion, more accurately. But accuracy is relative? From the perspective of a collector? Does GOT perform well on-location for an operator?

We’ve gone with less categories, more points per category, and an equal weighting for each when determining the overall score of a pinball machine. Which may lead to a concerning level of subjective input to generate the total value. I am after all a collector, not a professional player, I’m no longer new-to-the-hobby and I’m definitely not an operator. So how do we attempt to eliminate some of the bias?

We’ll combat bias with a point-of-view weighting system (PWS). Not remove it, but curb it to present more meaningful values (if such a thing is possible).


  • Theme
    • Collectors = 100%
    • Operators = 150%
    • Players = 50%
  • Communication
    • Collectors = 75%
    • Operators = 50%
    • Players = 150%
  • Play
    • Collectors = 100%
    • Operators = 50%
    • Players = 150%
  • Value
    • Collectors = 125%
    • Operators = 150%
    • Players = 50%
  • Fun
    • All = 100%

We’ll use the category to point-of-view distribution percentages to generate 3 sub-values for each major rating that targets the specified point-of-view. And at the end, the sub-rating with the highest value should identify which user type the game targets best.


Next up is the rating system itself.  Obviously there is the exact number of points per 100 which will compute a percentage but the system we’ll use to visualize that is similar to a 5 star rating system except we’ll be using 9 different values and memes in place of the stars:

  • undefined(0-20)
  • undefined(21 – 30)
  • undefined(31-45)
  • undefined(46-60)
  • undefined(61-70)
  • undefined(71-80)
  • undefined(81-86)
  • undefined(87-96)
  • undefined(97-100)

This may seem kind of arbitrary, for example: Why is Dang Good from 81-86 and not 81-87? And why 9 different categories? Is it really necessary to differentiate between Loser, Awful, and Weak? Is it even likely that a game will score that low?

And the answer to all of that is “yes”. Even when it doesn’t make sense to answer one of the above questions (or ones you may have thought up) with a yes, the answer is still going to be yes.

Yes, the ratings were initially arbitrary. I went through the process of rating several different pinball machines using MQVS and “Dialed In” the ratings using very sophisticated techniques.

Yes, there are 9 categories. Yes, it really is necessary to differentiate between Loser, Awful, and Weak. And yes, a game has already scored that low. That’s why there are 9 categories instead of 7 and 3 different categories at the bottom 🙂


That’s it!  That is how we’ll review pinball machines: Silly memes, arbitrary categories, and subjective points…

But that’s the internet.  And who are we to upset the apple-cart of the masses when beautiful things like Boaty McBoatface happen on a daily basis?

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