Diane Sauer’s been a boardgamer her whole life, even back when that just meant Monopoly and Risk. With the recent revolution in the hobby, and the newfound ease of entry, she and her husband Nick started Shoot Again Games in 2013, originally focusing on rummy-style games with a paranormal theme, ultimately culminating in last year’s Conspiracy!
The company name is an ode to Sauer’s day job, restoring old arcade machines for Shoot Again Pinball. She’s long dreamed of combining her two passions but has only just now rolled into the right combination to bring it to life. AiPT! spoke to Sauer about how the 2-4 player, competitive game, currently on Kickstarter, brings old-school fun to the board game revival.
AiPT!: How do you go about translating a classic arcade activity like pinball to the tabletop?
Sauer: It’s not easy. [laughs] It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that, because … it’s something that I’ve often thought about. How can I do a game that brings pinball in? Really looking at it, there’s really not — there’s virtually no pinball games of any kind out there. So I tried, over the years, all kinds of things. I tried games where you’re in a pinball parlor, you know, during the ’70s [and] into the ’80s, when they started to get replaced mainly by video games. I tried games where you’re trying to be the best pinball player on a variety of different machines. I tried all different games, and some of the games worked, and some people liked them but, to me, they didn’t capture that feel.
So basically, one day — I’m always thinking about these things — I woke up and just thought … what if you are the pinball? And when that thought entered my head, it just all clicked. It was one of those weird things where it’s like, “That’s it; I’ve been looking at this at a much bigger level — I’ve got to bring it down to the smallest level.”
That day, I sat down at the computer, wrote out the basic rules, made a basic prototype deck, and when my husband got home I said, “You’ve got to sit down and play this with me.” We played it, he had a couple of suggestions, we made those changes, and two weeks after that was Unpub [an event featuring unpublished games and designers] … We had already planned on going to this, we had the hotel booked, and we already had our games picked that we were going to test out there … and I said, “You know what, I want to bring this; I’m just going to hang up a flier, and just see if anybody plays it.” The first day, we got a couple groups to play it, and then after that, people would just come and say, “Are you the ones with the pinball game?” It kind of fell together.
AiPT!: So do you think there’s a desire out there for this? Is this something people have been waiting for?
Sauer: Oh, yeah. I definitely think so; we’ll see if I’m right. A lot of people, when I tell them this is a pinball game, they’re like, “Oh, I’m intrigued,” immediately intrigued, because there just aren’t any … which is surprising, because I’ve found there’s a good crossover between people that are gamers and [people] that enjoy arcade and pinball games.
AiPT!: So how did you crack the nut, then? What’s the gameplay of Pinball Showdown like?
Sauer: The gameplay of Pinball Showdown is there’s a deck of cards that are playfield devices — things like pop bumpers, flippers, ramps, drop targets, etc. — that are represented on them. Each player gets dealt a hand of 10 cards of these devices at the beginning, and they have 20 tokens. This is all they’re ever going to get in the game. The tokens are two-sided — one side, the green side — is speed, how fast your pinball is going. The other side is red, which is control, which is how much control you’re able to exert over your pinball. Every turn, each player takes a playfield card, they put them out facedown, and you add one from the deck, they get shuffled, and you reveal them, and those are the devices that anybody could possibly score that turn. In turn, each player gets a chance to spend some of their control to shoot themselves toward whatever device the want to score. Somebody can spend more control … and they knock them out of the way, so that they can get to it first …
All of the pinball devices have things that either increase your speed, decrease your speed, or they set you to an exact speed. Or they might have no effect on your speed, depending. You adjust your speed accordingly … Let’s say you increase your speed by three, you would take three of your control tokens, and flip them over to the green side. Or if you’ve lost speed, you flip them from the speed side to the control side. The important thing is that any control you exert to actually hit a device gets taken out of the game. So you only have that set 20 tokens, and it’s going to keep getting smaller, which means you’ll be able to exert less control, and you’ll be able to not go as fast, ultimately, and it’s kind of like pinball. It’s a balancing act between how fast you’re going vs. your control vs. your timing, because you want to score certain devices at certain times [and] complete combinations.
AiPT!: And you’ve also got some great images of the old-timey pinball devices and targets on the cards. Did you draw on your own experience for those? Where do those images come from?
Sauer: I actually took them all. At the end of that first day [at Unpub], after my husband and I sat down and played the game and made a couple adjustments, I then spent the next day making a prototype deck with actual pictures, and since I’ve restored pinball machines for a long time, I had most of those pictures, and the ones I didn’t have, I could go downstairs and go, “Okay, well, I need a really good picture of a pop bumper; let me go down and take it off of this game.” My intention was to use these as temporary, because obviously, I wasn’t going to be able to go out and find art of pinball ramps — maybe flippers I would find, a pop bumper I might find — but anything like a drop target or a loop ramp … I wasn’t going to find those, so that was my solution. When we got to the Unpub event, and people started playing it, universally it was like, “Man I really like the art on these cards; it’s really cool.” It was surprising to hear that, and really great too, because that’s something I can produce myself.
AiPT!: What kind of rewards are we looking at on the Kickstarter? Any stretch goals or anything?
Sauer: There’s going to be, if we get there, I have a few more devices and combos. Some more unusual devices, some not as frequently seen devices — they’re a little bit more complex to use.
AiPT!: What’s next after Pinball Showdown?
Sauer: After Pinball Showdown is going to be Bigfoot vs. Yeti, which will be the second game in the Conspiracy! family of games. In this case you’d be mounting expeditions to find the creatures and revealing conspiracies. It’ll be that system, with some additional stuff in it. Obviously it’ll be cryptozoology, it’ll be Bigfoot vs. Yeti, so there’s a whole mechanic in there that only one of those is going to score in a round. That’s what’s going to be next, probably later in the year.
AiPT!: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
“Pinball Showdown” is already fully funded on Kickstarter, but you can still get in on the exclusives and shoot for a combo with some of Sauer’s other games, like “Conspiracy!” and the set-collection game, “Looting Atlantis.”