Official Rules for Avenue Tournaments

Liberally adapted from the FSPA (Free State Pinball Association) rules, with gratitude

Changes made by Heather M. N. Kendrick, Lansing Pinball League, Lansing, Michigan

Version 2.1, March 2016


  1. Introduction
  2. Machine Play Rules
  3. Illegal Actions

1. Introduction

These rules were developed for use at tournaments hosted by The Avenue Café, Lansing, Michigan. The nature of the venue presents some challenges to tournament play, and players entering the tournament are expected to take them in stride. The rules are designed for a situation in which the tournament officials do not have access to keys.

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1.1 Tournament Officials

In these rules, TO stands for any Tournament Official, which may be the Tournament Director (TD). Rulings will will be made by the TD whenever possible, with the following exceptions: 1) Rulings demanding immediate attention, when the TD cannot be summoned expeditiously, may be decided by any TO; 2) Rulings involving the TD or any TO will be decided by an uninvolved TO.

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1.2 Discretion of Tournament Officials

These rules are a guide. At times situations will arise that are not specifically covered by these rules. In these cases, the TO should make a decision in the spirit of the rules. This decision shall be documented for later reference, and be applied consistently should the situation arise again.

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2. Machine Play Rules

2.1 Extra Balls

Extra balls must be plunged and not played, except as noted in sections 2.3 and 3.3. Extra balls that must be plunged and not played are referred to as “unallowable” or “plunged” balls in this document.

When a player is required to plunge an extra ball, the player may touch the machine to set up a skill shot before launching the ball, but must not touch the flippers while (or after) plunging. Once the ball is set into motion, the player may no longer touch the machine, except as follows: 1) if the ball is returned to a launcher lane that requires a manual plunge (e.g. by a ball saver), the player may re-plunge the ball; 2) if a plunged extra ball becomes stuck, it may be freed by nudging (see below).

If a plunged extra ball becomes stuck somewhere on the machine, the player may attempt to nudge the machine to free the ball. If nudging fails to free the ball, the player (or TO) will be required to tilt the game in an attempt to free the ball. No compensation is provided in this event, nor is it considered a major malfunction.

Buy-ins for extra balls are not allowed, except as noted in sections 2.3 and 3.3.

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2.2 Replays and Specials

No award is given for credits earned by replays or specials during tournament play. If a machine awards extra balls for replays or specials, they are subject to the rules described in 2.1.

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2.3 Malfunctions

Pinball machines are complex assemblies that can exhibit many unintended behaviors during play. To keep tournament play on track and prevent excessive focus on minor glitches, only serious machine malfunctions can affect tournament play. Serious machine malfunctions are broken down into two categories: major malfunctions and catastrophic malfunctions.

major malfunction is one that results in a loss of a playable turn that is not a normal part of the game (i.e. premature loss of turn). A “playable turn” includes the player’s current turn at play, but does not include “unallowable” extra balls. In disputed situations, the TD shall decide whether or not a malfunction is considered major.

The following are examples of major malfunctions:

  • A player is forced to tilt the ball in an attempt to dislodge a stuck ball (unless it is an unallowable extra ball; see section 2.1).
  • A turn ends prematurely (i.e. with 1 or more balls in play).
  • A ball is auto-plunged or otherwise shot into play without the player’s involvement, resulting in loss of ball.

The following examples would not be considered major malfunctions:

  • A player tilts away a stuck ball when it was not clearly necessary.
  • A multiball round ends prematurely but does not result in loss of turn.
  • A ball goes airborne and drains.
  • A lit kickback fails to kick the ball back into play.
  • A ball saver fails to work.
  • A ball is sent in an unexpected or unfavorable direction by a kickout.

If a problem with a machine is announced to players by the TD before tournament play is started, then that problem is not considered a major malfunction even if the result is loss of ball in play.

Catastrophic malfunctions end the entire game prematurely. As with major malfunctions, this does not include “unallowable” extra balls. The following are examples of catastrophic malfunctions:

  • Stuck ball that cannot be freed by tilting
  • Total machine failure / reset
  • Loss of electrical power
  • Fire due to overheated components

If a major or catastrophic malfunction happens to a player during the course of a game, the player will be allowed to play as many additional balls as were affected by the malfunction on the original game. Affected balls include any balls prematurely ended by major malfunction and any balls never launched into play, but not unallowable extra balls. Additional balls will be one or more of the following, in order of preference: 1) an extra ball that would otherwise have been unallowable, 2) a buy-in ball, or 3) a ball on a new game of the same machine. In the case of 3), after the additional ball (or balls) are played, the displayed score from the new game is added to the displayed score from the original game to calculate the player’s final overall score for the game.

If a player encounters a stuck ball that does not become unstuck after several ball searches, and cannot be nudged free, the player (or TO) will be required to tilt the game in an attempt to free the ball. If the ball can be freed by tilting, it will be treated as a major malfunction. If the ball cannot be freed by tilting, it will be treated as a catastrophic malfunction.

The TO can declare a machine unplayable at any time if it is not functioning properly and the resulting malfunction(s) will, in his or her estimation, significantly impair the ability of players to obtain fair scores. If play cannot be continued on a machine for any reason, the machine is automatically declared unplayable for the rest of the tournament, or until the machine is repaired. In these cases, the entire game is replayed immediately on a machine designated by the TO.

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2.4 Positive malfunctions

If a malfunction causes a player to receive an exceptionally unfair advantage over the other players, and there is no reasonable way to avoid it, then the game is stopped and a new game is started either on the same or a different machine at the TO’s discretion. If a positive malfunction can be avoided (such as the awarding of extra points by repeated tapping of a flipper button), then this behavior shall be reported to the TO and shall be avoided during subsequent tournament play. At the discretion of the TO, the game may be replayed if it is felt that an unfair advantage was already gained by one or more players due to the malfunction. In this situation, the TO may also rule that completed scores on the game are to be discarded. It is the responsibility of all members of a group to ensure that positive malfunctions are not abused.

A stuck ball during multiball is considered to be an exceptionally unfair advantage, and is subject to special rules. If a player becomes aware that a ball is stuck (or missing) during multiball, he or she must attempt to free the ball by shooting another ball at it. If it is impossible to free the stuck ball, the player will be required to drain any other balls in play and treat the stuck ball as described in section 2.3. If a player does not notice a stuck ball, other players should make him or her aware of the situation and give a polite reminder of this rule. A ball in the shooter lane during multiball in a game that does not auto-launch is considered “stuck” and must be plunged as soon as possible.

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2.5 Gameplay Promptness

When a player’s turn comes up in a match, he or she is expected to begin play promptly. If a player is not present when it is his or her turn, the TO may start a five minute timer, at the end of which the TO may plunge the player’s ball. Exceptions may be made if the player advises a TO of a temporary absence (such as a bathroom break).

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2.6 Practice Games

Once tournament play starts, a player may not practice games that are being used in the tournaments. Practice games are allowed on machines that are not being used in the tournaments. If a player is done with his or her tournament play for the day, then he or she may play any game, but must relinquish it if it is needed by tournament players.

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2.7  Distractions

In general, random distractions that occur during tournament play (including minor physical bumps) are considered normal play conditions and no allowances are made for the effects of such distractions on a player’s game.

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2.8 Non-tournament Players

Tournament players do not take precedence over other customers at the establishment. Having a non-tournament customer play your ball is considered a distraction and not interference; control of the ball should be regained as quickly and politely as possible. Close attention should be paid by tournament players to their game in progress to guard against this situation.

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3. Illegal Actions

3.1 Playing Own Unallowable Extra Ball

If a player nudges, flips, or otherwise plays his or her own unallowable extra ball (except as allowed under section 2.1), he or she will receive a machine score of zero.

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3.2 Playing Opponent’s Ball

It is the responsibility of each player to make sure that he or she is playing the correct ball. If a player plays an opponent’s ball, including an unallowable extra ball, the violator shall receive a machine score of zero. If the affected ball is not an unallowable extra ball, the victim may either take over the ball in play or have the incident treated as a major malfunction. If the victim chooses to take over the ball in play, he or she should state the intention to do this and then get control of the ball. As soon as the flipper makes contact with the ball, the player is considered “in control” and can no longer reverse his or her decision.

If the affected ball is an unallowable extra ball, the violator must cease play as soon as the error is noticed. The violator will still receive a machine score of zero, but there is no additional compensation for the victim. All players should ensure that their unallowable extra balls have been plunged before walking away.

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3.3 Interference

Interference in another player’s game is not tolerated. Interference includes (but isn’t limited to) tilting an opponent’s ball or nudging the machine during another player’s ball, even if the action does not cause the victim to lose the ball. It also includes intentional distraction of a player during his or her play. Talking is not considered interference, unless the player at the machine specifically requests that he or she not be talked to during play.

If a player interferes with another player, causing a drain and/or loss of turn, the victim of the interference may either replay the entire game, or continue the game and play one (1) additional ball to replace the interfered ball (using either an earned, normally unallowable extra ball, a buy-in ball, or a single ball on a new game). If the next player starts play with no decision announced, the victim is presumed to wish to continue his or her game. The interfering player is required to pay for the replayed game or the buy-in ball, even if there are credits on the machine.

Interference is a serious violation of tournament rules and ethics. Repeated or egregious violators may be banned from future tournaments.

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3.4 Slam Tilts and Tilt-throughs

A slam tilt occurs when excessively rough handling of the machine ends the game in progress. A tilt-through occurs when a player tilts so roughly that the next player’s ball is also tilted before he or she begins play. Slam tilts and tilt-throughs are presumed to be the fault of the player. The violator will normally receive a machine score of zero, barring exceptional circumstances.

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3.5 Not Starting the Proper Number of Games

If too many games are started inadvertently, balls for the extra games are plunged but not played. If too few games are started, additional games are started, if possible, so that the number of games on the machine matches the number of players in the group. In these cases, no further action is required.

If the proper number of games cannot be started by the above means, the game is ended immediately, voiding all players’ scores. A new game is started on the same machine with the correct number of players. The player responsible for the wrong number of games being started should also pay the cost of restarting the game for all players.

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3.6 Death Saves and Bang Backs

Death saves and bang backs are techniques used by some players to return a ball back into play that has already gone down an outlane or otherwise drained. These techniques are not allowed in this tournament. A player who successfully performs a death save or bang back will receive a machine score of zero on that game, and must plunge any remaining balls without playing them. However, it is allowable for the ball to bounce back into play of its own accord.

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3.7 Cheating

Pinball can often be frustrating, especially during competition. These rules are designed to deal fairly with this fact, to encourage people to control themselves, and to compensate for various mishaps that might occur during play. On the other hand, violation of any rules with the clear intent of preventing another player from fairly playing the machine or of unfairly increasing one’s own score can only be described as cheating, and is not tolerated. Cheating will result in the player’s immediate removal from the tournament.

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