Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How stripped down is Game of Thrones Pro?

Update 6/27/16: Just to throw it out there, GOT Premium has turned into one of my all time favorite Sterns (less the horrible art) and GOT Pro is good too.

Game of Thrones Pro was revealed to a collective "Ouch, that's it?" from everyone except the most die-hard wallet haters (or people who only care about the premium, or should I say... complete version). All of the buzz surrounding the game initially was primarily on the bad art, the enormous gap between the Premium/LE and Pro models, and generally bungled theme integration. And it's not just that the Pro is wildly different from the LE, the Pro is one of the most basic looking machines in a while. This would be potentially understandable while Stern was carrying us through the budget dark ages in the 2000s, but it was unexpected for an epic theme during a pinball renaissance. I think many of us expected this game to somehow compete with The Hobbit on features, which was probably unrealistic despite Stern pumping up MSRPs ever closer to Jesery Jack levels.

To be clear, the simplest pinball machines can be fun. Game features do not equal fun. Game features can slow the game down and can dampen a game with a lot of flow. I was just curious of the last time we saw such a simple game considering the whopping $6000 price tag on this sucker. It's a Steve Ritchie game, of course it's going to be fun. The reveal solely make me want to look at how much solenoid you're getting for your money, not how much fun the game is.

Defining Features

I'm breaking each game down with the following definitions. It isn't perfectly segmented, but it gives me a good idea of how "feature packed" a game is. I'm not counting the fairly standard 2 flippers, 3-4 pop bumpers, 2 slingshots, ball gates, and 2 ramps of many modern games.

Major Feature
Any shot, feature, or gameplay toy driven by a motor or solenoid. Examples would be an extra flipper, drop targets, motorized target bank, playfield magnet, or even VUKs, scoops, saucers, and kickbacks. Is a kickout saucer really a "major feature"? No, but the line has to be drawn somewhere in terms of features. Games only have so many solenoids, so the things they're used for count.

Minor Feature
Anything gameplay affecting more than a standup target that isn't driven by a solenoid such as spinners, captive balls, bash toys, or extra ramp.

Non-interactive Toys
Toys that don't interact with the ball. Things like the animated UFO in AFM are sweet, but really in the least important category in terms of gameplay features.

List of Games and Features

I'm comparing Game of Thrones Pro to other games considered simple and popular, as well as some other recent Stern games of the past couple years.

Game of Thrones Pro

The title in question uses a whopping 3 extra solenoids for gameplay features in addition to a spinner and bash toy. The bash toy bashes down the door to a castle that was entirely removed from the game. The Throne was tacked on a couple days after the reveal to fill the upper playfield void. No matter how you slice it, this $6000 machine looks like the poor man's version of something bigger.

Major Feature (3) Minor Feature (2) Non-Gameplay Feature (3)
Sword physical lock Bash toy Animated dragon
Dragon kickback Spinner Lockdown bar button
Drop target bank Throne

Attack From Mars

A game considered to be great despite a "barren" playfield. AFM has more cool, animated toys than people realize at first glance. The shots are just further back than many games creating a very open playfield.

Major Feature (5) Minor Feature (1) Non-Gameplay Feature (12)
Motorized target bank Third ramp Animated UFO
UFO drop target
4x Animated alien
UFO VUK 6x UFO flashers
Scoop Strobe light
Ramp diverter

Iron Man

Another modern Stern game people dismissed for lacking features and having a wide open playfield.It has a similar number of playfield solenoids to GOT, but all of Iron Man's features directly interact with the ball. Iron Monger is the type of major toy GOT lacks. Iron Man also carried a $4700 MSRP when launched, and $5500 MSRP when re-released.

Major Feature (4) Minor Feature (3) Non-Gameplay Feature (2)
Motorized Iron Monger bash toy 3x Spinners Whiplash
Iron Monger magnet
War Machine
Whiplash magnet
War Machine kickback

Kiss Pro

Kiss is another solenoid lacking Stern Pro. I don't think it drew as much of a reaction because there were fewer expectations on epic theme and it has classic hand-drawn art. The huge main feature of the game (the Gene launcher) is the focus, visibly the same on all models, and is a fairly unique toy at least.

Major Feature (4) Minor Feature (1) Non-Gameplay Feature (1)
Spinning disc Spinner Starchild
Gene head launcher
Star Saucer

Star Trek Pro

Steve Ritchie's last Pro is packed with shots and it has a major playfield focus with 3 features of its own: Vengeance.

Major Feature (5) Minor Feature (2) Non-Gameplay Feature (2)
Vengeance drop target Spinner Vengeance toy
Vengeance magnet Side ramp Lockdown bar button
Vengeance kicker
Mission saucer
Third flipper (with shot behind it to boot)

Metallica Pro

Metallica Pro is so packed with shots and stuff, it's almost cheating. It's the gold standard of what a Pro should be compared to the Premium/LE. It retains all the major gameplay features, has sweet playfield art, and has the best cabinet and translite art to boot. It even has metal ramps. MSRP was $1000 less than GOT Pro. Sweet.

Major Feature (5) Minor Feature (2) Non-Gameplay Feature (2)
Sparky magnet Casket captive ball Animated Sparky toy
Snake kickout Metal ramps Grave marker
Grave drop targets
Grave magnet

Transformers: The Pin

Just for fun, Stern's $3000 toy on this scale which only uses 7 solenoids total.

Major Feature (2) Minor Feature (3) Non-Gameplay Feature (0)
In-line drop targets Spinning disc
Physical ball lock Spinner
Megatron bash toy

Game of Thrones Premium/LE

Of course there's a $1600+ difference between this and the Pro, but just for comparisons sake, here's the Premium/LE version. It's got some stuff.

Major Feature (9) Minor Feature (2) Non-Gameplay Feature (2)
Sword physical lock Bash toy Animated, motorized dragon
2x Upper playfield flippers Spinner Lockdown bar button
White Walker kickback
Drop target bank
Ramp drop target
The Wall 2-level VUK
Blade diverter
Throne ball eject


People have been complaining about prices for features forever. Going back to Tron: Legacy, you'll find people on Usenet saying that $4200 for a Pro is ridiculous and all the LE features should've been included for that price. Looking back years from now on Game of Thrones, we might look back longingly on the days pinball machines only cost $6000 regardless of how many things they had going on.

Even the games above with a similar lack of features have that "one really cool thing" whether it's the Iron Monger or Gene's giant head. At the very least they had a sweet theme and art. I don't think Game of Thrones Pro has that one thing. Am I excited to play it? Of course, it's a new Steve Ritchie pinball machine. It's going to be a blast. Do I think it's a huge step in the wrong direction for the ever more expensive Stern Pro models? Yes.

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