Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Game of Thrones at Monarch Tavern

You have to appreciate when one of your favorite bars keeps you up-to-date as to which machine they have on location. In the case of Monarch Tavern, they always give me a shout on Twitter letting me know when a new table hits. In most cases, it is the newest Stern and this time around it was true!
Stern's newest release based on the hit HBO series, Game of Thrones, has arrived in Toronto! Game of Thrones has been out for a little while now but only in mid-December did the table appear within city limits. I made plans with a couple of friends to go check out the table the weekend it arrived at Monarch.
When we settled in at the bar, Mike and Joe of the Toronto Pinball Crew happened to show up as well and we had one helluva posse! Mike and Joe had a chance to swing by and play the table earlier in the week so they were able to provide some strategy on how to play GoT which I will get to soon enough but first, let's get a good look!
It is quite the packed table! Ramps and loops all over the playfield! This is certainly the work of Mr. Steve Ritchie, the King of Flow. At first glance, it looks like a pretty standard Stern layout, with 6 shots, two ramps, two orbits, bash toy, and kickback shot but as with every Ritchie table, he just has a knack for making it all flow together so well. I think a big part of that is how Ritchie handles speed on his tables. There is very little stop-n-go and the only time you are really waiting on the table is when you lock a ball. The ball lock mechanism even works to keep the game moving fast; if you hit the center ramp when lock isn't lit and there are balls already locked in, the mechanism will drop a ball as soon as the other approaches so the gameplay does not slow down whatsoever.
As always, there is that dreaded kickback shot. Like Star Trek's nasty Vengeance shot, GoT's comes in the form of the Dragon kickback. Placed a little to the left, this shot launches the ball towards the flippers... but usually just right down the middle. Direct shots at the Dragon kickback will launch it back at you at high speed so it is best to avoid it as much as you can.
However, this is the required shot in order to get extra ball which is quite a audacious decision... but I like it. I hate it too but I like the idea of it! Rather than just making an easy shot into a scoop, you have to hit one of the riskiest shots in order to earn that extra ball. It reminds me of White Water's infamous extra ball shot.
But is it worth it? Not really because you are more than likely just going to end up draining the ball from the kickback! I found this out the hard way when I got the extra ball and the kickback shot the ball right down the middle. It doesn't help that I was taunting the machine by firing off multiple crotch chops but salt was added to the wound when I discovered that Monarch's GoT table had extra balls turned off... damn.

As I mentioned before, this table doesn't look quite daunting at first glance but the more you play this game, the deeper it gets to the point where it can be quite overwhelming! Even upon release, Game of Thrones has pretty robust code and a ton of stuff to do. You will see that there are several different crests on the lower playfield. At the beginning of the game, you will select the house you wish to align with, each with their own advantage. Mike and Joe suggested going with House Martell as you get a one free add-a-ball during multiball.
Upon starting the game, you have a few options. You can begin lighting the different houses or you can work towards Blackwater Multiball. In order to do the former, you will hit different shots on the table and depending on what colour the shots are, you will activate that particular house for battle which is started by hitting the center ramp. Each battle mode has different objectives. For example, House Lannister requires you to hit the red lit shots while House Baratheon has you hitting the five standup targets located across the table.
Part of the strategy devised by Mike and Joe is to activate two of the houses but hold off doing battle until you have Blackwater Multiball activated. In order to light the locks, you must hit one of the Wildfire targets on the far right of the table. You just need to hit one and it will light the ball lock at the center ramp. Hit that ramp (and usually you will light a house by doing this as well), lock a ball, rinse and repeat. Make sure to select Pass for Now when prompted for Battle Mode. Upon locking the third ball, you can battle up to two houses all while having Multiball jackpots lit. It's kind of hard to focus on what to do at that point but all you really need to do is just shoot the ramps and orbits! You should be able to clear out one of the houses at least. If you manage to hit all the jackpots, Super Jackpot will light at the battering ram.
This is where things get tricky. The Battering Ram is akin to a captive ball shot where you have to hit the ram hard enough to send it into the target. A light hit won't do ya jack so you gotta smack that ram! The problem is that you have to hit the battering ram head on; a glancing shot will do you no good. Give the ram a big old hit and you should get that Super Jackpot! The points are really random and unfortunately, I have yet to find out how exactly the Jackpot score works. Sometimes I have seen the Super Jackpot award 60 million and other times give away 180 million! That's huge!

Now, depending if you selected House Martell, there's one last piece of the strategy. If you are in the midst of multiball and you drain your second-to-last ball, you can make a desperation maneuver by slapping the action button located on the lockbar and activate add-a-ball! You will replenish your multiball back up to 3 balls as well as get a really short ball save. Use the add-a-ball wisely, however, because you only have one opportunity per round. So, if you start another multiball mode and already used the add-a-ball, you will not have it again until your next round.

The one thing that does bug me about Game of Thrones is the artwork. Apparently Greg Freres did the art package but it looks like a pretty basic Photoshop 101 job. If you look closely at the midplayfield, it is pretty clearly a quick radial gradient with the crest borders sporting some embossing and 5-point stroke to fill them out. The thick black stroke looks especially cheesy on the two swords bordering the playfield.
Besides the art package, GoT's lightshow is quite visually stunning. I admire the improvements Stern has been making towards their light aspects, especially using RGB LEDs in the inserts to highlight different modes and provide better visual clues as to what you should be shooting for. In addition, the lightshows from their later tables have been getting really wild and GoT is no slouch! When you activate the table's hurryup mode, Winter is Coming, the whole table starts lighting up with a crazy strobe! Wall Multiball features the same strobing effect except you have 3 balls going at once to add to the insanity.
The long anticipated arrival of Game of Thrones in Toronto has finally come to an end with the table appearing at Monarch Tavern to much fanfare. Almost immediately, people made their way to Monarch to give this new table a shot and already there are big high scores from the locals like DOH and MIC (That's Mike of City Pinball!). I had a chance to try it out and I must say that Stern has hit another one out of the park. Though the table may not look the part, Game of Thrones is quite the challenging table with tight and fast shots and a very indepth rulesheet right out of the gate. I am excited to see how this table will play out with further code updates but even now, GoT has quite a robust rulesheet. Steve Ritchie's design work is evident in the playfield with non-stop lightning fast gameplay and punishing shots; The Dragon kickback will become the bane of your existence. The art package leaves a lot to be desired, especially coming off the heels of the hand-drawn KISS table but that's only one negative about the visual aspect of Game of Thrones. The light shows throughout the game are quite stunning and really pop in a dark setting such as Monarch Tavern. I can see Game of Thrones garnering a lot of popularity in the days to come at Monarch so you better get over there while the table is still in top-notch condition!

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