While the Mercure Daventry Court Hotel is once again host for the annual UK Pinfest show, this is the first year that organiser Philip Murphy has taken over the entire hotel. That means all the rooms are booked by show visitors and all areas of the hotel are available to use for the show, from the lobby to the main hall and all the smaller conference rooms.
In fact, as soon as you enter the hotel you reach the registration desk where show entry can be purchased along with assorted items of show memorabilia from UK Pinfest and also the North-East Retro Gaming (NERG) show which Philip also organises.
Before the show could begin though, all the machines and stands needed to be set up in the main hall (Danetree Suite), in the side rooms and in the hotel lobby.
Many game donors and their machines arrived on both the Wednesday and the Thursday, ahead of the official opening on Friday evening. Several people working on the show commented that for them the Wednesday night is the new Thursday night.
We didn’t arrive until Friday morning when machine unloading and set up was in full flow.
There is only a single vehicle bay and loading door which can create congestion at certain times and means vans have to be moved as soon as they have disgorged their contents.
Let’s take a look around the hall as it was on Friday morning.
Slowly, but surely, the number of machines on their legs increased throughout Friday afternoon.
The Addams Family Challenge shocker chair returned, which makes players sit in an ‘electric’ chair and use hand grips to flip the flippers. We covered the development of the chair in an earlier Pinball News article.
Along with their parts stand Retro Arcade Specialist brough along several interesting machines, including the new This Is Spinal Tap game from home pin which was making its UK (and possibly European) debut at the show.
It remained covered until the show opened, but we’ll have more details and pictures a little later in this report.
It wasn’t only in the main hall where pinballs were being readied for the start of the show. The corridor outside had several pinballs and video games on free play.
At the back of the main hall there were also Rocky & Bullwinkle and Austin Powers pinballs available to play.
Returning to the hotel’s lobby, there were eight more pinballs available to play. Most of these were on coin play for charity. Over the course of the weekend they raised a grand total of £1,255.20 which is a new record for the show.
The hotel’s lobby was also where one of the two bars could be found. When the show hall was open guests could use a second bar in there, but outside show hours the lobby bar was open late into the night.
The bar staff served a reasonable selection of draught and bottled drinks, along with tea and coffee.
As well as drinks, the hotel served hot food. There was a bar menu available most of the day, and an extra food counter set up for lunch and dinner service.
Before we leave the facilities behind, it’s worth noting that the show booked out the entire accommodation at the hotel – all 150 rooms – offering a special room rate of £64 for single occupancy including a full buffet breakfast, which is slightly cheaper than the 2022 rate of £65.50.
Inside the main hall, the final touches were being made to the machines and stands.
This also gave us the opportunity to examine the This Is Spinal Tap machine from Homepin in more detail. Retro Arcade Specialists are the UK distributor for Homepin games and had this early model flown over from the Homepin factory in Taiwan for the show.
Here are some more shots of the playfield’s features.
The game features both a large backbox LCD panel and an orange dot matrix display. The LCD panel mostly shows clips from the This Is Spinal Tap movie which are synchronised to the gameplay with occasional graphic overlays or special display animations. The dot matrix display shows the game scores and most player instructions. It even includes a rudimentary video mode.
Unfortunately, like much of the software, the information was minimal and tended to confuse rather than enlighten.
Full public entry to UK Pinfest didn’t begin until 10am on Saturday morning, but there was a limited number of VIP tickets available which gave access to the main show hall on Friday and Saturday evenings from 7pm.
Although restricted to VIP ticket holders, the hall was soon busy for the Friday evening session.
For players into their tournaments, there were plenty to enjoy at UK Pinfest.
The Ladies Tournament kicked things off at 7:30pm on Friday, with two hours of qualifying before the final rounds around 10:30pm
After the initial rounds were over, the last four who contested the final were Amanda Simpson, Lucy Vince, Rhian Best and Sarah Vince.
It was decided to play the final on a single machine – Creature from the Black Lagoon. Lucy played first, but it was her mother, Sarah, who set the pace with 29M after ball 1, 20M ahead of the closest challenger, Amanda.
Amanda nearly caught up on the second ball, reaching 27.5M while Sarah only improved marginally to 32.5M. Rhian was on 15.7M and Lucy on 6M.
Amanda did move slightly ahead on her third ball to 33.5M, but Sarah soon added another 20M on her final ball to secure the win. Rhian was third on 22.6M with Lucy fourth on 6.6M.
Trophies were awarded by UK Pinfest organiser, Philip Murphy, and David Duncan from Retro Arcade Specialists who sponsored the tournament.
Before the Open Tournament began on Saturday morning, there was free practice on the machines on Friday evening – another reason to buy one of the VIP tickets.
Also on Friday night was the first of two Stall Ball tournaments held in the main show hall.
The concept of Stall Ball is a simple one. Players line up to take part and whoever is at the front of the queue plays on the single machine used, which in this case was a Twilight Zone. The line quickly snakes around the hall as more and more players join in.
Each player’s job is to put the ball into one of the nominated scoops, locks or kicker holes which ‘stalls’ the ball. If they achieve that, they quickly leave the machine to the next player and join the back of the queue to play again, but if they drain then they are out.
As consolation for being knocked out, Kirk from Tilt pinball, beer and coffee bar in Birmingham had arrange for everyone to receive a free can of pale ale as soon as they were eliminated.
With potentially only one or two flips needed to stall the ball, the line moved quickly.
It didn’t take too long before the three remaining players were competing to win the Friday Stall Ball.
That winner was Will Jarvis, with Graeme Burchael second and Dan Prachar third.
The main hall closed at 11pm on Friday as guests and staff drifted off, either to bed or to the lobby to continue playing the machines there or join in the karaoke in the bar area.
On Saturday morning, the day began at 9am when the UK Pinball League play-offs began in the same side room and on many of the same machines used to host the Ladies Tournament the previous night.
The top thirty-seven players assembled from each of the UK Pinball League’s six regions came together to compete.
Everyone played a single game on each of the nominated machines in groups of four. The scores were ranked and the top sixteen went on to the final rounds later that afternoon. They were:
These sixteen then played five rounds of four-player games, with points awarded using the 4-2-1-0 system. When all five rounds were over, the player with the most points was the winner. That was Andy Foster with 18 out of a possible 20 points. Luke Grayson was second after tying with Paul Owen on 11 points but took second as he beat Paul when they played in the same group. Likewise, Ian Walmsley was fourth after a four-way tie on 10 points. Trophies were presented by UK Pinball League Coordinator, Wayne Johns.
The main hall re-opened at 10am to anyone with a Saturday or full weekend pass. At the back of the hall, qualifying in the Open Tournament began on the ten available machines. They were:
|NASCAR||007 James Bond: Dr. No|
|Game of Thrones||Metallica|
|F-14 Tomcat||The Beatles|
|Iron Man||Foo Fighters|
The Open Tournament used the Drains Tournament Manager system to record all the scores and rank the players. Entry cost either £10 for registration plus a single 3-game card, or £20 for registration plus four 3-game cards. All entry money was paid out as prizes to the eventual top eight players.
The rest of the hall soon filled with show guests keen to get some flipper time.
There were three vendors with stands in the main hall – Retro Arcade Specialists, London Pinball and 1-Stop Pinball.
Another machine joined the mix in the corridor at the back of the hall, as Batman 66 arrived.
Also new on Saturday was Steve Pagett’s selection of various pinball and arcade parts which were for sale as part of his clearing out of surplus stock.
Here’s our exclusive Twelve Minute Tour video walk through the hotel, including the lobby games, the main hall and the side rooms. This year, for the first time, it is available in 4K UHD. Click the setting cog at the bottom right and choose 2160p (4K) to get the highest quality.
There were further tournaments taking place in two of the side rooms on the way to Steve’s sale.
The Pinball Classics were under way with eight machines used. They were:
|Black Hole||Flash Gordon|
It was a simple qualification system, with the top two scorers on each machine progressing to the play-offs, although players could only qualify on one machine. Qualifying continued until 6pm with the final rounds beginning at 10am on Sunday.
In another side room, the Scottish Pinball Association were organising the ever-popular NBA Challenge. This pits two players from a group of four against each other on a pair of linked NBA Fastbreak machines.
Everyone in the four-player group played against each other, earning 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw (it does happen) and 0 points for a loss. The top two from each group progressed to the play-offs, with ties decided by the for/against points difference.
The qualifying took place during Saturday, running from 10am until 6pm, before the grand finals on Sunday afternoon.
If you still hankered for more competitive action you could find it out in the hotel’s lobby where Gonzo’s Deadpool Challenge was generating much fun and excitement.
We had other plans on Saturday night and so missed the re-run of the Stall Ball competition during the evening’s VIP session, and also a new Upside Down Challenge which we are told involved wearing inverting glasses to play.
There was also a further qualifying round in the Open tournament, but even those not part of the VIP session could keep track of the qualifying positions through the neverdrains.com website.
There was a final qualifying session for the Open from 10am until midday when the main hall reopened on Sunday morning.
That Open qualifying coincided with the final rounds of the Pinball Classics tournament. As we said earlier, the top two scorers on each of the eight machines qualified. Those sixteen were:
|David Fowler||Yuen Aw|
|Ian Clark||Nick Clark|
|Matt Vince||David Tucker|
|Owen Lloyd||Alan Jones|
|Will Jarvis||Andrew Foster|
|Kurt Louvvie||Alan Irving|
|Axel Vercauteren||Yvan Raets|
|Craig Pullen||Rich Mallett|
The first round of three-game four-player matches saw those sixteen reduced to eight for the two semi-finals.
Another round of three-game four-player matches gave us the final four of Craig Pullen, Axel Vercauteren, Matt Vince and Rich Mallett. They played three four-player matches on Genesis, Quicksilver and Tag-Team Pinball using the same 4-2-1-0 scoring system employed throughout the play-offs.
In a close game, Rich won on Genesis with 341K. Craig was second on 319K, Axel third on 234K and Matt fourth on 123K.
Things were shaken up by the result on Quicksilver which saw Axel win on 747K, with Craig second on 314K, Matt third on 180K and Rich fourth with 104K.
So, going into the decider, Axel had 5 points, Craig and Rich had 4, while Matt had 1. Any of Axel, Craig or Rich could win if they won the final game on Tag-Team Pinball.
Rich started reasonably with 450K on his first ball, but Matt more than doubled that, while Craig and Axel had poor first balls. Rich caught up and overtook on his second ball to go into the last ball with a healthy 1.867M score, to Matt’s 1.015M. Further rapid drains from Craig and Axel appeared to put them out of contention on 224K and 34K respectively.
Rich repeated his first ball performance on ball 3, ending on 2.383M, double his nearest challenger, Matt’s, score. Matt only managed to add around 200K, putting him on 1.228M. Craig was denied the good final ball he needed, ending on 338K. Axel, though, did finally get a decent run of the ball.
His total on 1.272M was enough for second place in the game, but Rich’s 1.867M had won both the game and the tournament overall.
So, Rich had a total of 8 points, Axel 7 points, Craig 4 points and Matt 2 points. Cash prizes and trophies were awarded by Tournament Director, Shaun Harvey.
While the Pinball Classics play-offs were underway, the cheers rang out from the room next door where the Under-14s NBA Challenge was taking place.
The ten competitors were paired up to play two consecutive games on the two machines. For the second game the two players swapped machines to eliminate any advantage resulting from one machine playing ‘easier’ than the other.
The four winning players with the highest score moved on to the semi-finals, from which the top two contested the final. The final two were Ethan Campbell and James Aw, with Ethan triumphing to take first place. Katie Vince was third with her brother Daniel fourth.
UK Pinfest organiser, Philip Murphy, presented them with their trophies.
The next action was in the main hall where Ailsa Clunie presented the Best-in-Show award for the machine judged by a mystery cabal of judges as the best out of the 140 pinballs at this year’s UK Pinfest.
The prize went to Antony Hobbs for this very special The Addams Family restoration, which included black ramps, a custom Thing box, art blades, embedded cabinet light strips, a super-size colour DMD, a black engraved lock bar and a whole host of additional upgrades.
The next presentation was for the new inductees into the UK Pinball Group Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame has been running since 2008 and in that time has inducted 27 members for the outstanding contributions they have made to pinball in the UK. For 2023 there were two new inductees chosen from those suggested by the community, both of whom have been in pinball for many years and both have had a big impact on the pinball scene in the UK. They were introduced, on behalf of the entire Nominations and Inductions Committee, by Pinball News Editor, Martin Ayub.
The first inductee of 2023 was Steve Pagett.
Steve has unrivalled experience in buying, selling, operating and repairing pinballs, videos and fruit machines. He’s been supporting shows by taking games for the public to enjoy since the early ’90s as well as operating games in multiple locations, culminating in the creation of the Electric Circus public arcade and bar in Nuneaton. Although Electric Circus closed recently, its spirit lives on with Steve now operating and maintaining many of his pinballs at Tilt in Birmingham.
The second inductee for 2023 was Wayne Johns.
Wayne is well-known for his extensive tournament and league organising skills, but he is also a top international player, a strong advocate for grassroots competitive pinball, the current IFPA Country Director for the UK, a machine collector and also a former Guinness World Record holder for continuous play. Along the way he has raised thousands of pounds for charity, in particular Prostate Cancer UK. At UK Pinfest he was organising the UK Pinball League finals and co-organising the Open Tournament.
Then it was back to the tournaments.
The NBA Challenge had eight finalists who made it through Saturday’s qualifying round.
We were busy competing in the Open Tournament, so missed the NBA Challenge finals. However, it was a triumph for Adam Thompson who finished ahead of Chris G. with Carl Spiby third and Ryan Curtis fourth. UK Pinfest organiser, Philip Murphy presented the trophies and cash prizes.
Meanwhile, the top twenty-four qualifiers in the Open were continuing to the play-offs. The top eight got a bye through the first round, leaving sixteen competing for the opportunity to meet them in the quarter-finals. The twenty-four qualifiers were:
The sixteen players in the first round were paired up to play three randomly-selected machines as two-player games. The first player to win two games went through to the quarter-finals.
There were cash prizes for the top eight finishers. All entry fees were returned as prizes with 35% to the winner, 20% to second place, 15% to third, 10% to 4th and 5% each to the 5th-8th place losing semi-finalists. This year the prize pot was £3,375 which resulted in 1st-4th prizes of £1200, £675, £505 and £335 respectively, with £165 awarded for 5th-8th places.
Throughout the Open, streaming of selected tables was available on the Pinball Live Twitch channel. There were several camera rigs which were moved between games to ensure there was always good coverage of interesting matches.
Live streams were shown on a couple of monitors to give spectators a good view of the action.
As the rounds completed, the number of players reduced from 16 to 8 to the final 4. They were:
The three games chosen to play were NASCAR, James Bond 007 and Foo Fighters.
It was Craig who quickly got to grips with NASCAR, scoring 25M on ball one compared to the other three’s scores of 3M, 2M and 1M.
Craig’s lead diminished slightly on ball two as Andy bumped his score up to 6M while Craig, Greg and Matt all had fairly quick drains.
Ball three was no kinder to Greg who ended on 3.7M. Craig and Andy both added around 15M to their totals to keep their separation in 1st and 2nd respectively. Matt had a better final ball ball but remained in 3rd.
As 4th placed player on the first game, Greg went first on the second game, James Bond 007. His 11M was better than Matt or Andy, but once again Craig took the lead on 42M. Greg had a better second ball, nudging into the lead with 46M. Matt had another bad ball with a total after ball two of just 2M. Andy raced ahead with his score of 104M, way ahead of Craig’s 54M.
Greg couldn’t capitalise on his better second ball and ended his game on 47M for 3rd place. Matt only improved a little to 30M but it was still 4th place.
The win would be between Andy and Craig. Andy ended his third ball on 120M, a lead of 66M, but would it be enough?
The answer was ‘no’. Craig had a fruitful Bird 1 multiball and surpassed Andy’s score with a 4.5M double jackpot shot.
The points totals going into the last game were: Craig 8, Andy 4, Matt 1, Greg 1.
With two wins under his belt, Craig had not quite won the final with his 8 points, so it was a question of whether Andy could win the last game to add to his two 2nd places to match Craig’s points. As long as he didn’t finish last, Craig would pick up at least one more point which would guaranteed him the win overall.
Matt began and racked up a decent score of 72M on his first ball. Greg was next crept slightly into the lead with 73M. Andy needed the win but started badly with a quick drain for only 2M. Craig did the same, tilting when trying to save the ball with 2M on the board.
A slight fumble ended Matt’s second ball after he had doubled his score to 142M. Greg was close behind on his ball two score of 134M. The win Andy needed looked a tough ask when he ended ball two on 78M. Craig was still in 4th place with his 46M, but it would prove irrelevant if Andy couldn’t win.
On ball three, Matt piled on the pressure with a decent ball to end on 312M. Greg didn’t add much more to end on 141M. Andy needed another 234M to go into first place, but despite a valiant attempt he could only reach 150M for second place. With Andy not winning on Foo Fighters Craig had already won the final, but played his last ball anyway, ending on 80M.
Matt’s win on the final game gave him third overall with Greg fourth.
The prizes were presented by Open Tournament co-organiser Paul Garner and David from Retro Arcade Specialists.
The final of the Open Tournament ended around 6pm, long after the show had closed to the public at 4:30pm, although show guests were welcome to remain to watch the final. As a result, the Open Tournament’s awards ceremony also marked the end of UK Pinfest for 2023.
The set-up of the show had been spread across three days. The tear down was also not overly rushed. While many game donors wanted to get their games and themselves home on Sunday night, many more machines weren’t packed away until the Monday, which also happened to be a public holiday.
There’s no doubt that UK Pinfest becomes bigger and bigger each year. The physical dimensions of the main hall limits how many machines can be located there, but the show’s complete takeover of the Mercure Daventry Court hotel meant all the side rooms and the lobby were available to use as well.
When UK Pinfest began in 2018 there were 111 pinballs. This year that had increased to 140. Many thanks to everyone who brought a machine, as well as all the tournament organisers, the repair crew, the show organising team, the streaming crew, the vendors and the various sponsors of events.
It’s tempting to think a move to a larger location would allow that expansion to continue, and yet the size, pricing and convenience of the current Daventry home feels about right for the premier UK show in its present form. As with his other show, NERG, organiser Phillip Murphy has built strong community support for UK Pinfest, so that while new features and events have been added each year, that growth has always been organic.
We are already looking forward to 2024’s show. The dates haven’t been officially announced yet, but it will almost certainly be held over the August Bank Holiday weekend as usual.