Get that bonus: What a pinball bonus is and why it’s important

If you’re just starting out in pinball, you may not know all the rules and techniques, but you do know that a higher score is a better score (profound, I know).  And one important way to increase your score is to boost your bonus.

Bonus, in pinball, is the score you receive after you drain a ball and your turn is over.  (There are exceptions to this which we’ll cover, which allow the player to collect the bonus during the turn and while the ball is still in play.)  You build up and increase the bonus you receive by performing well during your turn and hitting certain scoring objectives.

In the past, bonus used to account for a much greater percentage of your score than it does in many modern machines (DMD era games).  In electro-mechanical games (games produced in the 1940s through mid-1970s) and early solid state games (games produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s), the name of the game was essentially to build up your bonus if you wanted to get a high score.

Let’s do a case study and examine the game, “Count-Down” to see how to build up the bonus and build up the bonus multipliers.  Count-Down is an early solid state game produced by Gottlieb in 1979.  The game’s name itself is a reference to bonus:  when the bonus is awarded in electromechanical and many early solid state games, you’ll watch the game essentially “count down” your bonus after your turn as it awards you points.  The game is also space themed, so “Count-Down” not only refers to the bonus, but the “countdown” of a rocket launch.  Pretty clever, right?

Anyways, let’s breakdown the playfield on Count-Down to understand how bonus works in this game.  First, let’s look at the bonus count on the playfield:


Notice the scoring of 1,000 – 10,000, plus the 20,000 at the top.  This is your bonus.  As you accumulate bonus in the game, the corresponding lights become lit to indicate how much bonus you’ve accumulated.  The player builds up bonus in this particular game by knocking down drop targets. In this picture, the player has accumulated 20,000 in bonus as all lights are lit.  This means that at the end of her turn, she will receive at least 20,000 additional scoring points, provided she doesn’t tilt.  It’s important to note that the 20,000 is not added to the player’s score while the ball is in play, only when she drains or collects it during play (more on that later).

In that same picture, at the very top left, you may notice that the yellow “2X” is lit.  This indicates that the player’s bonus will be multiplied by two when she collects it.  In Count-Down, as in any game where the bonus plays a large role in scoring, getting your bonus multiplier up is extremely important.  You can get up to 5X bonus in Count-Down.

Here’s a zoomed in picture of the bonus multiplier lights in Count-Down:


You’re probably wondering at this point, “How do I increase my bonus multiplier”?  If you were thinking that, pat yourself on the back.

In Count-Down,  you build up the bonus multiplier by knocking down a set of target banks.  The game has four sets of colored target banks that correspond to the bonus multiplier colors:  green, yellow, red, blue.  Pictured below is the red target bank.


To get to 2X, you need to first hit down the green target bank (Note:  I have a rare messed up Count-Down playfield.  If you notice the 2X multiplier, it’s yellow, but it should be green.  This helps me out tremendously to confuse my opponents when I host tournaments at my place #dirtypinballtactics).  Then for 3X, you hit down yellow.  4X is knocking down all the red.  And finally, you achieve 5X by knocking all the blue targets down.  Once you drain your ball, you’ll lose all bonus multipliers you’ve built up and need to start accumulating them again next turn.  In addition to building up your bonus multiplier,  hitting targets down also adds to your bonus accumulation.

Earlier I mentioned that it’s possible to collect your bonus during your turn, while the ball is still in play.  This is the name of the game in Count-Down.  Build up your bonus to 20,000, get 5X multiplier, then collect it at the hole at the top of the playfield.  Boom, 100,000 points right there!  You’re also treated to some nice chimes or electronic sounds the game makes while it counts down your bonus.  This takes a good 5 seconds, so I highly recommend pulling out some dance moves in tune with the chimes to taunt your opponent.  They love this.  (not during an actual competition, of course #howdoietiquette)

Here’s the lovely bonus hole I was referring to:


One last thing… Previously I wrote about the virtues of tilting in pinball (“If you’re not tilting, you’re not trying”).  It’s important to note that on these older games, where bonus plays a significant role in your score, you really want to make an effort NOT to tilt once you have built up your bonus to a considerable amount because any accumulated bonus and bonus multipliers will not be awarded for that ball if the player tilts out of the game.

So there you have it, now you know how to bonus.  Remember, take a moment when stepping up to these older games and figure out how to maximize your bonus by studying the playfield before playing your first ball.  Those 30 seconds you spend figuring that out will no doubt greatly increase your chances of putting up a high score.


One thought on “Get that bonus: What a pinball bonus is and why it’s important

  1. Scott

    I really enjoy taking my children to the arcade and playing games that I used to play when I was their age. One of my favorites is the pinball machine. When I was a child I wasn’t very good at it because I didn’t understand the bonus system. I appreciate that you point out not to tilt the machine when going for bonus because it won’t count it. I’ll be sure to try this technique when we go this weekend.



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