ATEI is the UK's main amusement trade show and in past years has accurately reflected the industry's fluctuating interest in pinball. Not so long ago you could find pinball games at numerous stands scattered throughout the main hall (the other halls host the International Casino Exhibition and the Parks Show for theme parks).

Now, however, to find a pinball game you have to visit the Stern distributor's stand and in the UK that means Electrocoin who were showing Stern's High Roller Casino game.

Enough of the background, let's look at the game.

Bringing out any new pinball game is always a gamble. The immediate look has to appeal both in styling and theme - first impressions count here as they do in any sales pitch - in order to get the player to think positively about the game before thoughts turn to money.

Stern's latest offering is a visually striking game decked out in gold and purple to give it a sumptuous, almost regal feel.

Fans of John Youssi will feel very much at home here as he's responsible for the playfield artwork while Kevin O'Connor designed the backbox and cabinet imagery.

The plain white backbox of Sharkey's Shootout has gone to be restored to the more familiar black with artworked side panels that we all know and love. Sharkey's never looked totally complete without some artwork on the backbox sides though you could see what Stern were intending.

As you can see above, apart from the theme artwork there's also a "Roll n' Win" prize wheel which doesn't spin but is animated by illuminating the various segments from behind.

The playfield looks busy but all the shots are well arranged leaving the lower part clear of obstacles.

The main toys are located at the back of the game and even the drop targets are far enough away not to rebound ball straight down the middle.

The targets positioned above the slingshots are not really important to the gameplay so there aren't any real sucker shots.

This might lead you to think that HRC is an easy game to play and there's some truth in that. The outlanes are like those in Sharkey's Shootout in that they really benefit from generous nudging to get the ball out of danger. (The outlanes on all these games were set on medium width so the effects might vary with other settings.)

Looking at the playfield in more detail, above the flippers are lamps for the six games that have to be completed - Blackjack(21), Slots, Poker, Craps, Roulette and Hi-Lo - before you can play the wizard mode Casino Frenzy.

Some of these can only be completed by winning the respective games while others only require you to play the game.

Above these is the counter that keeps track of the number of chips you currently own.

Chips are won and lost during gameplay but your aim is to earn 100 of them at which point all the major shots are lit to start "Break the Bank" mode.

Moving on up the playfield we find the 4-bank of drop targets. These are used to select a hand of cards to play poker against the dealer. Obviously, 4 cards isn't enough so behind the drops are 3 standup targets to add more cards to chose from.

You'll need a decent hand as the dealer usually wins the poker games, being able to rely on a joker card with a certain Gary Stern playing the joker.

And so we move onto the main toys of the game starting with the roulette wheel at the top right of the game.

When the ball is launched by the manual plunger it is fed straight into the roulette wheel where it spends a considerable time spinning round before falling into either a red, black or green hole. Although this is a novelty, like most novelties the effect soon wears off and after a few balls you try to plunge the ball so it falls straight into one of the holes and doesn't spin at all.

At ball launch, the display shows three awards - one each for red, black and green. There is always an "increase bonus X" award, a "multi-million points" award and an "extra chips" award though the matching of colour with award alternates.

The roulette wheel can also be accessed from the centre ramp when the diverter is set appropriately. This diverter is never open for long so it's a trickier shot than it looks.

Over on the left hand side sits the slot machine.

Besides the animating handle on the right side, the slot machine has a set of three 5x7 LED matrix displays. These are used to show the "reels" spinning (though they're also shown in a higher resolution on the main DMD) and to show static and scrolling messages during gameplay.

Underneath the LED display is a ramp which raises to create a ball trap, or lowers to release a trapped ball. When lowered, shots can pass through and onto a wireform which feeds across the playfield into the ball lock area on the middle right side.

When a ball is shot up the ramp it falls into the slot machine and the reels are spun to win points and chips. The ramp then lowers and released the ball lighting the slot machine shot for ball lock. Lock two balls and trap the third in the slot machine to start Slot Machine Multiball where all the major shots score single (and then double) jackpots. The slot machine scores single, double and triple jackpots followed by super jackpot. The super jackpot is a multiple of the regular jackpot determined by the number of other jackpot shots made. In play it's difficult to watch the DMD to see the value building but during testing it reached 15x in a normal game.

Finally, the roll 'n win wheel up in the backglass.

The wheel is activated by hitting the roll 'n win standup target and then shooting the centre ramp. The standup target is probably the most difficult shot in the game, but is quite fun to try and hit since it also awards extra balls and specials.

With the ball trapped in the ball lock area, the DMD shows two dice being thrown and you can chose which of the two you want with the flipper buttons and the lit segment of the wheel moves on that many places. Beneath the dice, the DMD also shows what the award will be. (Sometimes the two dice score the same, so there's no choice at all.)

Unfortunately, putting all this information on the DMD and the inability to kill the backbox fluorescent light means that the wheel is often overlooked, and the meaning of the dice scores isn't clearly related to the wheel position. It's a shame since this feature seems under-utilised.

How does the game actually play, though? As stated earlier, this is quite an easy game to play. Ball times are long due to the roulette wheel hold time and the number of points in the game where the ball is captured.

Gary Stern was at pains to point out that a screw post could be added to the roulette wheel to prevent the ball being held for too long. This is an operator decision (assuming the screw can be found if required at a later date) but on balance is best left out.

High Roller Casino plays like Who?Dunnit in that a lot of information needs to be passed to the player and they need to make choices or decisions, so the ball needs to be trapped rather a lot. This doesn't make for the long flowing playing sequences that some players relish, but it does increase the perceived value-for-money of each game.

The bonus can count for a reasonable part of your score. In some of the games the bonus reached in excess of 85M or 10% of the score at the time. Bonus multipliers are generous, regularly exceeding 30x, and are increased by either shooting the spinner on the right loop or from a roulette wheel award. Since all launched balls fall into the roulette wheel, if you lock many balls you stand a good chance of building a good bonus multiplier.

It's also worth noting that this game makes deathsaves extremely easy. Although it seems conventional, the trough arrangement means that very little effort is required. If you can't deathsave on this game, you never will.

The game seems well thought-out in terms of layout and ball paths. The six goals require a good spread of skills and explore the game thoroughly. For advanced players, High Roller Casino won't provide the depth of play required but for everyone else there's plenty to aim for both in shots and scores.

There are a number of areas that could be improved, though.

Balls that are launched and fall quickly through the roulette wheel (yes, it can be done) often fail to score anything from the wheel award. The wheel awards themselves usually don't correspond with those shown on the DMD.

While the slot machine LED display works well, sometimes the reels spin for ages for no apparent reason before a result is displayed. The ball is captured all this time.

If you win "3 slot spins" from the roll 'n win, the DMD shows spurious frames of dice rolling and a brief choice or awards between spins.

There are a couple of places where the ball hangs occasionally, to the left of the lower bumper and right at the entrance to the slot machine. Both can be shaken free, though.

The centre ramp is always lit for roulette even when the diverter sends the ball in the opposite direction.

One of the games had an intermittent top magnet ball stopper, and one got into a weird state during Break-the-Bank where it wouldn't accept any more ramp shots, even though that was the only shot left.

In conclusion then, High Roller Casino is another step forward from Striker Xtreme and then Sharkey's Shootout. The theme is a popular and tested one while Stern have added some unique touches and made it visually appealing.

You can view the game flyer here.


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© Pinball News 2002